Netflix’s original content has a tendency to go viral these days.
"Insatiable," an original series starring Debby Ryan, was slammed on Twitter before it was even released. A popular blogger created a petition calling for its cancellation due to how the show's trailer suggested the show handled weight and drastic weight loss.
Netflix’s original movies have the potential to get the same viral treatment. Their first romantic comedy, 2017’s "A Christmas Prince," features a journalist who falls in love with the prince of a fictional country.
A tweet from Netflix referencing the movie gained over 100,000 retweets and 400,000 likes.
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Since then, Netflix has released multiple romantic comedies, from Set It Up to The Kissing Booth to this month’s "Sierra Burgess is a Loser." Especially acclaimed is the recent "To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before," which came out on Aug. 17 of this year and has a 95 percent critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
The romantic comedy was once more of a staple, but the films have seen a decline in frequency and revenue in the past few years. According to the-numbers.com, romantic comedies have plummeted from a 9.85 percent market share in 1998 to 2017's 0.78 percent market share.
Associate professor of media studies Eleanor Patterson wonders whether streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon are the new home for lower-budget and less star-powered romantic comedies that no longer make it to theaters.
With mainstream romantic comedies, Patterson points out that they are still being made, but with some new considerations.
“It’s not that Hollywood’s totally averse to romantic comedies, but for them to be invested in, they have to have these aspects that mitigate risk,” she said. "Either they’re a franchise, or they have known entities attached to them."
For example, Patterson pointed out that the 2017 romantic comedy "Home Again" was produced by Nancy Meyers, the well-known writer, director and producer of "Something’s Gotta Give" in 2003. It also starred Reese Witherspoon, who has her own romantic comedy credentials with movies like "Sweet Home Alabama."
For the mid-range, mid-budget films, Patterson argues that Netflix is more well suited due to its different business model.
“[Hollywood’s] goal with most films, not all of them, is to appeal to a mass audience, whereas Netflix isn’t trying to appeal to a broad audience," she said. "With Netflix, let’s say there’re all these different taste profiles, like there are people who are really into horror or people who love British television, there are people from different backgrounds, and Netflix is trying to capture the whole umbrella by expanding their catalogue.”
Patterson said that many of these films are not too expensive or time-consuming to produce, and therefore, Netflix is able to put them out more frequently without worrying about loss of time or money.
Even beyond Netflix, however, it seems that 2018 has had more top-billed romantic comedies than the past few years. "To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before" and "Love, Simon" have been teen standouts, each with certified fresh ratings on Rotten Tomatoes and considerable social media buzz. Currently, "Crazy Rich Asians" is dominating the box office with a current estimated domestic total of over $130 million.
Anna Weinstein, instructor of media studies at Auburn, suggests that perhaps people seek romantic comedies as a refuge from the world around them.
“Things are pretty chaotic in the world today," she said. "I wonder if we’re again in a moment in time where we want to escape into screen stories where we know there will be a positive resolution.”
Patterson said that she watched Netflix's "Set It Up," a workplace romantic comedy in which two assistants set up their demanding bosses.
“It was charming and funny," she said. "I was actually surprised by the way I laughed at it."
She also said that it had problematic representations of gender and was not breaking any boundaries of the traditional romantic comedy.
However, even as she pointed out the ridiculousness of some, like the family-driven hijinks in "Monster in Law" or the “detestable” male lead of "The Ugly Truth," she expressed a love for romantic comedies. And it seems that many viewers agree with her, considering Netflix’s decision to continue releasing romantic comedies since the initial success of "The Christmas Prince."
“And actually, here’s something else to consider — when it comes to the narrative arc of these films, the characters almost always wind up in a partnership, whether that’s what they were aiming for or not," she said. "The arc always has to do with authenticity surrounding love and desire. So I don’t know. Do we crave authenticity? Stability? ... It’s possible this resurgence is reflecting our collective desires, our collective needs — love.”
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