Rom-coms are trending away from old tropes of one person sacrificing their way of life for another person. Now in these movies, each partner tends to share equally in the responsibility to self-reflect and evolve where necessary when forging partnerships. It has been awhile since Andie Anderson (Kate Hudson) stood on the side of a bridge and abandoned her chance at a better job in a new city to be with Benjamin Barry (Matthew McConaughey) in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. This is not to say sacrifice doesn’t have a place in love, or, rather, sometimes we reorganize aspects of our lives for the opportunity to let love bloom, but where is Ben’s sacrifice? He is set up at home, while Andy is on the lam, so to speak, at that moment in the film. Is her only option to return to life with Ben? The ending sets up a financially, potentially emotionally, codependent scenario for Andie.
By contrast, newer female- and male-led rom-coms, the recent Always Be My Maybe and Love Hard, show male characters working on themselves and becoming emotionally available. The partnerships portrayed in these films value the ways in which both the men and women involved evolve. Always Be My Maybe focuses on Sasha Tran (Ali Wong) and Marcus Kim (Randall Park). They are childhood best friends who drift apart in late adolescence. When they reunite as adults, they are classically attracted to each other but don’t want to be. They run from acknowledging their bond for most of the film. Marcus’s ego blocks him from moving forward with Sasha. On the surface, he criticizes her for losing touch with her roots as she becomes a celebrity chef, personality, and restaurateur. Sasha's success threatens Marcus because appreciating her progress means reflecting on his own lack thereof. He hides from his goals and growth, which looks like living on his own and making music.
Sasha needs to deconstruct her public image and where she’s forgotten herself, that is part of her journey. She is also hip to knowing she and Marcus have the groundwork for a real shot together. She is sad when Marcus rejects her, but she focuses on herself and her work. Meanwhile, Marcus moves out of his dad’s house and gets more serious about his music career, then shows up at one of Sasha's red carpet events. Yes, he wants to be the guy who holds her purse! It’s a boss moment for both of them. Sasha is in her element, having earned her professional achievements and now, warmed by the person she loves showing their love for her. And Marcus is in his: more stable, less ego, and ready to embark on a new chapter with Sasha.
Natalie Bauer (Nina Dobrev) and Josh Lin (Jimmy O. Yang) grow alongside each other in Love Hard. Their emotional tomfoolery is foiled by a third character, the “Internet,” specifically apps and image-centric online dating. Josh dupes Natalie into a date, catfishing her, meaning he lies on his dating profile with his photos and personality. Natalie does not find the real Josh physically attractive. Natalie’s biggest journey revolves around her acknowledging the worthiness she ascribes to external attractiveness, believing her worth is indicated by how attractive her mate is. She is cloudy about this for most of the film, chasing after the man who is in Josh’s photos, only to realize she doesn’t dig his personality. She learns that sparks come from minds meeting.
Josh has plenty on his plate around ego and image, believing he isn’t worthy of finding an attractive woman because he considers himself unattractive, but not just physically. He is not happy in his career, the family business, and wants to start a candle shop. By the film’s end, his dating profile says business owner and shows his real photos. Natalie’s metier is writing. Her catharsis comes through journalism, detailing her disastrous first dates and now her experience with Josh, an honest, compelling essay about facing yourself, your attractions, and what you manifest. They end up together, as they are, letting go of any contrived external standards around mating.
Love Hard and Always Be My Maybe show us that women and men have a responsibility to meet each other halfway, to do the work that gets them to that halfway point, and to give their union a chance to grow. This messaging becomes a potent point around compromise and self-worth. If you get clear and focus on your path, you will attract more of that clarity and focus. If your partner is getting their ducks in a similar row, you’ll likely swim towards one another.
The hair-ific romance hits Netflix on January 20.