Chemistry is perhaps the most elusive of all cinematic ingredients. Critics can point to craft in elements like directorial technique, set design, editing, and the rest; great acting can be taught, and recognized as such. But chemistry is out of everyone’s hands. Either people have it with one another or they don’t. Until you get two people together and watch the sparks fly, it’s a complete X factor. But to take that essential romantic ingredient and add comedy on top of it? It’s like trying to film someone performing a flawless tightrope walk while simultaneously walking a second tightrope yourself. Thus, The A.V. Club has compiled the following A-to-Z list of the most essential romantic comedies, to highlight the brilliance and difficulty of this remarkable cinematic balancing act.
It should be noted that the rules for what movies qualify as a rom-com are tough to articulate: At a certain point, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s rule about pornography comes into play: We can’t define “rom-com” precisely, but we know it when we see it. Hence, something like The Graduate fails the test, while Punch-Drunk Love’s fundamental humor and romance at its heart allow it to make the cut. Plus, there are certain lauded qualities of contemporary rom-coms (such as the “comfort food” consideration) that rank as less meritorious in the evaluation of great cinema. Still, the below films all demonstrate the requisite ingredients in spades—and anyone not seeing their own treasured rom-com nominees are encouraged to make the case for them in the comments. Fighting for the object of your affection? That’s amore.
This article originally published on February 7, 2022