People seem to have a love–hate relationship with romantic tropes: They’re frustrating yet satisfying, predictable yet comforting, cringe–inducing, and yet, you can't peel your eyes away from the screen. The best rom–coms and romantic dramas have shamelessly embraced romantic tropes and made them their own, resulting in a plethora of timeless classics at one’s disposal around this time of the year.
Granted, romantic tropes are not universally salvageable. Netflix’s holiday rom–com Love Hard, starring Nina Dobrev and Jimmy O. Yang, is predicated on the fake relationship trope and begins with male protagonist and social recluse Josh catfishing Natalie into spending Christmas with him. Naturally, they fall in love, despite being entirely incompatible. Josh’s insecurities about navigating the online dating realm as an Asian man, grounded in real–life examples of categorical discrimination against Asian men on dating platforms like Tinder, are magically fixed by the validation of a conventionally attractive white woman. Even without the problematic plot, movies that employ the fake relationship trope often refuse to dig any deeper, insisting that all differences are conquerable with love.
However, when executed well, romantic tropes can serve as candid reflections on the natural progression of relationships, and delight their audience when paired with compelling characters. You find yourself rooting for the star–crossed lovers, sobbing about the missed connections, and screaming at the character who's too oblivious to dump their toxic, longtime partner. For those wishing to curl up with a film that’s a tolerable level of cheesy this Valentine’s Day, here are some romantic tropes that top the list, along with the movies that best encapsulate them:
Right person, wrong time
The right person, wrong time trope is inherently bittersweet, differentiating it from typical romantic tropes that lead to a happily–ever–after ending. The audience is forced to reconcile a potentially perfect pairing with the reality of their situations, leading to a more realistic understanding of love.
500 Days of Summer begins by declaring that “this is not a love story.” Tom is a hopeless romantic; Summer is a cynic when it comes to love. Despite their opposite worldviews, they bond over their love of The Smiths and begin casually dating. However, their passionate romance is short–lived, and the movie ends up devoting as much attention to the breakup as it does the relationship.
For another example, in Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women, one can’t help but wish that Laurie’s courting of his childhood best friend Jo comes to fruition, seeing as they bring out the best in each other and form a bond unlike that between any other characters in the movie. Instead, the film eventually goes the route of exploring the social forces that shaped Jo’s decision to remain unmarried, and the ending is one that truly tugs at your heartstrings.
The soulmates trope is a classic. It permits serendipitous encounters, like in Before Sunrise, which depicts two strangers who meet on a train in Europe and spontaneously decide to spend one night in Vienna simply talking and enjoying each other’s presence. The plot is uncomplicated yet emotive, and the movie is essentially one long, fascinating conversation.
Your Name is a particularly creative interpretation of the soulmates trope with an otherworldly premise: two high schoolers with no prior relation to each other and from two different timelines suddenly switch bodies and form an inexplicable human connection. Known for its breathtaking skylines and attention to detail, this beloved Japanese animation will make you nostalgic for experiences you’ve never even had.
Belated love epiphany
The belated love epiphany trope hinges on a charming moment of realization in which a character discovers they were deeply in love with someone the entire time. The critically acclaimed rom–com Silver Linings Playbook takes this tried–and–true formula and applies it to its protagonists, a man with bipolar disorder who’s intent on winning his ex–wife back and a young widow who’s slut–shamed and ostracized. Both are so focused on their respective dysfunctional love lives that it’s almost comedic how blind they are to their developing feelings for each other. The trope patiently waits for the characters to realize their compatibility, resulting in poignant, slow–burn stories.