Tired Of Virtual Happy Hour? Hold A Rom-Com Festival From Your Couch


Rom-coms tend to get dismissed as harmless fluff rather than high art. In 2019, Miraya Berke set out to fix that. 

Last June, she launched the first-ever Rom Com Festival in Los Angeles, a celebration of the classics of the genre as well as its future. With dessert pairings (Berke is also the founder of Dessert Goals), cocktails, and a slate of new submissions and fan favorites like 10 Things I Hate About You, the schedule also boasted panels, discussions, and experiential components. It was a hit.

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“It was really validating that so many of the people came to the festival with a shared view of: ‘We love the genre.’ I’m so grateful to have this space of other people who feel the same way,” Berke told Refinery29 in a phone call. 

The second iteration of the festival is still on for June 25 through June 28, 2020, but as guidelines and expectations around the COVID-19 outbreak continue to shift, Berke is committed to being flexible. In the meantime, the 29-year-old event planner and entrepreneur, who like many around the world is in self-isolation, was keen to find a way to keep the community she built alive during this difficult time. 

“Everyone's life is kind of on this weird pause and we're all stuck inside,” Berke said. “I've just been trying to think of ways to reimagine what events are, and what experiences are from the comforts of our couch.”

Her solution? A virtual screening of Moonstruck, the 1987 Norman Jewison film starring Cher and Nicholas Cage, with a post-screening Zoom discussion hosted by Tess Morris and Billy Mernit, hosts of the You Had Me At Hello podcast. The movie is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video, and the plan is to get participants to press play at the same time on Thursday, April 2, at 6 p.m. PT/9 p.m. ET. Sign-up is free, and Berke has provided tips on setting the mood so the whole thing feels in line with the sensory pairings the Rom Com Festival usually offers.

A newsletter sent out to Rom Com Festival subscribers describes potential drinking games (“Everytime you seen the moon”), dress-up options (“Cher inspo, big hair don't care!”), and even a menu (“Pizza - frozen or support a local restaurant and order takeout; breakfast for dinner - hole in egg; a loaf of fresh bread; negronis; bubbly with a sugar cube.”) inspired by the movie’s New York City setting. 

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Berke isn’t alone in trying to foster social connections in this way. Virtual watch parties held on Twitter, Facebook Live, Netflix Party and Zoom, have become a way for film buffs to come together in a time without movie theaters. Universal Pictures, which released highly-anticipated titles on VOD early, has been hosting weekly viewings of The Hunt, The Invisible Man, and Emma., with talent and directors joining in. Birds of Prey director Cathy Yan live-tweeted the movie from her personal account last week along with Junee Smollett-Bell, who plays Black Canary. The New York Times announced a screening of Top Gun on March 19, and the American Film Institute has one planned for The Wizard of Oz. Cherry Picks, a site that aggregates film reviews by women, watched Greta Gerwig’s Little Women on March 28, and the Turner Classic Movies Festival is kicking off its first Special Home Edition on April 16 with 1954’s A Star is Born

Refinery29 launched R29 Movie Club, our weekly Thursday 5 p.m. ET rewatch of our favorite women-led and women-directed films currently streaming. (Tune in April 2 for The First Wives Club and follow along on Twitter and Facebook.)

Still, there’s something about a rom-com that feels particularly comforting in times of turmoil. Maybe it’s the formulaic narrative arcs (meet-cute, romance, drama, romance), the unbelievably lavish lifestyle led by everyone claiming to be a journalist, or the much-needed escape into a world where disease and death isn’t the first thing on everyone’s mind. As someone who writes about movies for a living, I like to think I’m pretty genre-flexible. Thriller, horror, dramas, period films, comedies, disaster flicks — count me in. But lately, I’ve been finding it really hard to concentrate. The only thing that truly soothes my self-isolation anxiety is pressing play on a rom-com favorite, and sinking into it like a warm hug. (Another thing in short supply these days.)

If the Moonstruck event works out, Berke says she’s open to hosting more of them. (Although, can one really top Cage monologuing about his wooden hand as a method for seduction?) But if you’re looking to hold your own intimate rom-com festival with friends, or just trying to get through a hard day, here are some suggestions for some great ones to stream right now. 

Plus One (2019)

Cast:
Maya Erskine, Jack Quaid, Rosalind Chao, Beck Bennett, Ed Begley Jr. 
Stream it on: Hulu

As wedding season approaches, single 20something friends Alice (Erskine) and Ben (Quaid) make a pledge to be each other’s plus ones so they have someone to lean on for support as they navigate each of their friends’ unions. As they moan and groan their way through single tables to best man speeches, motels and outfits, they start to realize that perhaps the person they’re meant to be with is standing next to them at the buffet. (Maybe don’t watch this if you’re one of the many people who has had to cancel their wedding plans.)

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Crazy Stupid Love (2011)

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Julianne Moore, Steve Carrell, Kevin Bacon 
Stream it on: Hulu 

When Cal Weaver (Carrell) finds out Emily (Moore), his wife of 25 years, has been cheating on him with a coworker (Bacon), he feels as though his life is over. Turns out, it’s only the beginning. With the help of sleazebag fuccboi Jacob (Gosling), Cal learns the secret to womanizing like a pro. But when Jacob meets Hannah (Stone) and falls in love, Cal realizes that picking up random women and wearing better clothes isn’t what makes life fulfilling. Come for Gosling/Stone’s recreation of the Dirty Dancing lift, stay for the way everyone pronounces David Lindhagen. 

Waiting To Exhale (1995)

Cast: Whitney Houston, Angela Bassett, Lela Rochon, Loretta Devine
Stream it on: Hulu

Sometimes, the only love story you need is the one you have with your best-friends. When the men in their lives turn out to be disappointing, Savannah (Houston), Robin (Rochon), Bernie (Bassett), and Gloria (Devine) turn to each other for support, gossip, and a good time. Based on Terry McMillan’s novel and directed by Forest Whitaker, it grossed $82 million worldwide, proving that there was a strong need for vibrant, complex stories about Black women.

What If (2013)

Cast:
Zoe Kazan, Daniel Radcliff, Adam Driver, Mackenzie Davis
Stream it on: Amazon Prime Video

Medical school dropout Wally has given up on love when he suddenly meets his roommate’s (Driver) cousin Chantry (Kazan) at a party. The only problem: She has a long-term boyfriend. Still, the two become friends, sharing dreams, ambitions, hangups, and quirks, and Wally makes peace with the fact that the girl of his dreams isn’t his to have. LOL jk! (Fun fact: This movie used to be called The F Word.)

Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

Cast:
Henry Golding, Constance Wu, Sonoya Mizuno, Awkwafina, Michelle Yeoh
Stream it on: Amazon Prime Video

Based on Kevin Kwan’s best-selling 2013 novel, Crazy Rich Asians hits every beat of a classic rom-com, all while taking a fresh approach to old tropes. Rachel Chu is overjoyed when her boyfriend Nick invites her to his childhood home of Singapore for his best friend’s wedding. She knew meeting his relatives might be a relationship hurdle. But finding out that Nick belongs to one of the richest families in Asia, if not the world? She had no idea. 

Obvious Child (2014)

Cast: Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffmann, David Cross
Stream it on: Netflix

A romantic comedy about abortion isn’t exactly an easy sell, but director Gillian Robespierre more than pulls it off. On the heels of a bad breakup, comedian Donna Stern (Slate) rebounds with a one-night stand with Max (Lacy), a newcomer to town she meets at a bar. Several weeks later — around Valentine’s Day — she finds out she’s pregnant, and decides to have an abortion. That’s exactly when Max decides he wants a second date. 

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Always Be My Maybe (2019)

Cast:
Ali Wong, Randall Park, Keanu Reeves 
Stream it on: Netflix

The only thing more soothing than a rom-com is Keanu Reeves playing an exaggeratedly pompous version of himself in a rom-com, and Nahnatchka Khan’s movie delivers on both counts. Growing up, Sasha and Marcus were inseparable. But 15 years later, they’ve fallen out of touch. When Sasha, now a celebrity chef, moves back to San Francisco, she reconnects with her old friend, who’s still living with his father, trying in vain to make his local band a hit. Will they or won’t they? (You probably know the answer, but the thrill is getting there!)

Someone Great (2019)

Cast:
Gina Rodriguez, Dewanda Wise, Brittany Snow, LaKeith Stanfield
Stream it on: Netflix

Jennifer Katyin Robinson’s rom-com is actually a breakup movie. Music journalist Jenny finally gets her dream job at Rolling Stone, and is moving across the country from New York to San Francisco. Unfortunately, this also means being dumped by boyfriend Nate (Stanfield), who refuses to do long distance after they’ve been having problems. With only a few days to go before she leaves, Jenny rounds up her girls (Wise, Snow) for one last blowout night. But as we see her come to terms with the beginning of a new life, we also flash back to the moments that shaped her old one with Nate. 

To Each Her Own (2018)

Cast:
Sarah Stern, Julia Piaton, Richard Berry, Jean-Christophe Folly
Stream it on: Netflix

Think of this as a French-language Kissing Jessica Stein. Directed by Myriam Aziza, the movie centers around Simone Benloulou, whose conservative Jewish parents’ still think her girlfriend of three years is her roommate. Terrified to come out, she agrees to go on a blind date with her brother’s friend. But when her work friend complains she’s having trouble finding love, Simone sends her to the date in her place. 

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