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: New Line Cinema
You know what all women love? When they meet someone at a wedding who specifically attends a ceremony they weren't invited to with a carefully constructed false identity in order to sleep with random people who might be more emotionally open to the idea of hooking up with someone either because they feel lonely, or the idea of finding "the one" seems all the more possible after witnessing your friends get married in front of their loved ones. Who doesn't like to be manipulated into sex by two schmucks who probably have matching Fight Club posters in their bedrooms? What makes Wedding Crashers worse than your average movie about guys trying to get their f*ck on is that the characters played by Vinch Vaughn and Owen Wilson legitimately believe that if they can lie hard enough and manipulate enough people, then no one will care that all of their relationships are based on horrific intentions.
- Photo: Buena Vista Pictures
Watching Joseph Gordon-Levitt conspire with Heath Ledger (and to a lesser degree David Krumholtz) in an attempt to get Julia Stiles to sleep with the Australian heart throb so Levitt can take her sister to prom is off putting enough, but when you discover that it works, no paintball scene soundtracked by Semisonic can ever make you feel better. At the beginning of the film Stiles is an intelligent woman who knows what she wants to do, but by the time the credits roll and Letters to Cleo are playing on top of a school, she's been badgered, mentally beaten down, and even tricked into exposing herself to an older man. And for what? Prom? No thanks Shakespeare.
- Photo: RADiUS-TWC
It's almost impossible to explain the gaslighting that occurs in this smart little film without giving away the conceit, but much of the plot concerns both Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss trying to make each other - and their respective doppelgangers - lose their minds while at a mysterious cabin in the woods. Even watching this movie with your significant other is the basis for getting into an argument, so tread lightly before ordering this up on demand.
- Photo: Paramount Pictures
At the beginning of this film, the viewer is introduced to a veritable gallery of terrible people, and no one in Failure to Launch makes it out of the film without committing heinous sins against their friends, lovers, and parents. Sitting on top of the pile of rubble that is this film is Sarah Jessica Parker, who plays Paula, a woman who is paid to construct elaborate backstories for herself in order to convince men to fall in love with her so they'll move out of their parents' houses. She then leaves them high, dry, and alone in a one-bedroom apartment.