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Netflix's C-List Romantic Comedies Go Global

Friendzone and Sounds Like Love hope to draw in American audiences with their familiar plots, character types, and rom-com fluff.
  • Debuting today on Netflix, Friendzone puts a French spin on the makeover trope. (Photo: Netflix)
    Debuting today on Netflix, Friendzone puts a French spin on the makeover trope. (Photo: Netflix)

    It’s no secret that American moviegoers tend to avoid foriegn films, especially those not deemed “highbrow.” For every Parasite or Roma, there are thousands of releases that don’t make it to U.S. theaters, let alone the Oscars stage, including entire genres that have historically escaped the American consciousness.

    Ever the disrupter, Netflix is working to change all this with its ever-growing library of foreign-languge originals, including — increasingly — romantic comedies. Today the streaming giant is releasing two such films: Friendzone, a French romp about a hopeless romantic who's unlucky in love, and Sounds Like Love, a Spanish dramedy following the tumultuous relationship between a fashion assistant and her enigmatic ex-boyfriend. While neither of these films are likely to be award-winners in their native countries (let alone the U.S), they are likely to draw in curious Americans with their familiar plots, character types, and rom-com fluff. In its own way, Netflix is democratizing the C-grade romantic comedy, ensuring that viewers around the world have something juicy to half-watch as they scroll Instagram or drink wine with friends.

    Those looking to get the most bang for their proverbial buck would be best-served watching Friendzone, a charming rom-com with a handful of legitimately laugh-out-loud lines. Baby-faced Mickaël Lumière stars as Thibault, a nurse who routinely falls for women, only to be relegated to the “friend zone.” While traveling for his friend’s bachelorette party (all three of his best friends are women), a skinny-dipping Thibault meets Rose (Eva Danino), a children’s clothing designer, and helps nurse her back to health after she steps on a poisonous fish. The two continue to see each other upon returning home to Paris, but when Thibault realizes Rose doesn’t see him as a viable romantic option, he turns to his friends for help. In true rom-com fashion, the women give Thibault a top-down makeover, teach him how to talk to women, and even help him land an Instagram influencer girlfriend, but along the way they accidentally strip away his kindness and the awkward-but-lovable spirit that made him so special in the first place.

    The romantic comedy makeover is a trope as old as time — Netflix did it just last month with the gender-swapped He’s All That — but Friendzone’s strong script and the genuine chemistry between its leads helps to make the story feel fresh, even in its most formulaic moments. The comedy also boasts a soundtrack that fits right in with its genre counterparts: Thibault and Rose’s friendship montage is set to the Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” while the makeover scene and Thibault’s grand romantic gesture play over “Fly” by Machiavel and “Someone To You” by BANNERS, respectively. Netflix typically avoids spending money on music for its lower-profile originals, instead going for generic pop songs that sound like other songs, but in using these well-known singles at key moments, the streamer gives Friendzone a further air of legitimacy.

    French comedy Friendzone asks the age-old rom-com question: what happens when you turn a nice guy into a cool guy? (Photo: Netflix)

    Sounds Like Love, on the other hand, stumbles when it tries to live up to the standards of its forebears, namely Fleabag. Set in Madrid, the rom-com (and in this case, “comedy” might be generous) stars veteran Spanish actor María Valverde as Maca, a fashion assistant finally starting to move on from a bad breakup years prior. However, right as Maca gets her career back on track, her ex-boyfriend (Álex González) returns, throwing her for a loop. Maca’s romantic drama is intertwined with that of her best friends, Jimena (Elisabet Casanovas), a skater-type searching for the spirit of her dead ex in a new man, and Adriana (Susana Abaitua), whose loveless marriage experiences a jolt of energy after a threesome.

    When Maca isn’t complaining about her (clearly awful) ex to her friends, she’s breaking the fourth wall and speaking directly to the audience. It’s a move that mimics Fleabag, in which Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s character offers a window into her thoughts that only the audience can see and hear, but it falls flat, as Maca’s inner monologue adds little to — and often simply reiterates — what we’re seeing on-screen. Maca’s redundant attempts to break the fourth wall makes Sounds Like Love feel even longer than it is, which is saying something for a rom-com that clocks in at a bloated 1 hour and 51 minutes.

    Like many of Netflix’s international offerings, Friendzone and Sounds Like Love are available with both English subtitles and dubbing. In recent years, Netflix has invested heavily in its dubbing operation, and it’s evident in both films, although Friendzone viewers interested in seeing real chemistry on-screen may want to consider switching to subtitles. French is the language of love, after all, and the American-sounding voiceover doesn’t quite do it justice. That said, if it’s only romantic vibes or background noise you’re after — and that’s a perfectly fine reason to queue up a middling romantic comedy — the dubbed version will more than suffice.

    Viewers willing to expand their horizons will find much to love in Netflix’s international rom-com library. Friendzone and Sounds Like Love join a wide variety of titles, including raunchy comedy Issi & Ossi, opposites-attract tale Rich in Love, and Indonesian romance A Perfect Fit, which each diversify the genre and put their own spin on its conventions. Lest American audiences forget, a meet cute, no matter how corny or predictable, translates into any language.

    Friendzone and Sounds Like Love are available to stream Wednesday, September 29 on Netflix.

    Claire Spellberg Lustig is the Senior Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.

    TOPICS: Netflix, Friendzone, Sounds Like Love