Rom-coms are my life; name a rom-com and I’ve probably seen it, keeping up to date with old favourites while also enjoying promising new entries in the genre. So, as I watched Wonder Woman 1984 in the cinemas (post-Christmas Day, of course), there was a moment when both my brother and I turned to each other with weeping eyes, the kind of eyes that stemmed from bleeding hearts that care too much about fictional characters. After we left the cinema, I knew in my mind what I knew in my bones – Wonder Woman 1984 is a Christmas rom-com. Don’t believe me? Let’s work it out.
There are two types of Christmas rom-coms: the first is drenched in reality, like While You Were Sleeping, real folks going through real troubles at Christmastime, and the second is the more fantastical type, where magic or magical creatures are involved. What do we have in Wonder Woman 1984? Magic, plain and simple. And in Christmas rom-com territory, this magic is never explained, nor does it have to be. For example, in the movie The Spirit of Christmas, a hot ghost lives a tangible life during Christmas, and we are told that this is because he has unfinished business. Do we try to figure out the physics of it all? No, but we do want him and the lawyer protagonist to fall in love.
In Sundays at Tiffany’s, Alyssa Milano’s Jane is reunited with her imaginary best friend from childhood, only he isn’t imaginary and very much real now. There’s definitely magic involved here, but do we accept that Michael is this imaginary friend that only she could see, and now he is real and they fall in love? Well, yes, of course. So, the fact that Diana wishes Steve back to life or how the wishing stone works isn’t meant to be dissected and questioned, it’s just one of the quirks of being in a rom-com.
If you know your rom-coms, you know that makeover/cute dress-up scenes are just standard stuff – think 13 Going on 30 or Pretty Woman. Wonder Woman 1984 gives us not one, but two such scenes, Steve’s and Barbara’s. Steve and Diana then share a first date, which includes flying and fireworks. Why else would we have that scene (and a throwaway Fourth of July comment), if not for a romantic pay-off?
In rom-coms, sometimes there is the set-up of a frenemy, which the movie Isn’t It Romantic very astutely pointed out to be one of the possible rom-com tropes. In Bridesmaids, Kristin Wiig’s Annie has a rivalry going on with Rose Byrne’s Helen, both vying for the best friend status of Maya Rudolph’s Lillian.
Jane and Tess in 27 Dresses are sisters, but things hit the fan later on when Jane humiliates Tess in a very public manner, all because they were in love with the same man (I mean, Jane changes her mind later on, but you get the gist of it). Bride Wars has two best friends waging war on each other because they both want the perfect wedding day at the Plaza. It makes perfect sense that Diana and Barbara start out friendly, but Barbara’s envy of Diana builds into resentment later on. She refuses to do things on Diana’s terms, and then they literally fight each other.
As we rom-com fans know, there are lessons to be learnt from these movies, be it lessons about love or life. Kate Winslet’s character in The Holiday realises that a real love is so much better than holding on to an ideal of what could have been, while Cameron Diaz’s Amanda allows herself to let her guard down and be open to love with Jude Law’s Graham. In the same vein, Diana is forced to reconcile and deal with the reality of Steve’s passing, a reality she has been running away from since his death. She lived her life in isolation, her apartment is basically a shrine to him – she had been unable to let go and move on because she felt that the life they could have lived together was stolen from her, because she is Wonder Woman.
And yes, I know most of us are like “it’s been seventy years, woman!”, but can you truly fault her for never letting herself move on and love again? The first man she ever loved perished, and she’s basically an immortal, so any man she loves will eventually die and leave her.
I don’t know if you have noticed, but Christmas movies, to some extent, deal with the transition from childhood to the world of the adult, and the losses incurred along the way. This is why these films either have adults who haven’t lost that childhood joyfulness, or actual children to show contrast. At the very beginning of Wonder Woman 1984, Diana speaks about her childhood, and describes it “as the magical land of [her] youth, like a beautiful dream of when the whole world felt like a promise.”
Thus, the Diana we see in Wonder Woman 1984 is severely disillusioned, bogged down by the numerous wars and battles (don’t forget she must have experienced World War 2 as well), the constant living and fighting in the shadows – the world of man a far cry from the “beautiful dream” she lived in Themyscira. At the end, we see her regain her optimism in the world, and as she looks around, she can see the magic and wonder in the people around her and “so, so many things” (we assume she means the good stuff).
When you look at it from this lens, it is easy to see why people were disappointed. This wasn’t a film about Wonder Woman, but very much a narrative centred on Diana Prince, a story fulfilling the criterion of a Christmas rom-com more so than an action-packed superhero movie.
My gripe with Zack Snyder’s version of Superman is that more attention was paid to Superman than Clark Kent, and with Wonder Woman 1984, it is the inverse. They were so focused on the human element at every turn (consider how the villains were also treated differently) that they lost sight of the fact that they are batting in the superhero genre.
But hey, at least I will have another movie to add to my Christmas rom-com list at the end of year.
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