Six Underrated International Rom-Coms to Calm the Soul
Easy watches are in high demand, which means the romantic comedy is due for a comeback. While not always totally removed from unpleasantness, these films often convey reality with the hopeful tone that audiences yearn for. As much as streaming makes it easier for new titles to be discovered and watched, it also makes cycling through the same old favorites a little too easy. To broaden your horizons, here are a few recent, multinational rom-com recommendations that you should check out.
dir. Jan Schomburg | Italy / Germany
Plot: an atheist journalist goes to Rome to cover the election for a new Pope and falls for a woman about to become a nun.
A classic rom-com premise of “opposites attract” with an obstacle in between, but in this case, that obstacle for the relationship could literally be God. There are some silly gags and more serious musings on the nature of faith, but its definitive distinction, aside from Callum Turner and Matilda de Angelis' great chemistry, is the way it's shot. Schomburg makes the most out of the scenery to elevate the love story. Like other films in the genre, it sets out to capture everything walking the line between the lived-in and the heightened postcard version of itself, and that's exactly where it lands, culminating in a memorable final shot.
Streaming: available for rent.
Man in Love (2021)
dir. Chen-Hao Yin | Taiwan
Plot: a brutally violent yet empathetic gangster collector has a crush on one of his debtors, a stoic bank clerk dealing with family illness.
Once again, the trope of contrasting leads is present, but here it plays out rather differently. Considering all the sketchy tactics A-Cheng, the criminal, employs to stubbornly woo the reticent Hao-ting, that slow build means the character is steadily trying to win over the audience as well. The same can be said for the movie. As soon as that happens, of course, something shifts and the amusing lady-and-the-tramp dynamic gives way to weighty melodrama that digs deeper and deeper into the notion of past actions not going away quietly. The constant, ingenious subversion of expectations paired with vivid art direction and a notable feel for financial struggle, rather uncommon for romances this polished, makes Man in Love special.
Bareilly Ki Barfi (2017)
dir. Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari | India
Plot: Bareilly Ki Barfi repurposes a Cyrano-like plot of a love triangle and mistaken identity, adapted from a Nicolas Barreau book, for a particularly Indian context of a female protagonist challenging patriarchal norms and seeking love on her own terms.
It’s hard to call a film whose songs accumulate hundreds of millions of views on YouTube underseen, but the US-centered mainstream cinema landscape can make even massive crowd-pleasing blockbusters go unnoticed in the majority of the world. It's the sort of narrative one could easily predict beat-by-beat, yet the nuanced character arcs propelled by engaging pacing and a few musical numbers render it irresistible regardless.
Love at Second Sight (2019)
dir. Hugo Gélin | France / Belgium
Plot: a twist in a tired trope: boy meets girl, boy grows distant over time and they break up after 10 years, boy wakes up in an alternate reality where he never met the girl, boy tries to win girl back.
The superficial conflict sparked by this high-concept is so perfectly appealing on its own, with plenty of gags coming from the protagonist not knowing how to deal with a life that is not his own, that the emotion from the underlying notion it explores arrives by surprise: whether the chance to correct your wrongs is worth risking the well-being of the one you care for. Sometimes it seems like the movie would fall under the bad type of sappy, but similar to the main character, it earns its credibility by earnestness, topped off with a gorgeous ending montage.
Streaming: available for rent.
Tune in for Love (2019)
dir. Jung Ji-Woo | South Korea
Plot: two people fall in love while working together at a bakery, but their romance never quite pans out.
Unlike other films in this list, Tune in for Love isn't particularly comedic nor melodramatic. The two protagonists meet and fall and spend the better part of a decade or so away from each other. The story follows them over the years as they keep missing the timing to finally be together, but most meaningfully, it does so at a deliberately slower pace, even with its many plot developments. That patience allows specific details about how each processes low self-esteem, and how class plays a significant role in their relationship, which adds substance to their mutual affection. Plus, it ends in the best way a romantic movie can end: a whole lot of running set to a pop ballad.
Gimme the Loot (2012) and Tramps (2016)
dir. Adam Leon | USA
Plots: A double-bill that follows the same blueprint: 80-minute breezy movies about two young, broke New Yorkers developing feelings for each other as they go on a somewhat illegal impromptu adventure through the city.
The reasoning for the undertaking may vary between a desire for self-affirmation and pure financial need, and the romance itself ranges from a timid crush to a more pronounced affair, but both share the DNA of conveying the non-exclusive nature of legitimate stakes and charming flirtation without any sort of fantastical reality. These are boots-on-the-ground, on-location little films with the slight makings of the American New Wave, whose style fit to materialize the quasi-thriller elements and the burgeoning emotional core.
Streaming: Hulu (Loot) and Netflix (Tramps)