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Book review (nonfiction): 'From Hollywood with Love' as zippy and fun as the rom-coms it honors

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Who doesn’t enjoy a good romantic comedy? Grumps and cynics, maybe. But for the rest of us, rom-coms have been providing comfort viewing and distorted ideas of how love is supposed to work since long before Harry Burns met Sally Albright.

The rom-com has evolved quite a bit over the past three-plus decades thanks to titans of the genre, such as Nora Ephron, Nancy Meyers and even Judd Apatow. As dismal box-office showings suggested that interest in rom-coms was waning, newer hits, such as “Crazy Rich Asians,” and the Netflix rom-com boom of the past few years have proved there always will be space in audiences’ hearts for cheesy, life-affirming tales of love.

“From Hollywood with Love: The Rise and Fall (and Rise Again) of the Romantic Comedy,” an essential rom-com tome published earlier this year by writer and critic Scott Meslow, spends nearly 400 pages thoroughly chronicling the genre’s history, interviewing some of its seminal figures and dissecting its most well-worn tropes.

For Meslow, a rom-com is any movie in which the central plot is focused on at least one romantic love story and “the goal is to make you laugh at least as much as the goal is to make you cry.” Even if you quibble with his definition, it’s a concise formula and remains consistent.

Meslow’s book is organized around 16 rom-coms that he thinks represent notable junctures in the genre’s modern history. His narrative begins with 1989’s “When Harry Met Sally” and runs through 2018’s “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.”

Each chapter contains in-depth breakdowns of each movie’s development process, creative choices and effect on rom-com lore. In each chapter, Meslow peppers shorter anecdotes in boxes with their own titles and fonts.

In between each chapter is an essay about a specific actor or two who have contributed significantly to the rom-com landscape. They include tributes to and interviews with folks ranging from Hugh Grant to Drew Barrymore to Mindy Kaling.

There’s a clear methodology behind the movies Meslow chose for this project. He uses 1990’s “Pretty Woman” as an example of the link between rom-coms and fairy tales, 1994’s “Four Weddings and a Funeral” to illustrate a rom-com that doesn’t “reflexively focus on the lighter side of the circle of life,” and “There’s Something About Mary” and “Knocked Up” as standard-bearers of the “raunch-com.”

Hollywood’s view of rom-coms has ebbed and flowed with the times. Meslow explains how the genre went from women-centered films in the 1990s to the Apatow era of R-rated rom-coms that focused more on its male leads in the 2000s. The 2010s rom-com lull was quickly followed by the runaway success of “Crazy Rich Asians” and Netflix ushering in the age of “the rom-com franchise.”

Although he undoubtedly loves these movies, the author expresses his displeasure with how homogenous — both in terms of race and class — the genre has become. Meslow describes Hollywood and rom-coms as “an industry and a genre that defaults to whiteness.” He also chastises studios for not doing more for Black moviegoers after 1995’s “Waiting to Exhale” proved there was an audience for such films.

Even at its most serious, though, “From Hollywood with Love” is still a relatively light affair and a quick read for film enthusiasts.

If you already enjoy settling in at night with a glass of wine and your favorite rom-com, this book will evoke the same sensation of fun escapism.


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