Psychological manipulation in romantic comedies has been happening since Shakespeare had Petrucio browbeat Katherina into marrying him in The Taming of the Shrew. Even though none of us are wearing neck ruffles anymore, audiences are still enthralled by romantic comedy tropes that should have been put to bed after the 16th century. Normies love watching beautiful people fall in love on screen, and that’s fine, but there are some low key dark af romcoms out there that put forth the idea that you don’t have to be intelligent, or even nice to snag the object of your desire – you just have to be manipulative.
You would think that gaslighting in romcoms only happens when men want to trick the object of their affection into taking off their giant glasses and go to prom with them, but female romantic comedy leads are just as guilty of gaslighting in movies as their male counterparts. Romantic comedies of the late-20th century are especially guilty of characters gaslighting one another in order to manipulate them into all kind of petty schemes. The plots of films in '80s grown-up movies like Overboard and millennial teen romps like She’s All That feel like they would operate better as Eli Roth directed torture-porn features, but for some reason they were presented as romantic comedies for the whole family to enjoy. If you learned everything you know about love from these psychologically destructive romantic comedies, then you may need to rethink everything you know about relationships.
- Photo: Miramax Films
Morrissey once crooned, "Why do I smile at people I'd much rather kick in the eye?" and that's likely what Rachael Leigh Cook's Laney Boggs is asking herself by the end of a film that sees her torn away from her personal theater project, friends, and sense of self, before being thrust into a world where the only things that matter are looks and silent acquiescence. And why? Because a depressed soccer player needs a date to prom (the fact that that depressed lad is Freddie Prinze Jr. notwithstanding). You wouldn't be out of your mind if you believed that She's All That was one of Camus's long-lost stories.
- Photo: 20th Century Fox
When a movie is literally called Drive Me Crazy, you have to be aware that you probably won't be watching morally upstanding characters handling their problems with the ease and grace of conflict mediators. Both Melissa Joan Hart and Adrian Grenier play characters who are so filled with hate for their respective exes that they begin a campaign of subterfuge in order to make the objects of their desire mad with envy. In a classic bit of not being able to see the forest for the trees, neither Hart nor Grenier realizes that they've found their romantic and psychologically damaged match in each other until it's too late. Sad.
- Photo: Columbia Pictures
Little Black Book may seem like it lacks the depths of even the shallowest of rain puddles, but this film features manipulation upon manipulation. Not only does Brittany Murphy spend most of the film's run time lying to each of her boyfriend's exes in order to get dirt on him, but Murphy's character is actually being manipulated by Holly Hunter in order to produce a Jerry Springer-esque live event where everyone is shattered on film. To top it all off, the film attempts to make the audience run out and by a Palm Pilot to less than stellar results. It was a good try, though.
- Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
If you watched TBS at any given moment in the '90s, then you saw the story of a man who convinces a wealthy woman with amnesia that they've been married for years before he has her take care of his house in a strange revenge plot. After she comes out of her amnesiac stupor, she leaves for a bit before returning to the man's houseboat to thank him for everything he's done. First of all, yikes. It's telling that the only other film that deals with a male captor dispensing such vile mental torment on a woman only to have her fall in love him is the little known and brutally violent The Poughkeepsie Tapes. Although if there's a scene where Kurt Russell crab walks across a room while convincing Goldie Hawn to slit another woman's throat, then it has yet to be released on Blu-Ray.