Let me get this out of the way — I love romantic comedies. I love the old ones (like It Happened One Night), the not quite-as-old ones (like Pretty in Pink), the slightly-less not-quite-as-old ones (like Notting Hill), and the very young ones (like Obvious Child).
As much as I love rom-coms, though, I'm well-aware of the many flaws that surround the genre. Apart from the gender biases and stereotypes, there's the sheer unlikelihood of the scenarios most of these films are based on (in turn leading to generations of women with not necessarily outrageous, but often bizarre relationship expectations).
Of these many flaws, one of my favorites is Fabrication Zero, which is what I call the lie the relationship at the movie's center is based on, when applicable. (" When applicable" is pretty often, as it turns out.) Dozens of romantic comedies revolve around some sort falsehood, whether intentional or accidental, that brings our two lovers together — here are 10 of them.
1. Sabrina (1954)
Starring Audrey Hepburn as the title character, William Holden as her longtime crush David, and Humphrey Bogart as David's brother Linus, Sabrina ends up with Linus — but only after he pretends to be interested in her just so she doesn't distract William from his current engagement. It might seem a little noble, save for the fact that Linus' motivations lie within not wanting to ruin a business deal between his own family and that of William's fiancée.
This is pretty low on this list of offenses, but still — with brows like that Sabrina should know she has her pick of men.
2. Just One of the Guys (1985)
In this mid-'80s gem, Terry (Joyce Hyser) chops off her hair and starts taping down her chest so she can pretend to be a male student at a rival school and prove that she's been passed over a journalism award due to being a woman.
Naturally, she falls for the one guy friend (Clayton Rohner) she makes at the new school, who's outraged to discover he's been telling his deepest darkest secrets to a chick. He thinks it over, though, and eventually decides her deception isn't that bad, and they ride off into the suburban sunset together. (I'm still not sure he didn't entirely base this decision on her willingness to flash him.)
3. Overboard (1987)
This one is pretty bad. Dean (Kurt Russell) basically kidnaps an amnestic Joanna (Goldie Hawn) so he can lock down a mother for his kids and a cleaning lady/masseuse for himself. Over time, they start to actually fall for one another, and though she at first is ready to resign herself to a life of wealth after regaining her memory, she returns to Dean and the kids to live in borderline squalor. Love truly conquers all.
4. While You Were Sleeping (1995)
I can kind of understand what happened here. After a series of misunderstandings, poor timid Sally (Sandra Bullock) is mistaken for the fiancée of the man (Peter Gallagher) she's been lusting after (and whose life she happened to save). As she grows closer to her comatose crush's family, she finds herself falling in love with his brother (Bill Pullman). The feeling is mutual, and in the end, bro is happy to ignore the pretty extreme deception (which in turn forced him to examine how much he loves his own brother), and put a ring on it.
5. The Truth About Cats & Dogs (1996)
I always thought Janeane Garofalo was really attractive, so even as a kid it was weird to me that whoever cast this movie thought her character, Abby, wouldn't be able to land Brian (Ben Chaplin). Like, he's good-looking, but he's not that good-looking. Plus, he was clearly super-into her personality, so why wouldn't she at least try to talk to the guy, rather than swap places with Noelle (Uma Thurman)? Clearly he was into Abby as is (even if it did have a lot to do with how much his dog loved her).
6. You've Got Mail (1998)
Based on the play Parfumerie (which had once before been adapted into a film, called The Shop Around the Corner), You've Got Mail focuses on business rivals/unwitting online paramours Kathleen (Meg Ryan) and Joe (Tom Hanks). This one's kind of tricky, as the original lie of their relationship is more of a "lie by omission" — when introducing himself to Kathleen, Joe simply leaves out the part about being one of the owners of her bookshop's main competition.
The bigger lie at hand comes about when he discovers that she's the woman he's been chatting (and falling in love) with online and decides not to share the revelation. After a bit of soul-searching, he decides he really does want to be with her, then proceeds to essentially catfish her. She's totally okay with it, though, because she wanted it to be him — she wanted it to be him so badly. All's well that ends well, I guess.
7. 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
A modernized retelling of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew, this classic sees Joey (Andrew Keegan) paying Patrick (Heath Ledger) to take out Kat (Julia Stiles) so Joey can take Kat's sister Bianca (Larissa Oleynik) to prom except Patrick's really helping Cameron (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). It's a whole big thing.
Though Kat finds out what Patrick's really up to, it's not until he buys her a totally bitchin' electric guitar that she realizes he really did fall for her. Ah, to be young and Sarah Lawrence-bound.
8. Never Been Kissed (1999)
Who else would have totally understood if Sam (Michael Vartan) did not show up to kiss Josie (Drew Barrymore) in the end? Her article was real sweet and all, but by pretending to be a wise-beyond-her-years underage high-schooler, she did kind of almost To-Catch-a-Predator him. Of course, she didn't make him fall in love with her — I hope the school officials sat him down for a stern talking to after things settled down.
9. She's All That (1999)
Man, the '90s were a big year for the deception-based romantic comedy. I guess people were really into tales of redemption back then. In this particular tale, Laney (Rachel Leigh Cook) is unwittingly transformed from Ugly Duckling to Bangin' Swan in the time it takes to remove a pair of glasses and a scrunchie. She doesn't realize it's all the result of a bet over whether super popular Zack (Freddie Prinze, Jr.) can turn her into the prom queen — or that he's like totally falling in love with her. (Who knew what beauty lay beneath those big clunky specs and that all she needed was the right haircut to frame her face?)
Though Laney's furious Zack had reduced her to a "f*cking bet," she forgives him after he races to stop her from being date-raped by his biggest frenemy (Paul Walker). They live happily ever after, but not before he drops trou in front of their fellow graduates and their families.
10. Wedding Crashers (2005)
There are so many lies going on in this movie it's insane. On top of John (Owen Wilson) and Jeremy (Vince Vaughn) lying about their identities, Gloria (Isla Fisher) lies about being a virgin and Zach (Bradley Cooper) lies about actually being in love with Claire (Rachel McAdams), who he's just using to keep ties with her father, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury (Christopher Walken).
Claire is the only person who really cares about the lying, but in the end John wins her over, because despite his many years spent weaving tales about himself, he has changed for her. (Just like every other kind of dickish rom-com male lead.)