I’m not usually one for rom-coms. Of course, I have nothing against them per se — and I’m a complete romantic sap in real life. But your average romantic comedy usually doesn’t appeal to me because they’re generally quite predictable and need to be based around some central element that makes them stand apart. 

And, above all, it must not depend on “stupid humor” for the comedy half of the genre.  If you write like you expect your audience to be stoned, then I’m going to be thoroughly bored.

My favorite rom-coms range from well-known movies like You’ve Got Mail to less-popular films like I.Q., Simply Irresistable, or the made-for-TV Irish fantasy The Magical Legend of the Leprechauns (also known as just Leprechauns but not to be confused with the horror movie franchise Leprechaun). I’m also a fan of Cary Grant movies (way too many great movies to link individually), and I should probably include the Thin Man franchise because even though those are technically mysteries first and foremost, they survive entirely because of the rom-com chemistry between Nick and Nora.

I should review all of these sometime to talk about how to write romances, but right now I’m going to jump to the one I just finished watching: Love’s Kitchen, a British rom-com about a man who, after losing his wife, learns to enjoy living again and take risks.

It’s a simple story, which caused it to get rather poor reviews; but honestly, I find the best romances to be simple at heart. Romance is complex enough without adding tons of baggage and complicated plots. Yes, it should be more than just “boy meets girl” — but art should imitate life, and real-life romance always looks simple from the outside. It takes skill and artistry to show the complexities of romance while still making it relatable to the average audience member.

Just as an example, the one moment in You’ve Got Mail that sticks out at me more than anything else in the whole movie is when Tom Hanks’s character is writing, and promptly deleting, fantastic excuses for why he missed his date with Meg Ryan’s character — and then finally bites the bullet. Who hasn’t experienced the panic of avoiding responsibility?

Okay, so that linked clip isn’t from a rom-com, but you get the point. It’s the prosaic, human moments that make a romance story, and a rom-com is a romance first and foremost. Romance is about exploring the human drive for intimacy, and a story that’s centered on romance can’t detract from those small moments. It needs to showcase them.

This is why a romance story needs to have that central element I mentioned at first — because in order to be a natural story, it has to start out in non-romantic territory. Pride and Prejudice, for example, doesn’t start off taking romance seriously — it satirizes the whole idea of matchmaking in Regency-era British society, and Lizzie Bennet is focused on much more practical issues at first. It’s precisely that framework of her society, however, that provides for the strength of the book as a romance.

That’s what I found I liked about Love’s Kitchen. The central theme and genre is romance, but the plot is that of a great cook who loses his drive after his wife dies in a car accident. It’s shown in a gut-wrenching, inevitable fashion, giving you just enough chemistry — over a phone call! — to make you feel like you’ve entered the romantic comedy after the happy ending. And then that that moment is over, and you can easily empathize with the male lead as he’s still grieving years later.

And that’s in, quite literally, the first three minutes of the film.

That’s when I knew I was going to like the story, because it takes talent to put that much emotion into the first three minutes. The film got absolutely horrible reviews from critics, but while it seems like an average rom-com at first it wins on subtlety rather than show.

As we skip ahead a few years, the kitchen team we saw in those first few minutes has gone their separate ways, and Rob Haley — once an acclaimed but modest chef — has no love left for food. The shake-up occurs when Gordon Ramsey (of Kitchen Nightmares fame, playing himself) barges in holding a negative review of Haley’s restaurant and demanding to know what happened. Haley decides to get his act together and purchases a country pub his wife had been looking at the day she died, getting his kitchen team back together (which now includes his young daughter, who’s instrumental in getting the new pub popular with the locals).

Predictable elements include Claire Forlani’s character Kate, an American food critic with a former British rock star for a father. It’s obvious she’s the one who wrote that scathing review, but the reveal is handled a bit differently from the typical formula — not the least of which because it’s what made Haley snap out of his depression.

(Forlani, incidentally, has a more-than-passable performance as an American, and though occasionally-stilted lines that switch between Mid-Atlantic and Californian accents give her away as a non-native she makes up for it in a good approximation of American attitude. Most importantly, she doesn’t come across as a caricature like I normally see in British productions. I’m looking at you, Doctor Who.)

The human elements come through with how obsessed Haley is with safety, his natural caution driven to new heights by his wife’s death. It comes through with how he teaches Kate the proper way to use a knife in the kitchen, and the fact that he himself didn’t use a knife safely while depressed. (It may have just been an actor not being a cook — but while it stood out to me as evidence of an amateur in the kitchen, I chose to interpret it as part of the story. Oh, yeah, did I mention I like cooking and therefore a cooking-based rom-com stood out to me?) It continues with how he finally gets over his reluctance to have a relationship after Kate does cut herself — a subtle moment, easily missed thanks to the make-out scene that follows, where he realizes how much he cares for her.

And, as is necessary for me, the humor is great. I laughed in all the parts they intended me to laugh, primarily because of Lee Boardman’s performance as Loz but simply because almost every actor in the movie works well with each other and even the little jokes come off the right way.

Currently, the movie is streaming on Netflix, but if that’s your preferred method to watch a movie you should move fast. It’s only up through the 15th.

If you like rom-coms, simple joys, cooking movies, etc., I’d recommend this movie. It’s not spectacular, and I don’t think I’d give it any awards — but I would watch it again. And that’s the best award a story can get from its audience.