In “I Feel Pretty,” Amy Schumer only believes that she is beautiful after she falls head-first during SoulCycle. “Isn’t It Romantic,” a spoof on rom-com genre tropes, begins with Rebel Wilson hitting her head on a steel pole and waking up into the world of a rom-com. It’s a New York City of vibrant flowers, pink hues, and impromptu dance scenes. Netflix’s “Insatiable” is a television show about a shy, plus-size teenager who becomes thin and confident after being punched in the face. Eventually, she requires a stint at the hospital where she is fed through a tube. Why do women in some contemporary rom coms have to undergo a head injury to feel good about themselves?
Perhaps the trend reflects a modern turn (or return) to slapstick humor. Indeed, 2019 is welcoming physical comedy films like “Stan and Ollie,” and the much-anticipated “Bill and Ted Face the Music.” Or maybe there is a reemergence of a trope that feels familiar in film history, with films like Francis Ford Coppola’s “Peggy Sue Got Married,” where the title character faints and has an opportunity for a do-over on her life choices. Why is self-confidence in these recent films especially associated with a trauma-induced delusion?
Part of what might feel uncomfortable about the trope is that the women are not full agents of their own self-actualization. They are not consenting to a process of change. Rather, the women alter themselves by force. And their world, in turn, transforms around them. Only time will tell if more romantic comedies get produced about women getting hit in the head and having epiphanic moments. Is this theme just a Hollywood convention, a custom of the studio system? Does it say anything about contemporary beauty standards?