A declaration of love in front of thousands of people including flowers and an elaborate sign is something straight out of a rom-com. You know the drill. The female protagonist’s face falls in shock. The male love interest walks towards her with repentant eyes. He gives a speech full of platitudes and pleas for forgiveness. She relents and they share an epic, all-encompassing kiss, complete with camera pans and a heart-swelling score. That is not how Offset’s attempt at a grand romantic gesture played out at the Rolling Loud Festival in Los Angeles last weekend. The rapper interrupted his estranged wife Cardi B’s set with a floral sign that read, “Take Me Back Cardi.” She was not having it. There was no epic reunion. In fact, in the wake of the rapper showing up to his ex’s workplace to apologize for allegedly cheating on her relentlessly — behaviour that led to their breakup — the inherent romance implied in the “grand romantic gesture” has been called into question.
I love rom-coms and I used to think I loved a grand romantic gesture. The scenes that deliberately play for swoons get me every damn time. Think John Cusack with a boombox over his head in Say Anything or Heath Ledger singing karaoke on the bleachers in 10 Things I Hate About You. Cue swoon. Cue me in a puddle of tears. The big, public act of adoration is a rom-com centerpiece, but should it be? Have these over-the-top declarations set up an unrealistic expectation of how romance works? Should I save my swoons? It may not be fair to blame rom-coms for Offset’s boneheaded and selfish move to interrupt Cardi’s headlining set (she was the first woman to headline the festival) but there is something to be said about how frequently this trope was trotted out in beloved rom-coms of the past and how newer films are updating the cliché or doing away with it altogether.
So, which rom-com grand gestures hold up and which ones are just plain manipulative? Elaine Lui at LaineyGossip likened Offset’s stage-crashing to Tom Cruise’s speech to Renée Zellweger’s Dorothy in Jerry Maguire. Yes, that speech. The one so many women can recite by heart. The one that melted my adolescent heart. The one that is on every list of the Most Romantic Movie Moments in History. The ONE. Lui breaks down why that speech may not be as romantic as we remember it:
“…Dorothy gave up her entire life on a risk to be with Jerry. He married her because he felt sorry for her. Then he ignored her, went on the road, refused to actually ‘partake’ in their marriage. Until Rod scores a touchdown and does a dance in the end zone and Jerry’s on a plane, crashing Dorothy’s girls’ night, because he needs to tell her, on his time, when he was good and ready, that she’s the one.”
Any grand gesture that involves an apology for being a shitty romantic partner is usually pretty devious. Interrupting someone at their work or during an important life moment also doesn’t hold up. In Brown Sugar — a criminally underrated rom-com — Taye Diggs’s Dre surprises Sanaa Lathan’s Syd in the middle of a promotional interview for her book. It is a very sweet scene that reconnects two best friends turned lovers, but the woman was working! At least let her finish her interview!
In Crazy Stupid Love, Steve Carrell’s Cal interrupts his son’s Grade 8 graduation to give a heartwarming speech to his estranged wife, Emily, played by Julianne Moore. HE INTERRUPTED A KID’S GRADUATION.
In both Made of Honor and 27 Dresses, the grand romantic gesture involves crashing a wedding. Nope. This is never OK.
I blame the glamorization of rude interruptions for the real-life stories of that guy who proposed to his girlfriend while she was running a marathon and all the surprise podium proposals at the Rio Olympics. Hey, here’s a new rom-com rule: no stealing someone’s thunder during a once-in-a-lifetime moment.
The normalization of behaviour that borders on stalking and harassment in romantic comedies has been discussed at length, usually using that creepy card-flipping moment in Love, Actually as an example, but there’s got to be some rom-coms that do hold up, right? Right?! To me, the grand gesture in 10 Things I Hate About You is OK because Patrick (Heath Ledger) pulls this big move AFTER Kat (Julia Stiles) declares her love in a poem, making it clear there’s mutual attraction and she had already forgiven him for the whole bet thing. Bonus point: he does it while she’s in soccer practice, not a game. Other movies that get a pass for setting their big speeches and grand romantic moments in private (ish) between the two leads are The Wedding Planner, TheHoliday, How To Lose A Guy in 10 Days, and Sleepless in Seattle.
In honour of its 20th anniversary, You’ve Got Mail gets a shout out for its grand romantic gesture, which isn’t grand at all. Tom Hanks’ Joe and Meg Ryan’s Kathleen basically just meet in person and have a conversation. Though in-person chats are pretty grand in the email age. You’ve Got Mail continues to be a hit ahead of its time.
Last year, Vulture asserted the “Grand Romantic Gesture Will Never Die” because despite the skepticism that comes with being both a fan of rom-coms and a feminist, people still crave that sweeping moment that leads to Happily Ever After. So, what does that look like in 2018?
This year, we saw a resurgence of rom-coms and while the biggest one, Crazy Rich Asians, stayed true to the classic grand romantic gesture with an airplane proposal that I did in fact sob through (I blame Henry Golding’s face), the rest dialed down the public declarations. In Set It Up, Charlie tells Harper he loves her in an understated scene with the two leads on the street with no on-lookers. In To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, Peter Kavinsky’s grand romantic gesture is simply an impassioned defense of Lara Jean Covey in a high school hallway. Lara Jean is the one who races to him in the end to profess her love. Gender-swapping the grand romantic gesture can work sometimes since it gives female characters the agency they often lack (except for in Never Been Kissed — Drew Barrymore’s “kiss me for the first time in front of strangers on a baseball diamond” isn’t a great look).
The grand romantic gesture isn’t dead, it just needs reevaluating so that it evolves into a mutual display of love and respect between consenting adults, instead of a public guilt-trip forced by one half of a romantic pairing. And it should probably stay within the confines of a rom-com script instead of real-life. Because if Offset is any indication, real-life Romeos cannot be trusted.