Rachel McAdams: Rom-Com Star of Her Generation?

“The Vow” is the latest film starring Rachel McAdams, who is fast making a name for herself as the go-to girl for modern romance. Is she fast becoming the rom-com star of her generation?

“The Vow” is decidedly in the realm of drama, telling the story of a husband trying to woo his wife, who’s suffered memory loss; sort of a more serious version of the Drew Barrymore/Adam Sandler romantic comedy “50 First Dates” (2004). Other romantic fare from McAdams has a lighter feel. The whimsical Woody Allen film “Midnight in Paris” (2011), nominated for four Academy Awards, features McAdams as one half of a couple accompanying her parents to Paris. The other half, played by Owen Wilson, is a writer with an idealized version of Paris struggling with his first novel. But will the city, and their different views of it, drive them apart?

That wasn’t the first time McAdams shared the screen with Wilson. She played opposite him in “Wedding Crashers ” (2005), a rom-com about two womanizers who crash weddings to find beautiful, desperate bridesmaids. However, one of the guys (played by Wilson) unexpectedly falls in love with McAdams’s Claire Cleary. Her role adds a sweetness to an over-the-top, raunchy comedy.

In her most recent starring role in a romantic comedy, “Morning Glory” (2010), McAdams plays a TV producer, Becky Fuller, anxious to prove her mettle by turning around a low-rated morning show. In the midst of her arguments with her preening on-air talent, Becky finds herself falling for a handsome romantic interest played by Patrick Wilson.

Although it’s not a romantic comedy, her comic timing proved invaluable when McAdams played Irene Adler in “Sherlock Holmes” (2009), the mercurial love interest of Holmes himself (Robert Downey Jr.). In this role, McAdams got to prove she could play a femme fatale instead of just a girl-next-door.

Of course, a look at her filmography would be woefully incomplete without mentioning her two best-known romantic dramas to date: “The Notebook” (2004) and “The Time Traveler’s Wife” (2009). Both tell tales of star-crossed lovers. In “The Notebook,” McAdams plays a rich woman who falls for a poor man but, despite their love, finds social circumstances ripping them apart. In “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” she plays a woman whose husband has a gene that causes him to involuntarily time travel, which becomes difficult for their marriage. Both show the actress has more to offer than just love-inspired laughs.

Like Meg Ryan in the ’80s and ’90s, Diane Keaton in the ’70s, or Audrey Hepburn in the 1960s, McAdams is using her romantic comedy chops to build a career as America’s (newest) sweetheart.

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