Top 10 Times Rom-Coms Tackled Serious Issues

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Top 10 Times Rom-Coms Tackled Serious Issues

VOICE OVER: Samantha Clinch WRITTEN BY: Sammie Purcell
For those who think rom-coms are all lighthearted, these ones tackled some serious issues. For this list, we'll be looking at every time we were surprised by a pretty heavy issue in our otherwise favorite form of light entertainment. Our countdown includes "Crazy Rich Asians," "Pretty Woman," "The Big Sick," and more!
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Top 10 Times Rom-Coms Tackled Serious Issues


Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Times Rom-Coms Tackled Serious Issues.

For this list, we’ll be looking at every time we were surprised by a pretty heavy issue in our otherwise favorite form of light entertainment. We left out any teen movies, like “Juno,” because there could be a whole nother list of issues to tackle for those films – let’s face it, teens have to handle a lot. It should be noted that we will be touching upon a few spoilers.

If we missed any of your faves, let us know in the comments below.

#10: OCD
“As Good as It Gets” (1997)


Most romantic comedies don’t delve too deep into mental illness, let alone behavioral disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder. But in 1997’s “As Good As It Gets,” Jack Nicholson plays Melvin Udall, a best-selling romance novelist who deals with his OCD everyday. Melvin isn’t the nicest of guys, often bigoted and rude in all of his interactions. But through his relationship with a waitress named Carol and his neighbor Simon, he begins to see the world in a different light and open up his heart to different types of people. At the end of the film, Melvin’s learned that while his condition might be tough to deal with, it’s easier with people you love by your side.

#9: Classism
“Crazy Rich Asians” (2018)


“Crazy Rich Asians” is a super fun rom-com, filled with colorful scenery, gorgeous gowns, and genuinely great chemistry between leads Constance Wu and Henry Golding. But the film also deals with classism and the prejudice people can face if they come from a different economic class than their partner. When Nick invites Rachel to celebrate his best friend’s wedding with him in Singapore, she learns that his family is one of the richest in the country. Nick’s family, particularly his mother, treats her with disdain for her working-class roots throughout the film. While Nick and Rachel end up coming out stronger on the other side, it’s definitely rough going for a moment.

#8: Death of a Spouse
“Sleepless in Seattle” (1993)


Everyone loves “Sleepless in Seattle” for its amazing ending scene when Sam and Annie finally meet each other on top of the Empire State Building. The story that takes us to that exhilarating moment actually deals with some pretty heavy stuff though. Namely, Sam coping with the death of his wife and being a single parent. Urged on by his son Jonah’s concern, Sam tries to speak about his loss on a national radio show, despite the Christmas season making the pain even more difficult than usual. Tom Hanks plays the moment perfectly, capturing real heartbreak and loss in that moment.

#7: Assault
“Pretty Woman” (1990)


After watching this scene in “Pretty Woman,” we could never look at George Costanza the same. This classic romantic comedy stars Julia Roberts as a sex worker named Vivian, who falls in love with the wealthy Edward after he hires her to pretend to be his girlfriend for a few weeks. Edward ends up falling in love with Vivian too, and as a result changes his mind about a very important business decision. Angered by the decision, Edward’s attorney Phillip – played by Jason Alexander of “Seinfeld” fame – attempts to assault Vivian. It’s an extremely difficult scene to get through in an otherwise fairly light romantic comedy.

#6: Coming Out Late in Life
“Beginners” (2010)


“Beginners” is a romantic comedy that forays into sad moments more than most. Constructed as a series of flashbacks, the film revolves around Oliver, who is reflecting on his relationship with his father Hal just after Hal has died of cancer. A few years before Hal died, he came out as gay to his son, causing their relatinship to strengthen and become more honest. The film deals a lot with the trials and tribulations of coming out later in life. Christopher Plummer is excellent in the role of Hal, capturing the joy and tragedy of the character in perfect measure.

#5: Unplanned Pregnancy
“Knocked Up” (2007)


Far be it from us to expect Judd Apatow to tackle a serious subject in one of his movies, but in 2007, he sort of did. “Knocked Up” is about Alison and Ben, two strangers who have a one-night stand and never intend to see each other again. Unfortunately for them, Alison finds out she’s pregnant eight weeks later, and Ben agrees to support her throughout the process. Sure, the film is filled with crass jokes and gags. But it actually handles the tough situation that Alison and Ben face with more care than one might expect from a Seth Rogen vehicle.

#4: Mental Illness
“Silver Linings Playbook” (2012)


Some romantic comedies manage to squeeze serious situations into their narratives, but this movie tackles heavy stuff from the jump. At the beginning of “Silver Linings Playbook,” Pat is leaving a psychiatric hospital where he’s spent the last eight months undergoing treatment for bipolar disorder. While trying to win back his ex-wife, he meets Tiffany, a widow who is also struggling with mental illness. He ends up agreeing to be her partner for a dance competition if she helps him win back his ex. Sparks fly between the two, and the film does a great job of meshing the regular rom-com beats with more serious scenes.

#3: Social Anxiety
“Punch-Drunk Love” (2002)


Loneliness can be just as heavy to deal with as any other emotion, and no rom-com explores that better than 2002’s “Punch-Drunk Love.” This irreverent romantic comedy follows Barry, an extremely lonely, isolated man who suffers from social anxiety. He has seven sisters who don’t exactly help with the situation, and he sometimes resorts to calling phone sex lines to cope with his loneliness. But, when he meets Lena, things start to look up. The film does a wonderful job of keeping the tone of the film light while still giving Barry’s feelings the appropriate weight they deserve.

#2: Severe Illness/Chronic Illness
“The Big Sick” (2017)


The semi-autobiographical story of Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon starts out sad, but ends up turning into a love story for the ages. “The Big Sick” more than does their story justice. In the film, Kumail meets Emily and the two start dating, but Kumail keeps the relationship from his parents, afraid they won’t accept a white partner for their Pakistani-American son. When Emily finds out, she breaks up with Kumail, but then is suddenly hospitalized with a serious lung infection that quickly turns into something more, causing her to have to go into an induced coma. The film deals with issues like racism and prejudice, and also with how Emily must deal with what becomes a serious autoimmune disorder.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.

Sex Addiction, “Sleeping with Other People” (2015)
Sex Addiction Taken Seriously

Death of a Parent, “Trainwreck” (2015)
Didn’t Expect to Cry During This Movie, But Here We Are

Grief, “The Worst Person in the World” (2021)
Losing a Friend Is the Hardest Thing

Media Ethics, “Broadcast News” (1987)
Can’t Forgive a Fake Cry

Terminating Pregnancy, “Obvious Child” (2014)
A Tough Decision to Make

#1: Domestic Violence
“Waitress” (2007)


“Waitress” is one of the most underrated romantic comedies of the 2000s. It follows Jenna, a pregnant waitress who ends up falling in love with her OBGYN. That’s already a pretty tough situation to navigate. However, the hardest part of the film to parse is Jenna’s marriage to her husband, who mistreats her regularly. The film handles domestic issues more deftly than most movies, giving proper weight to how hard it can be for a person to leave that sort of situation while still allowing Jenna to make it out in the end. The film also breaks the rom-com mold, not ending in a relationship, but rather with the love that Jenna has for her daughter.
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