Hollywood depictions of romantic relationships both reflect real life and influence it, according to a pair of new books that examine, respectively, rom-com films and the TV series The Bachelor.

In From Hollywood with Love (Dey Street, Feb.), entertainment journalist Scott Meslow traces the modern rom-com from what he considers its golden age, beginning with 1989’s When Harry Met Sally, to the streaming era. “This narrative set in, about five to 10 years ago, about the death of romantic comedies,” he says. “That’s not true at all—they just don’t look like those movies that were hits in the ’90s.”

PW’s review said “Meslow makes good points about a lack of diversity in the rom-com world,” and in the final chapter, which details Netflix’s business model, he ponders the genre’s future. For instance, the 2018 streaming hit To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, based on Jenny Han’s 2014 YA novel, references the 1984 John Hughes movie Sixteen Candles and its racist treatment of Long Duk Dong, the film’s only Asian character. “It acknowledges that All the Boys is part of this tradition,” Meslow says, “but it also says that some of this stuff sucked, and we’re going to do a better version of that while also not pretending that there weren’t problems in this genre before.”

The ongoing cultural hunger for love stories, Meslow explains, means rom-com tropes are everywhere, and not just in the movies. “You see it in the gossip—the fascination with Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez—and across reality television, literature, sitcoms,” he says. “Jim and Pam [of The Office] is the love story for that generation.”

The Bachelor has, to date, offered viewers 25 different love stories; a 26th season began airing January 3. Novelist Chad Kultgen and TV writer Lizzy Pace, who host the Bachelor-themed podcast Game of Roses, have rewatched them all; the result, How to Win the Bachelor (Galley, Jan.), is a statistics-driven approach to the blockbuster reality show. “We saw that it was a sport,” Kultgen says, and with that knowledge, the authors identified strategies that would be successful against recurring setups. “These patterns are structural pieces of the show, things that producers do in every episode, every season.”

Using sports and gaming language to dissect the series, the pair devised metrics including the rose quotient, which assigns numeric values to how each contestant places that week. “We had to invent things,” Kultgen says, “like early sports writers who invented RBI and ERA for baseball.” PW’s review said the authors treat The Bachelor as sport “with unabashed zeal.”

Though a competition at heart, The Bachelor is marketed as a romance—albeit one with a narrow definition. “The show purports that this is how romantic love should go,” Pace says. “It should be straight. It should be white. It should be the man getting down on one knee. It relies on tropes—the rose, the hot tub, the proposal.”

In other words, it has a lot in common with classic rom-coms. “There’s a one-on-one style of date that happens almost every season, called ‘Pretty Woman,’ ” Kultgen says. “As it’s presented, it’s literally a scene out of the most successful romantic comedy, box office–wise, of all time.”

Meslow, who covers the 1990 Julia Roberts–Richard Gere vehicle in From Hollywood, also recognizes the appeal of the enduring reality show. The Bachelor, he says, “is going to be running for thousands of years after we’re all long gone.”

Back to Main Feature