By Emma Simonoff
It’s commonly accepted that most romantic comedies don’t take place in our world. They break too many rules. They’re a kind of magical realism, which is most easily explained if you can look at romantic comedies as fantasy movies, or even as science fiction. Impossibilities can be coincidences — anyone in love can get through airport security in an instant, and days can be ground-hogged.
The rom-com “secret identity” trope is no different. This is where the romantic interest is faced with major, billboard-sized signs that say, “the protagonist isn’t who they say they are!” But they are completely ignored.
Either these movies take place in another universe that follows a completely different logic, or the guy is just plain stupid. Maybe they want to believe the lie.
In many ways, every secret identity rom-com is a con movie, a heist of love. The protagonist is, whether they know it or not, conning that character into falling in love with them.
After watching too many TV shows, I’ve learned a principal move every con artist follows: every victim of the con wants to be conned. Whatever the reason — whether they want romantic attention or they’re some kind of masochist — on some subconscious level, they want to be tricked. They want to believe it all.
So, by the transitive property, if we take it as a given that the protagonists are con artists, then their love interests are conned because they want to be. It explains it all.
In the Netflix phenomenon “The Princess Switch,” Vanessa Hudgens plays two doppelgangers who trade places for a day. Hudgens number one, a baker from Chicago, takes the place of Hudgens number two, a duchess with a British accent, and falls in love with Prince Edward, Hudgens number two’s betrothed.
Before they switch, we see the prince and Hudgens number two have no chemistry. But Hudgens number one — on the other hand — really connects with him. The chemistry is off the charts. And, does he just happen to not notice her accent is suddenly fake and she’s acting completely differently? No. He chooses not to notice because he wants it to be true.
In “The Truth About Cats and Dogs,” a modern adaptation of the play “Cyrano de Bergerac,” Jeanine Garofalo plays a radio host who falls for Brian, a guy who calls into her show. He comes to meet her, but she panics and asks her hot model neighbor, played by Uma Thurman, to pretend to be her.
Thurman and Garofalo’s voices are very different. Brian points that out when he first meets Thurman and she explains her radio voice is different. Fine. But then he meets Garofalo, and her voice doesn’t sound familiar to him? Brian and Garofalo start having a relationship over the phone and Thurman acts completely differently in person, claiming to be shy. Brian never doubts Thurman is who she says she is despite the voice, personality and lack of dog knowledge. He’s not that stupid. He wants the woman he’s falling in love with over the phone to be the hot model.
Popular rom-coms such as “Man Up,” “While You Were Sleeping,” “Just Go With It,” “The Princess Switch: Switched Again” and more are all about one thing: wanting to believe in love.