What constitutes a “romantic comedy” has evolved over the years, even if some of its more problematic characters have not. Many modern rom-coms take into account the highs and lows of online dating and go beyond the tiresome will-they-won’t-they storyline.
Netflix has started pumping out its own takes on the rom-com—Master of None, Love, Easy—but they don’t beat some of the classics of the genre. Here’s a rundown of some of the best new and old romantic comedies on Netflix.
1) Man Up
This 2015 film takes the missed connection plotline and gives it a twist. Lake Bell plays Nancy, a woman who’s more interested in eating chips in bed and reciting lines from Silence of the Lambs than dating, but thanks to a conversation on a train, she ends up meeting Jack (Simon Pegg), who thinks he’s her blind date. There are the usual rom-com hijinks once the truth comes out, but then the film can breathe a little bit, as Nancy and Jack become unexpected allies.
Before American Ultra, another quirky rom-com, Kristen Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg starred together in this throwback to 1987. Ryan Reynolds, Kristen Wiig, and Bill Hader also star in this film about a gang of kids stuck working at an amusement park, directed by Superbad’s Greg Mottola.
3) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
This film will resonate with anyone who’s wished they could just erase an ex from their memory, which sort of erases the “romantic comedy” part of it. Still, director Michel Gondry’s 2004 film is affecting more than a decade later for its portrayal of the grey depths of a breakup and balances the more depressing moments with surreal dream sequences and visually stunning flashes that show the beginnings of a relationship.
This isn’t a rom-com in the traditional sense, thanks to the line “fuck me gently with a chainsaw,” among other things. But the relationship between Winona Ryder’s and Christian Slater’s characters is one of the more complex to emerge from the ‘80s high school genre. Veronica (Ryder), one of the four popular “Heathers,” finds a mirror in JD (Slater), an outcast who inadvertently hatches a plan that kills one of the Heathers. Their relationship doesn’t have a meet-cute; it’s more about what love (or lust) makes you blind to.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet 2001 film made Audrey Tautou a star, and it’s easy to see why. As the title character, she finds joy in bringing joy to others, quietly pulling strings around Paris to brighten the lives of strangers. She’s not a matchmaker; Amelie’s goal is something bigger. But then she stumbles upon Nino, a man with a similar goal.
6) Me and You and Everyone We Know
Miranda July’s first feature film mirrors Jeunet’s a bit: She plays Christine, an artist with an eye for people’s odd quirks, including her own. When she happens upon Richard (John Hawkes), she’s drawn to his vulnerability, and the two engage in a tentative back and forth that begins with a poetic walk down the street. The supporting characters add to the intimacy and show we’re all just looking for someone to walk with.
Mike Mills’ 2011 film is a left and right hook: a story about a father coming to the end of his life and coming out to his son. Christopher Plummer and Ewan McGregor are easy in this role, and Beginners is full of charming, poignant scenes (including a tear-jerker with a cute dog). Of course, when Oliver (McGregor) meets a free-spirited woman named Anna (Melanie Laurent), a little more light comes in.
8) Working Girl
Melanie Griffith memorialized the line “I have a head for business and a bod for sin.” Mike Nichols’s 1988 film about a woman trying to work her way up in sexist corporate America has some of the typical underpinnings of a rom-com (the competitive other woman, played here by Sigourney Weaver; the man who sees her for who she really is), but Griffith and her hustle steer the thing. Working Girl satirizes Wall Street narcissism and what “it’s just business” really means.