After a couple of weeks of quarantine, you’ve already binge-watched Tiger King, The Office, and every other movie in your Netflix queue. Now what?
You stop and ask yourself: “Where are all the rom-coms for guys?”
Don’t worry. The Manly Man’s Guide to rom-coms introduces you into a world of love, laughter, and Matthew McConaughey. Despite the prevailing theory that men skip past the romantic comedies section on their streaming services, a recent study that demonstrates that men like romantic comedies nearly as much as women.
So if men often like romantic comedies when they take the time to watch them, what’s the problem? It’s got to be a branding issue, and an unfortunate one. Manly men do, and should, love romantic comedies, and I’m about to show you why.
But first, let’s unpack why romantic comedies are often marketed to and watched by women.
Why do women like romantic comedies?
A study conducted by the Technical University of Dortmund suggests that the reason why women tend to like romantic comedies is “that our minds are conditioned in a gendered way to process different kinds of story differently” (as summarized by one of their researchers). Like men who have traditional masculine norms pushed on them from family and entertainment, women have been subjected to similar ideals thrust on them since birth. Whether it was the fairy-tale princess being swept off her feet by prince charming or the dollhouse advertisements, these feminine norms sold young girls on the importance of romance and love.
I asked my wife why she liked romantic comedies, and she explained that women tend to see themselves in the female leads. Similarly to how men like to imagine themselves as Rocky, or Ryan Reynolds, women see themselves as Bridget Jones or Kate Hudson. Women tend to play the lead in romantic comedies—and have better character development than in other movie genres. In many action movies, the female characters are sex objects solely existing to be conquered and earned. In romantic comedies, well… here’s a collection of Chris Evans shirtless gifs.
(My wife, while reading over this piece: “So where IS that Chris Evans link?” Here you go, Rachel.)
When I ask men about their favorite romantic comedies, I get an abrupt dismissal. When I press further, I find that they tell me that they find romantic comedies unrealistic or that they can’t relate to the characters. I don’t know if I’d say the story of Elle Woods in Legally Blonde is any more unrealistic than any stunt pulled by John McClane in Die Hard, and I certainly don’t know many men who look anything like the male action heroes we love (with nods to Idris Elba, Jason Momoa, and Hugh Jackman). I think men don’t like rom-coms because they’re not supposed to. Somehow romantic comedies are only for women, as if love is only for women, and that enjoying them compromises one’s “man card.”
If you need someone else to say it, I will: it’s okay to love romantic comedies. You’ve probably already seen and enjoyed a bunch, especially if those romantic comedies have been made for guys.
You already like rom-coms
Think about a film like The 40-Year Old Virgin.
I love this movie. I also consider it to be a romantic comedy.
In the movie, Steve Carell’s character, Andy, is a 40-year old virgin. The story centers on his quest not only to lose his virginity but to also find love. Andy meets a ton of new women, gets together with Trish, they break up, and then they get back together after a series of hilarious and unfortunate circumstances. This movie has all the familiar tropes for a rom-com. But this movie was marketed for guys. It’s considered a comedy (or a “sex comedy,” per Wikipedia), changing the marketing language to be more accessible to men.
Do any of your favorite comedies qualify as romantic comedies? Here are some hallmark traits of romantic comedies for men.
1. Male Bonding
One of the best parts of The 40-Year Old Virgin is the cast of male characters that help Andy on his quest to lose his virginity. Each of the guys provides Andy with the camaraderie and close friendship he lacks at the beginning of the movie. And when you think about it, Andy is allowed to be quite vulnerable around them: he admits to being a virgin, goes through the painful process of getting his chest hair waxed, and even takes him out to the bar when he’s feeling low. Way to demonstrate positive masculinity!
And that’s common for a lot of rom-coms for guys. Knocked Up’s setting entirely revolves around male friendship because all of the main male characters, and even Kathryn Heigel, the female lead, live in the same house. A similar male friend’s group surrounds Jay Baruchel’s character in She’s Out of My League, or Ben Affleck’s character in Chasing Amy.
The same way women like to envision themselves as the main female characters in romantic comedies, men do the same here. We all want to have close male friendships, and the bromances featured in these films are represented equally to the romantic relationships that the movie is about.
2. Schlub Guys
So I might get a little flack for this one, but remember how I said guys like to envision themselves as the action hero? Well, when it comes to certain romantic comedies, the male leads are typically schlubs. Look at Seth Rogan, Jay Baruchel, or any Adam Sandler film. The difference in attractiveness between the male and female actors is rather astounding. Heck, that’s even the plot to She’s Out of My League.
But the common-man lead actor is where film studios believe they can connect to men. It’s kind of like when a guy watches porn—men don’t want to watch porn featuring a guy with a little penis, they want to imagine having a bigger dick. But of course, the dick can’t be too big. So to complete the analogy: Steve Carell is the guy you can imagine being, and Channing Tatum is just too big a leap.
The Netflix romantic comedy Always Be My Maybe uses this trope as a storyline device as Ali Wong’s character ends up dating Keanu Reeves. Reeves’ character is just that he’s perfect, which proves to be the ideal foil for Randall Park, a “normal-looking” guy in comparison.
Rom-coms for guys are always about being funny first. It’s about cracking jokes and making fun of the male lead. Let’s rewatch the trailer for Knocked Up: there’s arguably around 30 seconds of relationship footage, and two minutes of jokes. Seth Rogan doing his dice dance move, Seth Rogan playing fetch with the children, Seth Rogan falling off the trampoline. When it comes to rom-coms advertised for guys, it’s about humor first. That makes sense since men struggle with vulnerability, and often use comedy as a deflection tool to avoid honest, truthful conversations.
If we compare the trailer of Knocked Up to the classic Sleepless in Seattle, the story is presented with soft-piano music in the background. It introduces us to Tom Hanks’ character talking to a radio station about his late wife. And of course, there are some jokes in the trailer (it’s still called a romantic comedy), they are secondary to the love story between Hanks and Ryan. Romance comes first.
The other noticeable difference between Knocked Up and more traditional romantic comedies is outright said in the trailer when Rogan’s dad tells him, “You get to be the hero of your story.” And that’s where the advertising tries to hook guys in: like any action movie, or sports movie, men want to be the hero. So why present them any other way in a romantic comedy. Male-driven romantic comedies are built around the idea that the man in the relationship shapes up, turns into the good guy, and saves the day (and his relationship) in 90- 124 minutes.
The best rom-coms for guys
Now is the perfect time to start watching those hidden or overlooked gems from your Netflix (or whichever streaming service you use) queue. Unlike most lists of the best romantic comedies, this list is centered around you: the dude.
Each section is curated based on the type of dude you see yourself as.
1. The Goose
You cannot start any list of rom-coms for guys without starting with Ryan Gosling. The Goose has not only starred in one of the best action films of all time while wearing the most bad-ass jacket of all-time, but Gosling has also proven to be one of the best romantic comedy leads ever.
Crazy, Stupid, Love
Crazy, Stupid, Love allows Gosling to play off the ever-funny Steve Carell in one of the most memorable romantic comedies of the 2010s. The plot revolves around the recently separated Carell teaming up with the stylish ladies man played by Gosling (building a close male friendship) to re-introduce himself into the world of dating. It’s not just a romantic comedy, but it’s the story of how to grow up while in a relationship.
Plus, it has one of the best finales in all of romantic comedy history.
Lars and the Real Girl
What do Rachel McAdams, Emma Stone, and a real doll all have in common? They’ve all had the opportunity to play Gosling’s fictitious love interest. In the case of the real-doll, real fictitious. Lars and the Real Girl might be the first romantic comedy that exists between man and doll as Gosling’s character finds himself in love with a real doll named Bianca. What happens next is a story of a man overcoming mental illness and how a town comes together to help.
2. The Heartbroken
If I had to make a list of the worst times to be broken up with, I’d argue being under coronavirus quarantine has to be one of them. Thankfully, there’s a collection of romantic comedies that exist to remind you that breakups suck, you’re not alone, and that someday you’ll find someone to love.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
This is one of my absolute favorite romantic comedies ever. Forgetting Sarah Marshall is one of those movies that’s not only a reminder of the kindness of the community, but it’s also ridiculously funny. The film follows Peter, a lost and heartbroken 30-something, on his way to escape his most recent ex-girlfriend. Unfortunately, she’s in Hawaii too. What I love most about Forgetting Sarah Marshall is that it isn’t love that saves the day for Peter, but instead, it’s how his personal growth led him to love.
500 Days of Summer
I’m going to be the one to say it: don’t be like Tom, the male main character of 500 Days of Summer. The story is simple: Tom falls in love with Summer, their relationship gets complicated, and what happens next is a film that depicts one of the most real depictions of heartache on camera. What makes this movie is extraordinary is how well it highlights the problems with memories and breakups: memories are fleeting, and expectations can be dangerous.
3. The Son-in-Law
June 11th, a normal Saturday morning. You wake up, feed the pets, pour yourself a bowl of cereal, and notice that your wedding pictures are suddenly on the mantle. And wait, this table is clean. Your eyes scan the room until a red circle around the date captures your attention.
In your partner’s handwriting, “Mom and dad arrive.”
In-laws. Oh no. Welcome to the thunderdome where the only rules are you cannot complain about your mother-in-law’s food and you must wear pants.
Meet the Parents
Think about your first impressions of your in-laws. Now have any of them been Robert DeNiro, and have they asked if you could milk them? Probably not, which is why Meet the Parents is a perennial classic romantic comedy. You get to live through Ben Stiller’s worst nightmare as he struggles to find common ground with his intense father-in-law.
Ignore the low Rotten Tomatoes score, Why Him? fits in everything needed to be a great rom-com for guys. Brian Cranston, James Franco, and a bunch of curse words make this movie salvageable. And if you’ve ever wondered if Steve Aoki makes an appearance in a romantic comedy, wonder no more as he definitely cameos in this one.
4. The Teenager
Oh, what’s it like to be a teenager in love.
Screw that. Being a teenager in a relationship sucks. Curfews, immaturity, and losing your virginity while Snakes on a Plane is on in the background? Oh, is the last one, just me? Let’s take a look at the rom-coms for guys that make us cringe at our teenage selves.
10 Things I Hate About You
A classic retelling of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew features a young Heath Ledger and Joseph Gordon Levitt as they pursue love in high school. 10 Things I Hate About You is timeless because of the way it captures the awkwardness of being a teen: from your first party to your first kiss, few rom-coms for guys make us reminisce for the joys of teenagedom.
The only zom-rom-com to make the list, Zombieland is part survival, part comedy, and part love story put all together to create one of the most unique rom-coms on the list. Zombieland is also probably the most graphic, and violent rom-com on the list if you think about it. Doesn’t matter. If you love love, love the undead, and love Bill Murray and you haven’t given Zombieland a shot, check it out now.
5. The Fixer-Upper
The fixer-upper is the partner who believes they can fix their messy lover from themselves. Sometimes it works (look at Robert Downey Junior); other times they stay a disaster. But for men who love underdog stories, there might be no better genre of romantic comedies than the fixer-upper collection.
Starring Amy Schumer as the lead, Trainwreck is like the female version of Knocked Up (without all the pregnancy stuff). Schumer’s character is a playgirl, spending late nights drinking and having sex with John Cena until she meets a handsome sports doctor who challenges her beliefs on monogamy. This movie also features a tremendous performance by Lebron James as Bill Hader’s wingman.
My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend
This is the only non-movie movie on this list. Mike Birbiglia’s comedy special My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend pushes comedy show boundaries by using a stage, some jokes, and his approachable charm to tell the story of love. He uses humor as a way to let people in, but as the story unfolds, you will begin to recognize how one person can change your life for the better.
Familiar tropes surrounding men, women, and romance don’t hold up. Men want to be loved and desired just as much as women according to Lisa Marie Bobby, a couples therapist who spoke with Fatherly about men and romance. Bobby said, “I can’t tell you how many poignant conversations I’ve had with men who want nothing more than to feel connected to and loved by the women in their life.” Men want to be heard, want to be touched, and want to be loved just as much as their partners.
So what’s man to do? Grab your favorite pint of Ben & Jerry’s, your coziest blanket, and let streaming romantic comedies sweep you away while locked inside this spring.