Waiting for Tom Hanks is a cute but not too cute romantic comedy about a woman who longs to be in her own rom-com but can’t recognize it when it happens. It’s also a lovely meditation on loss and healing. This book might be too PG for some readers and too cute for others, but I enjoyed it because of its well developed romance, great friendships, respect for the rom-com genre, and treatment of grief.
Annie is an aspiring screenwriter living in Ohio. Her parents had a storybook marriage until her dad died. After that, Annie and her mom bonded by watching rom-coms until Annie’s mom passed away as well. Annie lives with her Uncle Don and hangs out with her best friend Chloe but otherwise lives a pretty isolated life. She’s determined to have her own perfect romantic experience someday, which is difficult because Chole sets her up with some truly awful dates. Honestly, people keep telling Annie that she needs to get out there more but if the field consists of more guys like Blind Date Barry, who shows up late, smells bad, doesn’t like hot liquids or fluoridated water, and tells Annie to lose some weight, then I don’t see how anyone can blame her for staying home.
Anyway, it turns out that a rom-com is about to film in Annie’s town and she gets a job as the director’s assistant. She immediately has a meet-cute with the male star, but insists that he’s a total snob and she hates him. Naturally events transpire to challenge her first impressions, and with the help of her community of friends she learns to open her heart after the usual round of romantic false leads and other rom-com tropes.
The book works partly because it has a true affection for the romantic comedy, along with a knowledge of the limits of the genre. It also works because there’s more to it than romantic love. Annie has to learn to see her parent’s marriage with clear eyes and to live with the loss of her parents in a way that doesn’t stunt her own growth. This aspect was much more powerful than the actual romance, and I love the bit where Annie explains how it works in the genre, particularly in the films of Nora Ephron:
Everyone thinks of romantic comedies as being these sappy, unrealistic stories where love conquers all and everyone ends up happy at the end. But that’s not what her movies were about at all. Like, in Sleepless in Seattle, you can’t really get any sadder than Tom Hanks missing his dead wife. And in You’ve Got Mail, Meg Ryan misses her mom and she loses her store. It’s not like Tom’s wife comes back to life, and Meg Ryan still loses the business her mom built.
But then they find love! The things that suck still suck, but they’re allowed to be happy. And maybe it means so much more that they’re happy, knowing that they still carry all that sadness with them.
The story is told from Annie’s point of view, so we know her better than the hero, Drew, but I liked Drew. Actually, I liked Drew a lot more than I liked Annie, who whines and jumps to negative conclusions about Drew at all times. Drew is shown to have a lot of complexity and kindness. I also liked it that the foil characters (a guy Annie briefly dates and an actress she thinks Drew is dating) are portrayed as genuinely lovely people. Of course the supporting characters are suitably quirky and endearing.
I did not enjoy Annie’s passivity, nor her utter insistence that Drew must be awful despite any evidence to support this conclusion.
However, despite these major problems, I mostly charmed by the book. It was sweet but not too gooey, and I loved Annie’s through knowledge of the rom-com genre and her observation about how we can appreciate happiness all the more if we’ve also known loss.
Extra credit for mentioning Joe Versus the Volcano, a delightful movie that more people should see. Demerits for NOT mentioning ‘Til There Was You, which has the same “My parents had the perfect marriage…no wait, what?” story line.