Peter Bart: Resurgent Rom-Coms Might Be The “Prod Of Positivity” We’re Looking For

In Irish Wish, a new Netflix rom-com, a bride-to-be is dumped by her lover on wedding day — but, with steely determination, she quickly closes in on a handsome replacement. Consistent with rom-com protocol, her “Irish wish” is realized.

Going back to When Harry Met Sally…, there’s always been something cozy and likable about the rom-com genre. No Hard Feelings starring Jennifer Lawrence did well last year as a feature and now is up for a sequel.

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And Anyone but You has surprised rom-com experts. Its numbers are impressive – 2.8 billion hashtag views on TikTok and a worldwide box office that has surpassed $200 million. The data reminds some of a throwback to the Bridget Jones cycle.

To be sure, rom-coms have become formulaic, especially the Netflix model. But a case could be made that they now emerge as a positive social resource now.

“The Gen Z-ers need prods of positivity,” observes one psychologist. “Something is required to conquer the glum mood.”

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Some clues: According to several studies, young men and women today are increasingly deferring marriage — and kids too: “The birth rate in the U.S. is dwindling as the Gen Z demo tumbles into a sort of civilizational sadness,” writes Timothy Carny in his new book Family Unfriendly.

Further, though half of adults under 30 decided to sign up for dating apps, the market value of Bumble, Tinder and the like has declined by more than $40 billion since 2021, according to The New York Times. As a result, most app companies are busily laying off their matchmakers.

There’s even a trend among Gen Z-ers to abjure wallets, triggering a growing dependency on the digital loneliness of the smartphone. “The American Heart is closing before our very eyes,” Brad Wilcox, a sociology professor at the University of Virginia, writes in his book Get Married.

New data indicates that marriage rates are nearing the historic levels of the 2020 “plague year” or half the 1980 levels — a trend that is prompting ensemble journalistic pieces like “The Case Against Marriage” in the Atlantic. “There is zero advantage in the western world for a young man to get married,” argues one writer.

“The skepticism on marriage contrasts with what are relatively healthy economic circumstances,” the Wall Street Journal argues this week. “Gen Z workers are entering the labor market during a historically strong stretch.” The Journal nonetheless sites a survey from the University of Chicago that finds “lower levels of happiness and less trust” in the 18-25 age range.

“Gen Z Americans stand out from previous generations for their pessimism and lower expectations for their lives,” concludes Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University.

The signals of decline in dating apps underscore this pessimism, analysts suggest. When Bumble last week laid off a third of its workforce, its CEO Lidiane Jones explained, “While the demand for connection remains strong, the products to create those connections are not serving users.”

Younger daters increasingly look to Snapchat or TikTok to make their connections, but TikTok, too, has hit speed bumps as users “pursue more in-person experience,” says one analyst. TikTok also is enmeshed in political warfare given charges that its content is manipulated by the Chinese government.

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Will these glum attitudes open a wider audience for feel-good rom-coms? Irish Wish, directed by Janeen Damian, might be a good indicator.

It’s set at an Ireland location that seems remarkably warm and sunny. Maddie, a book editor, travels there to marry Paul, a handsome novelist whose best sellers she edits. The action takes place at a lavish manor in County Mayo, with ample shots of tourist attractions like the towering cliffs of Moher.

A rival suddenly intrudes on the scene, and his aggressive attitude sets off Maddie’s suspicions. In response, Maddie takes an interest in an athletic young wildlife photographer who also happens on the scene – an unlikely candidate to shoot a wedding.

Lindsay Lohan is apt casting for Maddie, having starred in movies like Mean Girls and Freaky Friday. Her personal life always has seemed akin to that of a rom-com — child model at age 5, soap opera actress at 10, tabloid gossip star at 14. Her assorted addictions and romances led to a documentary series titled Lindsay, featuring Oprah Winfrey as her guide.

As directed by Damian, Maddie’s romantic encounters seem almost quaint, with abrupt cutaways when sex looms, or doesn’t — this is a rom-com, we are reminded, not a romp-com.

Maddie ends up with a better career and a better guy. Viewers come away with a positive attitude, unusual among Gen Zs. Even the random sociologists and psychologists can breathe easier, for the moment.

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