When it comes to romantic comedies, Hollywood is in a serious drought. There are one or two fine ones every year, but nothing like the Meg Ryan/Nora Ephron heyday that they are all (unsuccessfully) trying to replicate. But maybe that's because the rom-com as we know it has changed, and there's a new genre in town. Instead of flocking to movies about the trials and tribulations of romantic partners, our new thing is examining the intricacies of a different relationship: mothers and daughters.
Life Of The Party, which hit theaters this past weekend and stars Melissa McCarthy and Molly Gordon as the mother-daughter duo, finds itself in a line of movies that have given romance the backseat, and instead turned the lens on the family. Sitting snuggle between 2017 hits like Lady Bird and Landline, and July's Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again, the McCarthy and Ben Falcone feature arrived at the height of this genre's success.
In many ways, these mother-daughter movies follow the same formula as your standard rom-com. Instead of the meet-cute, there's the meeting again. The mother and daughter are introduced to each other in a new way. In Life Of The Party, it's when McCarthy's character Deanna tells Maddie (Gordon) that she's enrolled in the same college. In Landline, it's when Dana (Jenny Slate) realizes her mother (Edie Falco) has been cheated on. In Lady Bird, it's literally when Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) tells her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf) to call her Lady Bird.
These new situations each present a unique tension that builds to an inevitable blowout. After watching her mother party and hook up with college boys for weeks, Maddie and Deanna have a confrontation on the quad about her behavior. Dana finally tells her mother that she knows about the cheating. Marion refuses to go into the airport with Lady Bird.
However, rom-coms require a happy ending, and so do these mother-daughter stories. Deanna graduates! Dana's family figures out a new normal! Lady Bird calls her mom! The arc is simple but the stories are powerful, and with Lady Bird finding so much success with audiences and critics, it makes sense that Hollywood would try to ride those coattails.
It's not necessarily foolproof. Life Of The Party had one of the lowest openings of any Melissa McCarthy movie, and didn't go over great with critics — but neither did 27 Dresses. There are bad rom-coms, so much so that they've become an alluring sub-genre of their own. It's less about numerical success and more about creating a permanent space for mother-daughter movies to occupy. Now is the time to tell these stories, and to keep finding and perfecting the funny yet heartfelt tales the world is ready to hear.
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