The book-to-film adaptation Red, White & Royal Blue is out on Prime Video now, which means that once again, people who watch and enjoy romantic comedies are publicly apologizing for their taste in media. Across social media, many people are saying they liked the movie, then quickly clarifying that they know it’s dumb, silly, and not serious fare. And some critics have praised the movie while also trying to defend their fondness of it, saying they know Red, White & Royal Blue is “not a masterpiece,” or that liking it is “an embarrassing thing to admit.” (I’m not linking those reviews or anybody’s social-media shout-outs here because I don’t want to put any one person under fire.)
Look, I love romantic comedies. And I refuse to call them “guilty pleasures” — a phrase that’s overwhelmingly used for stereotypically feminine indulgences, and one we should definitely retire. Seeing people offer a million caveats about why they enjoy Red, White & Royal Blue — a perfectly good romantic comedy! — rankles me. In 2019, when the book came out, it bothered me when people praised it but dismissively referred to it as “like fanfiction.” Now it bothers me every time I see someone gush about the movie on my Instagram feed while adding that they know it’s corny. This time, though, I am taking a stand. You can like a romantic comedy without shame or excuses, and without any strings attached.
No one goes into Meg 2: The Trench or M3GAN expecting transcendent filmmaking, but they don’t seem to feel the need to apologize for enjoying them, either. Movies can be well-constructed and fun to watch even if they don’t have the gravitas or perceived social significance of Oppenheimer.
And yet, when people talk about how they enjoyed a recent romantic comedy on social media, it often comes across as a strange public apology. I know plenty of people who watched Red, White & Royal Blue and loved it, but for every one of those people, there were two more who balanced their appreciative posts with performative self-reproach. Why bother with that last part? You’re allowed to like a movie that isn’t groundbreaking cinema!
It isn’t that romantic comedies should be exempt from criticism. There are certainly bad romantic comedies out there — ones where the main couple just doesn’t have any chemistry, or where the contrived reason they’re kept apart indicates a bigger issue. Some rom-com scenarios haven’t aged well. But criticizing a romantic comedy by calling it unrealistic, cheesy, or fluffy is like calling out a horror movie for being bloody, fantastical, or scary. The light, bouncy, feel-good elements of a rom-com are what you sign up for when you’re watching one! If that cheesiness bothers you, maybe you’re watching the wrong genre. I don’t like gory horror movies, so I stay away — and I don’t need to apologize for that, either.
Sure, there are romantic comedies that transcend the typical tropes of the genre and push the boundaries of cinema, just as there are horror movies, action movies, and slapstick comedies that do the same thing. But there’s no inherent shame in liking a romantic comedy that’s just what it promises to be: two people falling in love, experiencing a series of hijinks, and getting a happy ending. That’s what fans seek out these movies hoping for — it’s the literal definition of a rom-com. Calling out a romantic comedy for being a romantic comedy is rude, and honestly, it’s lazy criticism.
Yes, romantic comedies aren’t for everyone, in the same way that raunchy comedies, gory horror movies, and explosive action films aren’t for everyone. But unlike those other examples, people who don’t like romantic comedies often dismiss the entire genre as if they were speaking for the public good rather than their own personal tastes.
People who aren’t fans of a genre often make the mistake of thinking that every example of that genre is the same, and that there’s no nuance or variation in quality between them. That’s a basic and boring complaint at this point. But fans of a genre feeling a need to cater to those non-fans is a bigger problem. When people admit that they like romantic comedies, but frame their fandom as an apology, it contributes to a larger undermining of the genre. I’ve never seen anyone apologize for liking a horror movie while making it clear that they aren’t an actual horror movie fan. But I’ve seen plenty of people embarrassed to admit they liked a romantic comedy when they were previously ambivalent about the genre.
The reason for the cloud of apologism around rom-coms isn’t a big secret: Unlike other tropey genre movies, romantic comedies are typically associated with women. And society has historically heaped shame on anything women love. Like pop music, fruity cocktails, and Barbie, anything women tend to gravitate toward eventually gets maligned, held up to an impossible standard, and labeled as a so-called guilty pleasure. In reality, you shouldn’t associate guilt with enjoying these things, regardless of gender.
The problem becomes cyclical: When people gush about a movie and apologize in the same breath, that exacerbates other fans’ needless feelings of shame, and suggest that they should apologize too. But we can break free from this cycle. We can vehemently proclaim that we loved a romantic comedy not in spite of its cheesiness or silliness, but because it made our hearts beat faster with moments of physical and emotional chemistry, it illustrated an electric connection between two people who make each other better, and it featured a triumphant ending where our leads grew as people and learned to overcome their own character flaws to be together.
We can also critique our romantic comedies without critiquing them for being romantic comedies. We can hold them to high standards that have everything to do with the nuances of the genre, instead of judging them by a rubric for a completely different sort of movie. Romantic comedies don’t have to be world-changing, but they should be fulfilling, and their fans should be able to determine what that means without also having to justify why the movies exist in the first place. Next time you find yourself apologizing for enjoying a romantic comedy, take a moment to remember that you and the movies you love deserve better — just like the romantic leads you root for.