The romantic comedy, or ROM-com, is a dramatic story about love told with humor and wit. The first ROM-com to win a best picture Academy Award was "It Happened One Night" in 1935. Romantic comedies strive to be different in their own way, but most have common characteristics. They tend to tell the story of a couple prevailing over a comic complication.
The first time the main characters get together is usually in a contrived and overly comic situation. The meeting usually occurs within the first 10 to 20 minutes of a film. A common and funny technique to introduce the characters to each other includes a case of mistaken identity, as in "What's Up Doc?" Another contrived meeting is the "strange accident," as in "While You Were Sleeping."
A couple in a romantic comedy will have different personal viewpoints, an unequal social status or a cultural conflict. They are characters who would not ordinarily meet, much less stay together. One character may be more sympathetic, usually an underdog figure from a humble background, while the other character may have a privileged life. A few of these movies include "Maid in Manhattan" and "The Proposal." Regardless of the differences, the rules of the romantic comedy require they find some reason to stay in each other's lives.
Traditionally, a romantic comedy deals with a simple problem that the audience easily understands. Everyday type of dilemmas, such as getting a new boyfriend, finding a job, starting a business or passing an important test all present an increasing comic challenge. As the characters work out their problem, they encounter each other repeatedly and fall in love. The crucial point occurs when they run into an unexpected problem, such as a controlling parent, or a hurtful secret is revealed. This usually leads to a break-up or an unexpected delay in plans.
Each main character has a supportive "friend." This character, which can be a relative, usually serve as the comic relief. Their main role in the story is to advise, lend moral support to, and even protect the main characters. This character is usually an unmarried co-worker, like Joan Cusack's character Cyn in "Working Girl," a high school buddy, or a sibling.
Romantic comedies must have a happy ending. One character changes his belief, viewpoint or embraces something about the other character. They overcome the conflict that kept them apart, fall in love all over again, and give the story a simple, satisfying conclusion. Some famous ROM coms that followed these steps include "Sleepless in Seattle," "Pretty Woman" and "When Harry Met Sally..."