Can Someone Write a Good Romantic Comedy?
Romantic comedies are one of the hardest genres of scripts to sell, because generally unless you have A-list stars attached, it isn't going to get made (and don't bring up "My Big Fat Greek Wedding". That's not a romantic comedy -- it's a wacky ethnic family comedy. Big difference).
But even then, the sad thing is how few good ones there have been in the last decade or so. And the sadder thing? The romantic comedies that have been coming out, even the by-the-numbers ones like "The Wedding Planner" (which I felt I sat through after watching the coming attraction for it) are pretty much based on the best romcom scripts out there.
Do you know why executives hate reading romantic comedy scripts? Because they are all the same, generic paint-by-numbers tales that take two people who you know are going to wind up together, and have them wind up together by overcoming the same clunky, cliched obstacles and making the same this-really-isn't-a-choice choices.
You want to write a good romantic comedy, that is going to stick out from the pack? Consider some of the following. Please.
GIVE YOUR MAIN CHARACTER HONEST ROMANTIC CHOICES. It is dumbfounding how many scripts I have read, in which the main character is a single workaholic woman who goes through the typical page-10 montage of Dates-From-Hell (just to establish that she is trying) before meeting the Yuppie-Who-Is-Wrong-For-Her and getting involved with him (though, sometimes she just starts out engaged to the Yuppie) and then meets the funny/cute guy without a high-paying job who we know she is going to wind up with. The woman spends the script wondering who she should be with (while the funny/cute guy, who is inevitably a bit immature, realizes it is time to settle down), and then the Yuppie does something that reveals him to be an asshole, while the cute guy gets involved in a misunderstanding, that puts him on the outs until the ending, when someone runs to an airport/bus terminal/church, the misunderstanding gets sorted out, and they kiss.
I have just described 85% of the romantic comedy scripts circulating through Hollywood. The other 15% tell the same story with the main character a guy.
A slight exaggeration, but not by much. And what makes me crazy is that we're supposed to think that the (often-flawed) funny/cute guy is the right one for her, only because every other potential male love interest in the script is an asshole Yuppie, or a Date-From-Hell. In other words, though the Female Lead is adorable, her dating pool inexplicably consists of complete losers and the main character. How is that a choice?
(This type of movie has also traumatized a generation of people, because movies don't show the actual reasons that people wind up not going out, which is more subtle -- sometimes you are both great people, and you just don't hit it off in that way. Instead, we've been taught that the only reason that relationships don't work is because someone is an asshole or a Date from Hell. And if the person you went out with seems cool, and then she/he isn't calling, then it must be you).
So avoid this trap. Be brave enough to give your main character choices about who to be with, and have them pick the one they really love. Isn't that more romantic than taking the last man standing? (Good past examples of this -- The Philadelphia Story. Pretty In Pink. Some Kind of Wonderful.)
AVOID IMITATING THE CLICHES OF ALL THE OTHER MOVIES. The number one bad scene, that turns up in at least 50% of scripts (no joke) is the choice for third act misunderstanding that drives the couple apart -- the main character seeing her love interest kissing someone else, which leads her to run off, not realizing that the love interest was just kissed by his former girlfriend and that he pushed her away the moment she turned around.
Does this ever happen in real life? And if someone actually claimed that this is what happened, would you even believe them? (Two-thirds of the scripts helpfully later have the kisser tell the main character that the love interest didn't kiss them back -- as if).
Separating your characters before they come together at the end is fine; it's dramatic, and it makes the ending mean something. But have it come out of their characters, and don't just rip off tired moments because you are too lazy to come up with a good one.
DON'T MAKE THE LOVE STORY CARRY ALL THE WEIGHT. A lot of good love stories worked well because they were in scripts in which something else was going on. The scenes between Matt Damon and Minnie Driver in "Good Will Hunting" are funny and adorable, and they are only a small part of what the movie is about. The romance between Tom Cruise and Renee Zellweger in "Jerry Maguire" is cute, but again the movie is about a lot more than this.
Which leads into --
MAKE THE CHARACTERS AND THEIR STORIES INTERESTING. Even romantic comedies need interesting plotlines. Give the characters something to go through together (a la "Romancing the Stone", or "The Sure Thing") that makes their bickering and moving apart and together flow out of a story, that provides honest conflicts. Bend expectations ("My Best Friend's Wedding") and come up with good reasons why the characters can't just get together on page 5. A good example of this is "When Harry Met Sally", in which the characters aren't ready to be with each other until the end, when they have gone through everything they go through. "When Harry Met Sally" also offers a primer on romantic-comedy dialogue, as well as on making-scenes-interesting-by-having-something-going-on-besides-the-dialogue.
And only Kathy Griffin is allowed to have gay best friends any more.