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Why Romantic Comedies Need Great Endings

I am the author of three middle-grade children's books, and I blog on the side. My favorite topics are movies, writing, and pop culture.

Strong endings are crucial for romantic comedies and can help them transcend the genre.

Strong endings are crucial for romantic comedies and can help them transcend the genre.

Lackluster Rom-Com Endings

Don’t you hate when you’re watching a romantic comedy, and the movie is fun and funny and entertaining, and then you get to the end, and it fizzles out with a lazy, predictable ending? Of course, you hope the two leads get together at the end. But why must one of the two characters have to run unnecessarily to where the other one is, even if it’s not imperative that they get to them at a certain time?

Sometimes they’re just at work or taking a boat ride. Sometimes they’re on their way to marry another, and that just won’t do because marriage is so air-tight that once you say “I do,” you can’t get out of it.

Why must these lazy endings insult their audiences with these hokey situations that occur over and over again? Just because they are light, breezy stories doesn’t mean that they can’t be well-made, creative, and fun all the way through.

Below are some films that get it right from beginning to end, especially the end. They prove that just because a certain type of ending is expected of the genre, it doesn’t mean that the stories within them have to be formulaic in reaching that conclusion.

Drew Barrymore in "Never Been Kissed"

Drew Barrymore

Drew Barrymore

Drew Barrymore Usually Gets It Right

Drew Barrymore has starred in a lot of romantic comedies, and while she can’t take credit for writing them, she knows how to pick them. Her characters can be ditzy, awkward, and unconventional. So, the endings of her characters’ stories are pretty unconventional as well.

In her movies, the men go to her. She doesn’t chase them, and you don’t have to watch them run across town to catch her. Instead, the unions occur as happy accidents. Fate intervenes and pairs them up in unique ways.

In Ever After, Prince Henry comes to rescue her from slavery only to meet her outside the front door of the castle where she was held. She has rescued herself and walks out to an uncertain future only to be reunited with her prince and glass slipper.

In Never Been Kissed, she invites her former teacher to the ball field in a widely read newspaper article with a crowd of friends and followers cheering her on. When he doesn’t arrive in time, all hope seems lost only for him to show up at the last minute to deliver her first kiss.

In The Wedding Singer, she’s on the way to Las Vegas to get married when Robbie unknowingly follows her on the same plane. When he discovers this, he uses his songwriting talents to craft a song to reveal himself to her, a fitting ending for the title.

Music and Lyrics has a similar ending in which she discovers that Alex has managed to write a thoughtful and well-written song about her and without her which he debuts onstage during a concert she is attending. It’s similar to The Wedding Singer but makes it its own.

These endings fit the theme of the films and call back to ideas and personality traits previously introduced. Characters in a rom-com shouldn’t just get together because they are the leads of the story. They need to get together in a way that fits the story and characters. Barrymore’s movies tend to do this in dramatic and creative ways that make these men worthy of her quirky characters.

"You've Got Mail" Ending

Scene from "You've Got Mail"

Scene from "You've Got Mail"

The Cathartic Ending

Sometimes a good ending to a rom-com is one in which a character is enlightened by something that the audience knew all along, bringing the two love interests together in a cathartic way.

You’ve Got Mail is famous for its ending in which Joe, who has known since the middle of the movie that his beloved, anonymous pen pal is also his business rival, reveals his identity to Kathleen in a meet-up in Riverside Park. The entire movie is a setup for this scene.

In the beginning, they like each other online. Then, they unknowingly meet in person and hit it off face-to-face. Then, business intervenes and the daggers come out. They spend the movie complaining about each other to each other online, fighting in real life, and then empathizing with each other online. So, Joe knew it would take some work to win her affection again.

He spends most of the third act trying to win back her affection for him as she knows him face-to-face. Once he reveals himself to her, their meet-up in the park is emotional and relieving.

Another movie that utilizes the big reveal is The Parent Trap. Though you wouldn’t consider it a hard-core love story, the twins’ main goal is to get their parents back together.

So, much of the movie is a set up for the setup with very little interaction between the parents until the third act. There is a lot of history to sell in a few short scenes, and the chemistry between the two actors sells it well.

So, while switching places provided a necessary opportunity to reunite the two, the twins don’t need to do much to get them together. Their history is one that they learn from.

In the 1998 remake, Nick realizes his opportunity to remedy past mistakes when he watches Liz and Annie drive away, and he and Hallie hop a much faster Concord jet to England to chase her the way she had expected him to 11 years prior.

There are many theories as to how long Phil Connors is stuck in the time loop in Groundhog Day, but no matter how long it was, the ending to this movie is extremely cathartic as well. It takes him years to change and grow into the person deserving enough to move on to the next day of his life and get the girl.

It is because of Rita that he is able to turn things around and get himself moving again, but change isn’t easy so it takes a ton of mistakes and repetition to get it right. So when he wakes up on February 3rd, and Rita is still by his side, he is relieved not only because life can continue, but he knows that he wants to continue with her.

The Holiday Ending

Sometimes it’s Okay to Run to the Finish

Many romantic comedies end with a big chase scene. It’s been overdone, but if done right, it can be appropriate. Sometimes it’s necessary when something large is at stake.

Look Who’s Talking ends with an out-of-genre car chase after baby Mikey goes wandering off.

Bridget Jones runs out in the cold in her underwear to chase down Mark Darcy after he reads her diary and leaves her apartment. It’s not the most practical course of action, but it’s silly and hilarious, just like Bridget.

Amanda in The Holiday is so elated by the fact that leaving Graham made her emotional enough to cry for the first time in years, that she gleefully races back to the house to stay with him a bit longer. She's not chasing anyone or stopping anything. She's running towards something for once.

The hopelessly smitten little Sam in Love Actually escapes notoriously tight airport security to bid Joanna goodbye before she gets on a plane. There has to be a reason for these characters to chase the love of their life. Otherwise, their running is unnecessary and a sloppy way to tie up loose ends.

"The Princess Bride" Ending

"The Princess Bride"

"The Princess Bride"

The Storybook Ending

Sometimes you want the super happy ending if it serves the story. The Princess Bride, While You Were Sleeping, 13 Going on 30, and Benny and Joon make sure to deliver these storybook endings.

Sometimes a villain needs to be defeated first. Sometimes the characters have to get out of their own way. They have to reveal a truth to the other characters, or they have to learn from their mistakes and get a second chance. This is the classic ending upon which all classic love stories are based.

There’s nothing wrong with throwing a few in the mix every so often. As long as they come up with a sigh-inducing, iconic image to wrap the story in a tight, pretty bow, it’s not only appropriate but expected of a certain type of love story.

"Pride and Prejudice" Climax

A Thoughtful Conversation or Speech

Endings are about resolving conflict so sometimes they don’t need to be melodramatic, as long as they’re filled with great dialogue and strong performances.

While a stretch in terms of comedy, in 2005’s Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy meet in a field at dawn and finally proclaim their love for each other.

Meanwhile, Melvin and Carol walk the streets of New York late at night to discuss their relationship in the ending of As Good As It Gets. Both are changed people as the result of meeting one another, and for once, they are able to have a conversation without it turning into an awkward moment or heated argument.

Tula and Ian finally get married at the end of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and it goes off without a hitch after a movie full of hilarious family conflicts.

Jerry Maguire returns home to tell his wife he loves her in front of her sister’s divorced women’s support group, restoring the entire room’s faith in love in a quiet, family setting.

Paul comes back for Holly at the end of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and helps her find her cat before they get together.

Jake Ryan picks Samantha up from the church and takes her back to his house for some birthday cake in Sixteen Candles.

These movies don’t need a crowd of people cheering them on or fireworks erupting around them. They just need to present thoughtful conversations that end with the characters walking hand in hand towards their happily ever after.

"Pretty in Pink" Ending

"Pretty in Pink"

"Pretty in Pink"

The Unexpected Ending

How do you stay with someone who doesn’t remember who you are each day? 50 First Dates figures it out by showing Henry and Lucy married with a kid and traveling in their ending that shows them having their cake and eating it too.

What if your boyfriend is a zombie? Bring him back to life as they did in Warm Bodies.

What if things didn’t work out, but your best friend was there for you instead? In Pretty in Pink, you’re rooting for Duckie to get the girl, but you know Andie really wants to be with Blaine. So, Duckie gives her his blessing after Blaine apologizes to her, and she runs off to be with him despite their class differences.

Treat the Genre with Respect

Just because rom-coms don’t win Oscars or have very intricate plots doesn’t mean that their stories shouldn’t be treated with care and consideration. There are a lot of good ones out there that withstand the test of time. The ending can make or break a movie and help it reach a respected status deemed worthy of repeat viewings throughout the years.

What are your favorite romantic comedies? What do you think of their endings? Leave your comments below!