Based on Emily Giffin’s 2004 novel, the new movie Something Borrowed opens in theaters today. The story of a lovelorn New Yorker who has it bad for her best-friend’s fiancé, it stars romantic comedy stalwarts Ginnifer Goodwin and Kate Hudson, as well as the goofy, indefinable charm of The Office’s John Krasinski. (Also, there’s some dude named Colin Egglesfield, whose name was unfamiliar, but whom I now realize I know from his work in the ill-fated Melrose Place reboot and his role in the equally disastrous Vampires: The Turning.)
The “lovelorn New Yorker” part of the equation is nothing new, of course; indeed, out of all the myriad genres of film, it seems like romantic comedies are more likely to be set in the city that never sleeps than anywhere else. Sure, San Francisco has seen its share of lovers united; L. A., Boston and Chicago, too. Seattle has gotten some action, and every now and then we’ll take a trip down South to find genteel wooing among the plantations and suchlike. But in the main, New York’s fabled streets are apparently paved with soul mates, and with yet another Big Apple-based love story all primed to wow the Mother’s Day weekend crowd, I thought I’d take a look back at the best of those that have come before…
10. Loser (2000)
Written and Directed by Amy Heckerling
Clueless and Fast Times at Ridgemont High director Amy Heckerling has long been unfairly maligned for her work on this college-based love story, but I have to disagree emphatically. Our “loser” is the kind-hearted small town scholarship kid Paul (Jason Biggs) who falls for adorably goth-esque Everclear fan Nora (Mena Suvari)….except that she’s secretly dating her professor (Greg Kinnear). Set in and around NYU, perhaps the film’s most memorable sequence is when these two crazy kids head out for a day in Manhattan; their goal being to not spend a cent. They manage it, too. Sure, there’s petty larceny involved, but it’s still very cute, funny and sweet—as is this movie.
9. Two Weeks Notice (2002)
Written and Directed by Marc Lawrence
At the beginning of the utterly delightful punctuation primer Eats, Shoots and Leaves, author and semanticist Lynne Truss recounts her time protesting outside the London premiere of this movie, holding up a sign supplying the title’s missing apostrophe. Poor literacy aside, however, this is a movie in which Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant do what they do best, and that best is pretty damned good: she is a crusading environmental lawyer, he a dilettante playboy property magnate, and after blackmailing her into becoming his personal attorney, love blooms among the barbs. The result is an agreeable romp that offers up two rom-com stars in their prime and, as an added bonus, pays tribute to Coney Island.
8. Splash (1984)
Written by Lowell Ganz
Directed by Ron Howard
This is the movie that launched Tom Hanks to stardom, and was among Ron Howard’s first forays behind the camera. When New York grocer Allen (Hanks) is saved from drowning by a mermaid (Daryl Hannah), the result is a magical and quite literal fish-out-of-water tale that sees the mythical beauty walking the streets of New York (and even being named after one, which is doubtless to blame for the grades full of little girls named Madison in today’s elementary schools). Funny, sweet, fantastical and quirky, more than 25 years on Splash is still the pinnacle of all aquatic-based romantic comedies. (And, yes, that is saying something.)
7. Kissing Jessica Stein (2001)
Written by Jennifer Westfeldt and Heather Juergensen
Directed by Charles Herman-Wurmfeld
Neurotic doesn’t begin to describe copy editor Jessica Stein (Jennifer Westfeldt). Nearing thirty and the despair of her managing mother (Tovah Feldshuh), a run of unsuccessful dates and the serendipitous choice of a favorite quote has Jessica answering the Classified ad of bi-curious vixen Helen (Heather Juergensen). The two start a tentative romance—made problematic by Jessica’s intense fear of the unconventional (in addition to her not really being gay)—while the disdainful attitude of Jessica’s ex-boyfriend and current boss Josh (Scott Cohen) can only mean one thing. This movie is witty, engaging, playful, romantic and, ultimately, a surprise… although it may not surprise you to learn that Jessica (whose Judaism is a topic of much discussion) is, of course, from Scarsdale.
6. It Could Happen to You (1994)
Written by Jane Anderson
Directed by Andrew Bergman
Loosely based on real life events, this film sees New York City policeman Charlie (Nicholas Cage), short of cash for a tip, promise to split his winnings with waitress Yvonne (Bridget Fonda) if his numbers should come up in that night’s lottery draw. They do, and of the two million dollars he and his rapacious wife Muriel (Rosie Perez) subsequently win, he gives Yvonne exactly half, much to the tabloids’ delight. With cameo-like support ably provided by the charismatic Stanley Tucci and the bass-voiced Isaac Hayes, this movie emphatically revels in its premise that decent people can not only exist, but prosper, in a notoriously cold and bitter city, making It Could Happen to You an improbable but very agreeable modern day fairy tale, in which the good triumph, the wicked are punished, and wealthy young women just love being waitresses.
5. Down With Love (2003)
Written by Eve Ahlert and Dennis Drake
Directed by Peyton Reid
I’ll just say it. I am a HUGE Doris Day fan. Her movies, along with those of my equally beloved Shirley Temple, were mainstays of my childhood, and even though the often salacious subject matter flew right over my head (I didn’t really get all the subtext in Pillow Talk until I was well into high school), I found the movies that showcased her as a modern, independent woman of an earlier era to be utterly captivating. Which is why I was trepidatious about assaying Down With Love, the 2003 homage to her works and starring Renee Zellweger in the Doris role. Also featuring Ewan McGregor as the confident and sexist man-about-town who once would have been played by Rock Hudson, David Hyde Pierce as the ambiguously gay Tony Randall-type, and a fun cameo from Randall himself, the movie gives us feminist self-help writer Barbara Novak (Zellweger) alongside the intrepid Catcher Block (McGregor) who is determined to undermine her message of female empowerment through chocolate. Under the bright lights of early-60’s New York, the two tussle, tangle, and tease until love ultimately wins out… and then they sing! Oh, what fun! Truly a worthy tribute to the great Ms. Day, and a movie for anyone who ever loved those Technicolor screwball comedies.
4. You’ve Got Mail (1998)
Written by Nora Ephron and Delia Ephron
Directed by Nora Ephron
There is a moment at the end of this movie, when our contentiously courting couple Joe (Tom Hanks) and Kathleen (Meg Ryan) finally get together, and you can’t help but think: “Really? She can forgive him so easily? Really?” After everything that has transpired, it is quite a lot to swallow. Yet our leads are both so charming, and their torturous path to love so clever and funny, that you just let it go, let them have their moment, and try not to allow thoughts of their next fifty years of arguments culminating in “You closed down my mother’s store!” enter your head. (Or maybe that’s just me.) While at times this can seem like one long AOL ad, and to today’s wi-fi having crowd that irksome dial-up modem noise is both archaic and annoying, the Ephrons’ entertaining script and the well-established chemistry between Hanks and Ryan make up for much; add in Steve Zahn, perennial Other Guy Greg Kinnear (seriously, has he ever gotten the girl?) and an out-of-character but awesome appearance by comedian Dave Chapelle, and this story of two anonymous e-mail correspondents and their real-life antagonism is one that never fails to please.
3. Keeping the Faith (2000)
Written by Stuart Blumberg
Directed by Edward Norton
“The true New Yorker secretly believes that people living anywhere else have to be, in some sense, kidding.” So quotes Catholic priest Brian (Edward Norton, in his directorial debut) to his newly returned childhood friend Anna (Jenna Elfman), as he quietly develops a crush on her. Driven and career-orientated, Anna has also rekindled her friendship with Brian’s best bud Jake (Ben Stiller), a rabbi who is expected to marry a nice Jewish girl and settle down in order to get a promotion at his hidebound synagogue. When Jake and Anna commence a secret dalliance, neither expects it to go anywhere, but as the one-liners zing and the rules are defied, this unusual love triangle reaches a most satisfactory conclusion; also containing a message of religious tolerance (and about excessive cell phone usage), this film is by turns hilarious and poignant, and showcases the melting pot that is New York City at its finest. Norton and Stiller shine.
2. Moonstruck (1987)
Written by John Patrick Shanley
Directed by Norman Jewison
It is not often that “romantic comedy” and “Oscar-winning” can be put into the same sentence, especially not during cinema’s modern era. (Unless it stars Jack Nicholson, or is directed by Woody Allen.) But Moonstruck is one of those rare films that is romantic and a comedy and is considered worthy of acclaim, with six Academy Award nominations, three wins, and a whole lot of critic-y love sent its way. The movie tells of the widowed Loretta (Cher), approaching forty and about to settle into a loveless marriage, who meets her fiancé’s much younger brother Ronny (Nicholas Cage) and is eventually won over by his heedless, single-minded pursuit. Along the way there is much in here about the nature of attraction and fidelity and about society’s demands, as well as a whole lot of laughs, but at its core, Moonstruck is about two lost souls who find each other in that unlikeliest of rom-com locales: Brooklyn.
1. When Harry Met Sally (1989)
Written by Nora Ephron
Directed by Rob Reiner
There is nothing about this movie that is not iconic. From the argument that men and women can’t be friends, to the “I’ll have what she’s having” restaurant scene, to the New Year’s Eve epiphany leading to a happily ever after, When Harry Met Sally is the pinnacle of chick flickery, and the first romantic comedy as we know it today. Its soundtrack replete with Harry Connick Jr. genius; a terrific supporting cast including Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby; Nora Ephron’s signature sparkling dialogue (for which, incidentally, she received an Oscar nomination); and New York City in all its splendid, seasonal variety puts this lovers-of-friends masterpiece among the most rewatchable movies ever made—where it joins another Reiner production, The Princess Bride. The credit for much of this must naturally go to its two appealing leads, Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal, who manage to make the objectively objectionable Sally and Harry both likeable and fascinating, and their slow-burn love story, for each other and their adopted city, both exhilarating and inevitable. Sure, any one of these other movies could have been awarded the top spot, but when it came right down to it… it had to be them.
N.B. In case you’re wondering at their omission, I have placed out of contention here three classic romantic comedy films, namely the original versions of An Affair to Remember and Sabrina (let us ignore the remakes entirely), along with Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The first I am ruling out because a lot of the important stuff takes place away from New York—ditto Annie Hall, and the more recent Going the Distance—the second because the May-December (nay, February-December) romance of Audrey and Bogart has always kind of creeped me out, and the third because of the racism inherent in Mickey Rooney’s Chinese landlord character, which renders large portions that much-adored film just…wrong.
Rachel Hyland is Editor in Chief of Geek Speak Magazine.