Rom-coms tend to get dismissed as harmless fluff rather than high art. In 2019, Miraya Berke set out to fix that.
Last June, she launched the first-ever Rom Com Festival in Los Angeles, a celebration of the classics of the genre as well as its future. With dessert pairings (Berke is also the founder of Dessert Goals), cocktails, and a slate of new submissions and fan favourites like 10 Things I Hate About You, the schedule also boasted panels, discussions, and experiential components. It was a hit.
“It was really validating that so many of the people came to the festival with a shared view of: ‘We love the genre.’ I’m so grateful to have this space of other people who feel the same way,” Berke told Refinery29 in a phone call.
The second iteration of the festival is still on for June 25 through June 28, 2020, but as guidelines and expectations around the COVID-19 outbreak continue to shift, Berke is committed to being flexible. In the meantime, the 29-year-old event planner and entrepreneur, who like many around the world is in self-isolation, was keen to find a way to keep the community she built alive during this difficult time.
“Everyone's life is kind of on this weird pause and we're all stuck inside,” Berke said. “I've just been trying to think of ways to reimagine what events are, and what experiences are from the comforts of our couch.”
Her solution? A virtual screening of Moonstruck, the 1987 Norman Jewison film starring Cher and Nicholas Cage, with a post-screening Zoom discussion hosted by Tess Morris and Billy Mernit, hosts of the You Had Me At Hello podcast. The movie is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video, and the plan is to get participants to press play at the same time on Thursday, April 2. Sign-up is free, and Berke has provided tips on setting the mood so the whole thing feels in line with the sensory pairings the Rom Com Festival usually offers.
A newsletter sent out to Rom Com Festival subscribers describes potential drinking games (“Everytime you seen the moon”), dress-up options (“Cher inspo, big hair don't care!”), and even a menu (“Pizza - frozen or support a local restaurant and order takeout; breakfast for dinner - hole in egg; a loaf of fresh bread; negronis; bubbly with a sugar cube.”) inspired by the movie’s New York City setting.
Berke isn’t alone in trying to foster social connections in this way. Virtual watch parties held on Twitter, Facebook Live, Netflix Party and Zoom, have become a way for film buffs to come together in a time without movie theatres. Universal Pictures, which released highly-anticipated titles on VOD early, has been hosting weekly viewings of The Hunt, The Invisible Man, and Emma., with talent and directors joining in. Birds of Prey director Cathy Yan live-tweeted the movie from her personal account last week along with Junee Smollett-Bell, who plays Black Canary. The New York Times announced a screening of Top Gun on March 19, and the American Film Institute has one planned for The Wizard of Oz. Cherry Picks, a site that aggregates film reviews by women, watched Greta Gerwig’s Little Women on March 28, and the Turner Classic Movies Festival is kicking off its first Special Home Edition on April 16 with 1954’s A Star is Born.
Refinery29 launched R29 Movie Club, our weekly Thursday 5 p.m. ET rewatch of our favourite women-led and women-directed films currently streaming. (Tune in April 2 for The First Wives Club and follow along on Twitter and Facebook.)
Still, there’s something about a rom-com that feels particularly comforting in times of turmoil. Maybe it’s the formulaic narrative arcs (meet-cute, romance, drama, romance), the unbelievably lavish lifestyle led by everyone claiming to be a journalist, or the much-needed escape into a world where disease and death isn’t the first thing on everyone’s mind. As someone who writes about movies for a living, I like to think I’m pretty genre-flexible. Thriller, horror, dramas, period films, comedies, disaster flicks — count me in. But lately, I’ve been finding it really hard to concentrate. The only thing that truly soothes my self-isolation anxiety is pressing play on a rom-com favourite, and sinking into it like a warm hug. (Another thing in short supply these days.)
If the Moonstruck event works out, Berke says she’s open to hosting more of them. (Although, can one really top Cage monologuing about his wooden hand as a method for seduction?) But if you’re looking to hold your own intimate rom-com festival with friends, or just trying to get through a hard day, here are some suggestions for some great ones to stream right now.