She’s smart, she’s sassy, and her mistakes can be captured in print or on film. Her job can take her anywhere, introduce her to anyone. Occasionally, she has deadlines.
EXAMPLE: In 13 Going on 30, Jenna (Jennifer Garner) is an editor at a women’s magazine that needs to be redesigned, so she calls on her old friend Matty the photographer (Mark Ruffalo).
SEE ALSO: Writers in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, The Devil Wears Prada, Never Been Kissed, Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally…, and Hitch; Talk/news-show employees in Little Black Book, Someone Like You, Bridget Jones’s Diary, and Knocked Up.
The Last-Minute Sprint
You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. Or, rather, almost gone. If you run real fast (motorized transportation acceptable), you can still catch it.
EXAMPLE: In Love, Actually, young Sam (Thomas Sangster) races through an airport — a popular setting for the resolution of this particular cliché — to tell Joanna (Olivia Olson) that she’s the one.
SEE ALSO: Harry (Billy Crystal) running to Sally (Meg Ryan) on New Year’s Eve in When Harry Met Sally…; Ben (Matthew McConaughey) chasing after airport-bound Andie (Kate Hudson) on his motorcycle in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days; Lindsey (Drew Barrymore) crossing the field at Fenway Park to get to Ben (Jimmy Fallon) in Fever Pitch; Dean (Kurt Russell) and his boys boarding a Coast Guard boat to honk at Joanna (Goldie Hawn) in Overboard; and Bridget (Renée Zellweger) dashing out of her house in her underwear to catch up to Mark (Colin Firth) in Bridget Jones’s Diary.
Do You Believe In Magic?
Sometimes, finding that special someone isn’t special enough, and a truly magical — and totally unexplainable — element has to be introduced to the plot.
EXAMPLE: In Simply Irresistible, chef Amanda Shelton (Sarah Michelle Gellar) has the power to make diners feel whatever she felt while making their meals. Thanks to a magical crab.
SEE ALSO: A freeway sign giving Harris (Steve Martin) love advice in L.A. Story; a mannequin (Kim Cattrall) coming to life in Mannequin; the love of a mermaid (Daryl Hannah) that allows Allen (Tom Hanks) to breathe underwater in Splash; the tear in the space-time continuum that brings a 19th-century duke into modern Manhattan in Kate & Leopold; the Zoltar machine that ages Josh (Tom Hanks) in Big; and Nick (Mel Gibson) being able to hear women’s thoughts in What Women Want.
Dogs are man’s best friend, an extra dose of cute whenever the script needs it, and creatures that can tell us when a questionable character is A-OK.
EXAMPLE: Photographer Brian (Ben Chaplin) calls in to the radio show of animal expert Abby (Janeane Garofalo) because he can’t get the roller skates off a dog in The Truth About Cats & Dogs. The dog later brings Abby roller skates to wear and leads her on a leash to Ben.
SEE ALSO: The dog that watches Internet porn in Because I Said So; the dog that warms up to Melvin (Jack Nicholson) in As Good as It Gets; the dog that Trent (Jon Stewart) wakes up in bed next to in Playing by Heart; the dog that interrupts the kiss at the end of You’ve Got Mail; and all of Must Love Dogs.
Working Girl...Needs Balance
EXAMPLE: We’re gonna have to quote EW critic Lisa Schwarzbaum here, because we weren’t paid to see New in Town: ”Renee Zellweger teeters in high heels as a brittle singleton executrix who relocates to a Fargo-adjacent burg and discovers the virtues of ‘square’ Christian values.”
SEE ALSO: The ad exec-turned-baby applesauce maker (Diane Keaton) in Baby Boom; the home swappers (Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet) in The Holiday; the big-city fashion designer (Reese Witherspoon) who returns to her roots and coon dog cemetery in Sweet Home Alabama; and the movie star (Julia Roberts) who’s just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her in Notting Hill.
Mr. And Mrs. Right In Front Of You
Always the friend, never the boy- or girlfriend…until the end of the movie.
EXAMPLE: In Win a Date With Tad Hamilton!, Pete (Topher Grace) knows all six of Rosalee’s (Kate Bosworth) smiles. She just never stops to think that she knows all five of his.
SEE ALSO: Tom (Patrick Dempsey) and Hannah (Michelle Monaghan) in Made of Honor; Eddie (Hugh Jackman) and Jane (Ashley Judd) in Someone Like You; Charlie (Steve Martin) and Roxanne (Daryl Hannah) in Roxanne; Watts (Mary Stuart Masterson) and Keith (Eric Stoltz) in Some Kind of Wonderful; and Abby (Janeane Garofalo) and Brian (Ben Chaplin) in The Truth About Cats & Dogs.
Love At First Fight
The only thing as passionate as love is hate. Some people like a challenge and a chaste chase.
EXAMPLE: Bad boy Patrick (Heath Ledger) agrees to woo angry girl Kat (Julia Stiles) in 10 Things I Hate About You, a modern remake of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew.
SEE ALSO: Joe (Tom Hanks) and Kathleen (Meg Ryan) in You’ve Got Mail; Lucy (Sandra Bullock) and George (Hugh Grant) in Two Weeks Notice; Melanie (Michelle Pfeiffer) and Jack (George Clooney) in One Fine Day; Kate (Moira Kelly) and Doug (D.B. Sweeney) in The Cutting Edge; Erica (Diane Keaton) and Harry (Jack Nicholson) in Something’s Gotta Give; and Carol (Helen Hunt) and Melvin (Jack Nicholson) in As Good as It Gets.
Apparently, the best/easiest way to make a woman seem vulnerable/single is to have her fall on her butt or walk face-first into something. The pratfall epidemic is truly painful.
EXAMPLE: In Bridget Jones’s Diary, Bridget (Renée Zellweger) slides down a firemen’s pole onto her bottom (and a camera); in Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, she parachutes into a pigpen and slides off the roof while spying on Mark (Colin Firth).
SEE ALSO: Jessica Alba in Good Luck Chuck; Amanda Bynes in What a Girl Wants; Drew Barrymore in Never Been Kissed; Monica Potter in Head Over Heels; Hilary Swank in P.S. I Love You; Anna Faris in The House Bunny; Brittany Murphy in Little Black Book; and Anne Hathaway in The Princess Diaries.
It’s amazing what discovering makeup can do for a woman in 90 minutes.
EXAMPLE: In The Mirror Has Two Faces, Gregory (Jeff Bridges) marries Rose (Barbra Streisand) because he wants a woman he truly likes, but doesn’t lust after. Rose realizes she’s settled and does some major lifestyle changes and cosmetics shopping while Gregory is on a book tour, and he just has to learn to love her even if she is hot.
SEE ALSO: Abby (Janeane Garofalo) in The Truth About Cats & Dogs; Laney (Rachael Leigh Cook) in She’s All That; Gracie (Sandra Bullock) in Miss Congeniality; Josie (Drew Barrymore) in Never Been Kissed; Toula (Nia Vardalos) in My Big Fat Greek Wedding; Kiki (Julia Roberts) in America’s Sweethearts; and Mia (Anne Hathaway) in The Princess Diaries.
The Lonely Montage
This either occurs at the start of the movie to show us how sad someone’s life is, quickly, or two-thirds through the movie, when said person has loved and (momentarily) lost.
EXAMPLE: Notting Hill almost gets you to feel sad for a man (Hugh Grant) who dated a hot movie star (Julia Roberts), because when they part, he still has to go watch her space movie and see her face on a bus. He also has to walk so long that we see the seasons change.
SEE ALSO: Cher (Alicia Silverstone) walking in Clueless; Bridget (Renée Zellweger) eating directly out of a jar in Bridget Jones’s Diary; and Harry (Billy Crystal) reading the last page of a book in When Harry Met Sally….
Bad Influence Buddies
They are the guys who give the leading man bad advice or want to keep him a man-boy for whatever reason: They don’t want him to leave the fold, they’re jealous, they just don’t know any better.
EXAMPLE: In Knocked Up, when Ben (Seth Rogen) needs to grow up and prepare for the birth of his child, his roommates (including Jason Segel, Jonah Hill, and Jay Baruchel) are content to keep him working on a Mr. Skin-like site and smoking weed.
SEE ALSO: Stef (James Spader) in Pretty in Pink; Hater (Rob Corddry) in What Happens in Vegas; Johnny O (Jon Favreau) in The Break-Up; Trent (Vince Vaughn) and company in Swingers; and Cal (Seth Rogen) and company in The 40 Year-Old Virgin.
Ridiculous Proofs Of Love
Think of these acts as fill-in-the-blank responses to the sentence: ”If we’re meant to be together…”
EXAMPLE: Borrowing from An Affair to Remember, Sleepless in Seattle‘s Annie (Meg Ryan) asks Sam (Tom Hanks) to meet her at the top of the Empire State Building — when he lives in Seattle and she lives in Baltimore.
SEE ALSO: Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) and Steve (David Eigenberg) agree to meet on the Brooklyn Bridge if they want to work on their marriage in the Sex and the City movie; and Sara (Kate Beckinsale) and Jonathan (John Cusack) decide that if they’re soul mates, she’ll one day be handed the five-dollar bill he wrote his number on or he’ll buy the book in which she did, in Serendipity.
The guy has been drooling over the girl since the opening credits, and now she’s drunk/angry/insane and throwing herself at him. But he just…can’t….do it. Because he loves her. Because he cares about her too much. Because… Oh, give us a break. He’d totally do it.
EXAMPLE: When Peter (Jason Segel) finally gets Sarah (Kristen Bell) back in his bed in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, he can’t quite rise to the occasion.
SEE ALSO: The Cutting Edge, Superbad.
Schlubby Guy, Pretty Girl
A close cousin to the ”Fat Guy, Skinny Wife” rule of sitcoms, this applies to movies where a superhot girl falls for a guy totally below her league because she learns what a nice guy he is. When was the last time a schlubby girl got a hot guy?
EXAMPLE: Kevin James’ meek accountant wins the heart of the überbabe played by Amber Valleta in Hitch.
SEE ALSO: Steve Martin and Daryl Hannah in Roxanne; and Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl in Knocked Up.
Rom-coms don’t feature a lot of car chases, but there are still plenty of hair-raising highway scenes thanks to daffy heroines who can’t stay in their lane to save their lives.
EXAMPLE: Annie (Diane Keaton) in Annie Hall was a terror behind the wheel of her VW Bug.
SEE ALSO: Kimberly Wallace (Cameron Diaz) in My Best Friend’s Wedding.
Nobody’s ever quite who they seem in rom-coms: That bum on the street? He might be a prince. And that guy who seems like your soul mate? He might be your worst enemy in disguise.
EXAMPLE: In Maid in Manhattan, all it takes is a nice outfit to convince politician Christopher Marshall (Ralph Fiennes) that Marisa Ventura (Jennifer Lopez) is a high-society gal instead of a lowly maid.
SEE ALSO: Roman Holiday, Just One of the Guys, and Beauty and the Beast.
In a romantic comedy, love isn’t true unless it’s professed in front of a group of people…the bigger the better.
EXAMPLE: In Never Been Kissed, Josie Geller (Drew Barrymore) makes her beau (Michael Vartan) prove his love to her by necking on the pitcher’s mound in front of a crowd of baseball fans.
SEE ALSO: Fever Pitch.
Top Of The Stairs Moment
Don’t get too literal: We don’t always mean actual stairs. A ”top of the stairs” moment is that scene where the heroine walks into a room transformed, looking for the first time like the bombshell we always knew she was.
EXAMPLE: After coming out of her shell with the help of a makeover, She’s All That‘s Laney Boggs (Rachel Leigh Cook) has her ta-dah moment…on an actual staircase.
SEE ALSO: Pretty Woman, and Pretty In Pink, Miss Congeniality.
Eating For Two. Or Three...
Our guess is the average rom-com heroine weighs somewhere around a buck-ten. So how come these gals always seem to have the appetite of a team of football players?
EXAMPLE: Working for gajillionaire George Wade (Hugh Grant) must burn a lot of calories, but nobody could order as much Chinese food as Lucy Kelson (Sandra Bullock) does in Two Weeks Notice and still keep her figure.
SEE ALSO: Miss Congeniality.
Egregious Girl Bonding
Gal pals in rom-coms have a tendency to prove their friendship with elaborate, embarrassing activities that usually involve music.
EXAMPLE: The infamous midnight margarita scene in Practical Magic, set to Harry Nilsson’s ”Coconut.”
SEE ALSO: Sex and the City.
Kissing, fighting, serenading… You name it; everything is sexier in the rain.
EXAMPLE: When Carrie (Andie MacDowell) shows up at Charles’ (Hugh Grant) house sopping wet at the end of Four Weddings and a Funeral, you know it’s love.
SEE ALSO: Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
I've ''Nothing'' To Wear...
Rom-coms and fashion go together like horror movies and blood, so it’s no surprise that the majority of them include a scene in which a character tries on a series of outfits in front of giggling friends, helpful salespeople, or smitten lovers.
EXAMPLE: Jane (Katherine Heigl) shows Kevin (James Marsden) her entire wardrobe of bridesmaid dresses in 27 Dresses.
SEE ALSO: Pretty Woman, and Sex and the City.
Singing Into Objects
Shakespeare said, ”All the world’s a stage.” But in rom-coms, it’s more like one giant karaoke booth, where anything from a hairbrush to a spoon (preferably yanked out of a pint of ice cream) can turn into a microphone for an impromptu song.
EXAMPLE: There are many stages of grief, but we’re pretty sure singing Judy Garland into a hairbrush — like the recently widowed Holly (Hilary Swank) does in P.S. I Love You — isn’t one of them.
SEE ALSO: Bridget Jones’s Diary.
Heroines in romantic comedies tend to be a neurotic bunch. But they pale in comparison to their best friends, who are often eccentric to the point of flat-out craziness.
EXAMPLE: Joan Cusack set the bar for oddball supporting characters with her wacky turns in rom-coms like Working Girl and In & Out. Nowadays, it seems like the torch has been passed to Judy Greer, who consistently steals her scenes in movies like The Wedding Planner and 27 Dresses.
SEE ALSO: Sleepless in Seattle.