Locally, I wouldn’t call 2018 the year of rom-com revivals. We have been getting really cute romantic comedies since about a few years back. In the international scene though, 2018 hasn’t only served as a year of the genre’s comeback but a revolution. Leading the year have been cultural representations that actually outsold. But even with the good side of the rebirth of rom-coms, the bad side seems to show itself without us yanking it out.
It can’t only be just about the Asians…
While I am thrilled to see ‘To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before’ trend, seeing an Asian lead doesn’t seem enough. Thankfully, ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ hit the theaters not long after and the reception was overwhelming. It didn’t seem like people would actually watch a story of an average ABC (American-Born Chinese) falling in love with (apparently) a rich heir from the East. I had reasons. First, they were Asians. Second, it’s rom-com. But the release of these movies only proved that rom-com is back with a vengeance. Yet, it doesn’t seem as if we’re getting enough representation on romantic comedies.
While it’s still hot and fresh, it seems as if a lot of producers are investing in creating romantic comedies. We get ‘Sierra Burgess Is A Loser’, ‘Insatiable’ (maybe), and we’re recently introduced to the up and coming ‘Isn’t It Romantic?’. There’s one thing common about these movies and it’s comparable to really old rom-coms. They share common mistakes that make romance turn to a far-fetched dream for the plus-sized.
Victims of a Trope
I didn’t know “formerly fat” is a trope until I looked it up online. It is actually a thing and as I scanned through the many examples of the trope, I have seen a lot of comedies in the list—romantic comedies to be specific. ‘Insatiable’ is very much guilty of this trope. As it wasn’t done in a good way (at all) the whole series has become a disaster. The series revolves around the story a teen girl who loses weight after going on a liquid diet and ends up getting revenge on all the people who’ve bullied her when she was fat. That wasn’t so hard to digest but it was uncomfortable to watch. Not to mention, the teen lead falling in love with her lawyer who’s of age. This series has been given 10 rotten tomatoes by critics. That alone says a lot.
Remember the hit Korean film ‘200 Pounds Beauty’? Since its massive takeover even back in 2006, we’re getting the same trope over and over as if we’re saving any life with producing such movies and series. Imagine making the same mistakes over and over again since 2006, maybe even earlier. Simply tragic. Producers have to understand that love doesn’t only come to plus-sized people after they’ve shed some kilos off the scale. This alone beats the purpose of romance because filmmakers are clouding everyone’s minds with the superficial idea of losing a bit of yourself before being allowed to find love.
Not With Someone Else’s Face
Catfishing, or hiding behind a fake identity, is a regular in a lot of rom-coms. My earliest memory of a catfishing story is back in the 4th season of TV musical ‘Glee’. Coincidentally, this revolves around a popular kid and (spoiler alert!) a black plus-size kid. With Unique having to hide behind the identity of white girl “Katie”, he was able to find comfort and maybe a bit of a crush on the popular kid, Ryder. The latter, of course, was infuriated when he found out he was being catfished. History repeats itself as we find the same trope in ‘Sierra Burgess Is A Loser’.
The Netflix original movie has got the internet on a split decision. Find me at the “bad” side of the spectrum. This doesn’t only come from the fact that Sierra indeed proved that she was a loser for being a catfish but also because of the way her character was portrayed. She was introduced as someone who doesn’t care how she looks. She has her eyes set on one goal: get into Stanford University. I thought I was getting a really strong lead with her but in the end, as she succumbed to the call of “catfishing” a boy, it just completely fell apart. She seemed headstrong at first but love (what else) tore her walls down. Sierra was almost the plus-size lead I wished we would be celebrating but no.
If changing isn’t enough already, now we’re presented with a concept to pretend to be someone else. While the viewers still have the power to disregard this, it again keeps us lost in touch with romance. The terrible representation of how romance comes to life for plus-sized people kills the idea in them.
In this day and age, while steps are being taken, we’re still far from having plus-sized people properly represented in a film or series. There is still a long way down but the change has long begun. Let’s not forget about ‘Phat Girlz’ starring Mo’Nique and ‘Last Holiday’ featuring Queen Latifah. Albeit controversial, next year, we’re getting another full-length feature with actress Rebel Wilson on the lead. While it seems just like all the other rom-coms we’ve already dissected, there’s no harm in giving it a chance. We’ve seen almosts pass us by such as Amy Schumer’s ‘I Feel Pretty’ but again, it fell a bit too short. While we continue to explore how the genre works for all forms, shapes, and sizes, there’s no reason to lose all hope. Who knows? 2019 might have something really good in store for all of us.