Unabashed Love Letters to my Favorite Rom-Com Heroines
We are in the midst of what some might call a “rom-com revival.” While I might argue that the rom-com has never really gone out of style, recent releases like Crazy Rich Asians and a slew of Netflix films including The Kissing Booth, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, and Sierra Burgess is a Loser give us plenty of instantly iconic couples and aspirational romance to talk about. None of these rom-coms have exactly reinvented the wheel, as they still lean on familiar tropes of adorably awkward meet-cutes and high schools that have far more drama than reality. But, sometimes, in the midst of a stressful semester or a rough time at work, all I’d like is some unabashed sweetness and it has been easier to find than ever.
A rom-com’s success is often heavily dependent the appeal of the love interest—just look at all the online declarations of love that TAtBILB and Sierra Burgess star Noah Centineo gets each day. But that’s only half of what goes into the typically heterosexual rom-com power couple. What I often tend to care about, more than a chiseled male lead, is a compelling heroine – a woman who I can relate to and want to root for. While watching Sierra Burgess is a Loser, I noticed the repeated references to how the titular teenager was “nothing special,” an ordinary girl who nonetheless calls herself a “magnificent beast.” And perhaps that’s the beautiful thing about romantic comedies and why we love to watch them so much —we like to watch ordinary people fall in love in extraordinary ways (even if those ordinary people might be extra attractive and live in unrealistically large apartments).
So, here’s a partial list – a short love letter to each, you might say – in no particular order, of some of my favorite cinematic women in rom-com history, and why I love to watch them fall in love:
Sierra Burgess in Sierra Burgess is a Loser
Sierra, you’re pretty problematic, and catfishing is not the most advisable way to talk to your crush. But the friendship that develops between you and Veronica is something I’d like to see more of in both Hollywood and in real life — unlikely friendships blossoming into something substantial and women working together instead of villainizing one another.
Samantha Baker in Sixteen Candles
I don’t think it is a stretch to say that most young women can identify with the feeling of being ignored or forgotten, and Samantha, you (im)perfectly capture all the awkwardness associated with being sixteen.
Lara Jean Covey in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
Who cares about the boys fighting over you (though that seems pretty nice, too) — what’s most refreshing is to see a girl with a tight-knit family who’s honest about her own feelings and also wears some killer boots.
Annie Reed in Sleepless in Seattle
Falling in love with a voice on the radio doesn’t exactly work out as well for everyone as it does for you, Annie. But who cares about realism—it’s just so satisfying to see people whose paths have crisscrossed finally meet IRL, and thank you Annie for encouraging people to chase down their love, even against improbable odds, by doing it yourself.
Rachel Chu in Crazy Rich Asians
An economics professor at NYU, who uses her knowledge of game theory to turn personal interactions and games of mahjong into thrilling standoffs with icy soon-to-be in-laws and refuses to back down on her principles and defense of her family. Nick Young who?
Kat Stratford in 10 Things I Hate About You
The epitome of intensely feminist teen heroines, nobody can make Shakespeare – or high school – more captivating. It’s hard to come up with a single thing to hate about you, let alone ten.
Amélie Poulain in Amélie
Amélie, you singlehandedly made me want to scheme to improve the lives and romances of the people around me, search for a sense of whimsy in my world, ride around on a motorcycle, and learn French.
Lena Leonard in Punch-Drunk Love
Awkward and a bit odd, falling in love with a man just from his photo, you are in many ways an untraditional romantic interest, Lena, but you perfectly embody the hilarious anxiety and uncertainty that goes with falling in love.
Laney Boggs in She’s All That
Though She’s All That is perhaps the quintessential offender of the “glasses off = total transformation” makeover trope, it’s hard to not love you, Laney, for all your weird art and that magnificently awful falafel-ball headpiece.
Josie Geller in Never Been Kissed
Though you gave me unrealistic expectations about what journalism would be like and how many stories would require going undercover, you are so endearing to watch that I can’t fault you, Josie.
Julia Sullivan in The Wedding Singer
Another classic rom-com trope is that the protagonists are always falling for the wrong people, before they finally realize that “the one” was right in front of them the whole time. It’s pretty hard to see Drew Barrymore, romantic comedy actress extraordinaire, as anyone other than “the one”—which Adam Sandler’s Robbie realizes pretty quickly. You are just an “average” girl living in New Jersey, Julia, but with such sweetness and sincerity, it always feels like I am really watching you fall in love.
Like Lara Jean, who wrote five letters to all the boys she loved, I don’t feel limited to expressing my admiration for a single heroine… I hope that this list is ever-growing. I can’t wait to see which love stories and their characters I get to love next.
By Katie Duggan
Princeton student, feminist film enthusiast, and lover of all things spooky.