Appreciating the romantic comedy of The Mindy Project
When I interviewed to work here at EW, the person who would be my future editor asked what kind of pop culture I liked. “Rom-coms,” I responded. As soon as I said it, I regretted it: This was Entertainment Weekly! These are sophisticated people! You know what’s not sophisticated? Saying Maid of Honor starring Patrick Dempsey is your favorite romantic comedy.
I, as you can tell, got the job, though I cringed for weeks after that interview, wondering how I felt passionate enough about not Breaking Bad, not Beyoncé, not, I don’t know, Citizen Kane but rom-coms that they came to mind above all else. Facing my own love of them made me feel silly, a young woman who cared more about sap that made her heart warm and her tears flow than Quality Cinema. This is a feeling that many know well: The reason I felt this, it goes without saying, is because I was told to. Definitely, Maybe and 13 Going on 30 and 27 Dresses, they’re bad, some (a lot) say. They are cheesy and overwrought and illogical and, oh, god, did I already say cheesy? How embarrassing to find guilt-free enjoyment in something many see as pure, candy-sweet fluff.
Romantic comedies — many, at least — are more than pure, candy-sweet fluff, though. They’re funny and hopeful and bright. It’s why I gravitate toward them, why many of us do. The Mindy Project gave us that for six seasons; over the course of that time, I’ve stopped feeling ashamed of my love for the genre — partly because I’ve grown up a little and realized things like sexism breed rom-com disdain, and partly because Mindy Kaling put a cool face on something deeply uncool. She’s the pretty girl at school who got braces and made everyone else want them.
There’s a lot to love about The Mindy Project’s series finale: the sweet union between Morgan and Tamra, the big dance number to a Jason Derulo song, Mindy’s predictably amazing dresses (she wears two different ones at the wedding, showing up the bride herself — of course), Jeremy’s short-lived and grief-inspired makeover, puppies. The best parts, though, are when Mindy wins. You might not want to necessarily be Mindy, but the show has made sure we at the very least appreciate her, that underneath her brashness and narcissism is confidence and intelligence and warmth. She’s a role model — a messy one who makes questionable decisions sometimes, and who is better because of it.
And even though she’s still the same Mindy who kicked off this series in 2012, she’s also grown. “One of the nice things is that not only does Mindy evolve and become the person that we hope she will become, which is less self-obsessed, is that she’s still really fun and opinionated while being good at her job and a good mom,” Kaling told EW before the final season started. And one of the key factors in this evolution is the business Mindy launched, Later Baby — a business that she nearly loses once Jody jets off for Africa, we learn in the beginning of the finale. It’s heartbreaking, imagining this thing she worked so hard at being taken away because of, as she herself says, “a white man’s whims.” But that’s another good thing about rom-coms: You can’t be stressed for too long, because everything usually works out in one way or another.
And that proves true here. Danny offers to invest in the business, saving it. At first, Mindy’s furious. She thinks Danny wants a hand in Later Baby so he can control her, a logical assumption given Danny’s past behavior. That’s not it, though: He tells her he was wrong, that he sees how she’s helped so many people. “I don’t want to tell you how to run your business,” he says. “I believe in you.” Mindy’s not the only one who’s evolved.
The surface reading here is that Danny’s swooping in to save the day, an old-fashioned plot device of man saving woman. It’s not so simple, though: Mindy doesn’t need saving, not really. No matter how bleak Later Baby’s future looked, there was always a chance she would be able to make it work somehow; she had made it this far, building a now-thriving business, after all. This was about Danny learning that he needs to change his ways, that he doesn’t know everything, that, simply, he should never doubt Mindy. It’s romantic because of that — not because he’s writing a check.
It wasn’t about to end with a business transaction though. No, it ended with a grand romantic gesture: Mindy escaping the wedding early to ride Morgan’s bike — a callback, like much of the episode, to the pilot, where she also escaped a wedding early on a bike ride that… did not end well — to the hospital, where Danny was with his recovering mother. Mindy got there, sweaty and nervous, suddenly unable to say what she wanted to say until Danny’s family pointed out to him, hey, dummy, she had other reasons for coming here tonight.
“I thought maybe you’d say that you love me again, that you want to try to make things work,” Danny admits once he confronts Mindy about his mom and brother’s suspicions.
“But I didn’t say that,” she responds.
“I wasn’t going to say that I loved you again,” she continues. “I was going to say that I never stopped loving you, and I don’t think I ever will.”
They kiss. He immediately starts thinking logistics — where will they live, what will her last name be? She suggests they sit back and watch TV, just the two of them in the breakroom. It’s quiet, quieter than a typical romantic climax on this show, and it’s beautiful. Then the camera backs away, watching Mindy and Danny cuddle. Mindy grew up loving romantic comedies; now it’s apparent she’s in her very own.
The romantic comedy genre will continue on after Mindy, and it will be better because of it. Here we saw a woman — an Indian woman, at that — with a successful career in a difficult field who was financially independent but still ached for human connection, and who wasn’t weaker because of that.
The final shot of the series is of Mindy and Danny together, yes, but it’s not about Mindy needing him. It’s clear she doesn’t. It’s about her wanting him, and allowing herself to fulfill that desire. No matter how many cute boyfriends Mindy Lahiri has had throughout The Mindy Project‘s duration, the titular project has never been “find a husband”; it’s been “find happiness.” And looking at the Mindy — one who is compassionate and follows her heart, but whose blunt nature and inappropriate sense of humor is still intact — we see in the series finale, she’s done just that.
The Mindy Project
Mindy Kaling’s rom-com follows the hilarious lives of an OBGYN and her medical practice coworkers.