It may not be a pernicious trend, but it is a trend none-the-less. Whether it shows a growing sensitivity in male moviegoing audiences, the interchangability of female leads or is just a sign in the death of the romantic comedy genre, something is changing in the rom-com genre. What am I talking about? The rise in romantic comedies with male leads.

The rom-com, as has been established over the last twenty years, is about the only genre of film where woman can successfully headline the project. You can think of Sandra Bullock, Jennifer Aniston, Drew Barrymore et al, with their name above the picture. Sometimes they are double billed with a bloke – often a comedian to show this is going to indeed be funny (enter Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler). But usually in a romantic comedy the viewpoint character, namely the one without wacky tics and spunk in their hair, goes to the female lead. She is the one who eventually makes the decision to be with the thoroughly unsuitable bloke, usually dumping the nice Baxter she was supposed to be married to. If there is an ostensible male lead (and often in the case of love triangles there can be two) he doesn’t have a lot to do but accept his fate.

Except this year three highish concept romantic comedies have given the agency, and the lead, to a man. This causes a problem because the man still needs to be the source of pratfalls and boorishness, and yet he is given the space to realise his errors and plump for the right woman. Made Of Honor, a wonderfully bland gender swop of My Best Friends Wedding barely touches the side of your brain as is slips down. Its not exactly a film one might use to justify a radical gender shift in cinema, rather its a film which film execs try to work out what exactly the appeal of a grown Patrick Dempsey might be beyond TV (ans = NONE!). I’ve already spoken about Definitely, Maybe – the thankfully non-Oasis based nineties nostalgia rom-com where Ryan Reynolds (plus daughter) are given the agency to act. I thought it was a sweet rom-com, unusual enough to be interesting, both with its nineties nostalgia and its male lead.

The film which suggests that this is a real actual trend is How To Lose Friends And Alienate People. Simon Pegg plays Toby Young, a less likely hero for romantic comedy I cannot think of outside of prison. And the film is not really billed as a rom-com, rather the pratfalls of an unpleasant Englishman in New York. Except Pegg can never be that dislikeable, and to give the film any kind of likeable structure they meld it into the shape of a romantic comedy. There would have been a time which Kirsten Dunst might have headlined this picture, but instead Pegg gets to bumble around being an arse until he accepts true love. In another time pratfall structure would have been enough for this film, it still wouldn’t have been that good but it might have had teeth. But Pegg is a weird leading presence, not all that attractive but with boundless puppydog charm (also completely unlike Toby Young). When watching you are suddenly reminded of Run Fatboy Run, a more wacky comedy which nevertheless when you think about it a bit closer is again a rom-com starring Pegg*. Suddenly a trend becomes an avalanche. One which threatens romantic comedy because none of these films from the good (Definitely, Maybe) to the bad (Made Of Honor) have been significant hits.

*You are mainly reminded by the fact Pegg’s Young interviews Thandie Newton in How To Lose Friends And Alienate People.