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Romantic comedies aren't so sweet if they only show straight people, or white people, or skinny people

Movies about love for and about everyone could pry open some minds about who is worthy of affection.
Image: Rebel Wilson, Brandon Scott Jones
Brandon Scott Jones as Donny and Rebel Wilson as Natalie in New Line Cinema's comedy, "Isn't It Romantic."Michael Parmelee / Warner Bros.

As a female film critic, I’ve often been assigned to review romantic comedies. There’s a certain sort of exhausting logic to it; after all, I’m allegedly the target audience. And female film critics have often been pretty few and far between during my career, if you can believe it.

I’ll admit that I’ve usually reserved my sharpest knives for big budget, female-targeted movies, because they’re almost always sexist garbage quickly written and sloppily directed by men who didn’t give a fig for the female psyche — or men’s, for that matter. (Let’s not even get into the movies that were so bad they didn’t even screen for critics, requiring a Friday morning schlep to the theater for schlock like “Movie 43” and “Silent Hill: Revelation.”)

It was doubly insulting that these movies were all Hollywood had to offer women when there were — and are — so many other screenwriters and directors languishing on the outskirts of Hollywood.

Love, sex, and romance are worth more than a cheap, remote-controlled vibrator joke in yet another movie that paints Katherine Heigl as a humorless shrew. Yet, if that’s all there is for women viewers, we’re left to consume it or go hungry.

It’s emotionally nourishing to see yourself in media — and not just in tragic stories, but in loving, joyful, celebratory ones. Learning to love yourself is still the greatest love of all, as Whitney once sang, but it sure doesn’t hurt to see people who look and love like you enjoying all the ridiculous trappings of big-screen romance at the Cineplex.

I love “The Crying Game,” despite how it’s aged in terms of how we’ve come to think about gender and sexuality, but there are so many movies that portray love and sex outside of the gender binary as secret, shameful and dangerous than anything else. It’s much harder to imagine that something is within your grasp if everything you see tells you that it isn’t, and it never will be.

There needs to be room for everyone to see themselves happy, loved and desired, because it is possible and you do deserve it, and it’s much easier to give up if everyone around you is telling you to.

Romance shouldn’t just be the purview of just straight people, or white people, or skinny people, and the indelible popularity of movies like “Hairspray,” “Just Wright” and “The Perfect Holiday” prove that lots of us who fall outside of the “norm” are desperate to see ourselves in cute clothes and sexy situations. “Wonder Woman” and “Black Panther” raked in the bucks not just because they’re awesome movies, but because their target audiences are radically underserved.

Similarly, the sweet teen comedy “Love, Simon” raked in the bucks, and Clea DuVall’s upcoming rom-com “Happiest Holiday” (which will star Kristen Stewart as one half of a lesbian couple heading to a family holiday party wherein awkward hijinks will ensue) has got crushed-out fans quivering with anticipation.

So perhaps some major studios are seeing the light about non-hetero romantic movies aimed at women and helmed by men. Warner Bros., for instance, is releasing “Isn’t It Romantic” right before Valentine’s Day with a huge advertising push. I haven’t seen it, but so far it seems quite promising: With plus-sized Rebel Wilson in the lead, it seemingly portrays her not as a joke or a goofy, horned-up weirdo but as a smart, sexy chick being wooed by Liam Hemsworth. That might seem like nothing, but it’s not. (It’s also clutch that Wilson apologized for her statement on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” that she is “the first ever plus-sized girl to be the star of a romantic comedy,” even though Queen Latifah, Mo’Nique, Ricki Lake and a few other choice ladies paved the way.)

And then there’s “Schitt’s Creek,” which is touching a tender nerve with audiences for reasons other than Catherine O’Hara’s mesmerizing outfit changes. Dan Levy, who co-created the series with his father Eugene, co-stars as David Rose, who evolves from a spoiled brat (draped in asymmetrical Rick Owens-esque outfits) to half of one of the most charming couples in media today, alongside Noah Reid as Patrick.

There is something so effortless about the portrayal of their courtship — not the courtship itself, of course, because that’s not how life or sitcoms work — and what’s more, David’s laidback description of his pansexuality ("I like the wine and not the label") is so logical that anyone can get it.

The comfort and trust that builds between David and Patrick is one of the sweetest and truest portrayals of love I’ve seen in mainstream media in quite a while. It’s not pedantic; it’s not a big deal. It just is.

Ideally, pop culture can engender sympathy for those we consider “other.” In my less-generous moments, it seems like a fun idea to make some mean-spirited folks watch John Waters’ “Hairspray” for 12 hours straight, “Clockwork Orange”-style. But maybe, just maybe, the mainstreaming of rom-coms for and about everyone would pry their minds open just a little — perhaps enough to let in some sunshine and, dare I say, empathy, if not love.