Romantic Comedies are a year-round staple, but something about the holiday season really amps up the nutmeg-scented ante. Everyone wants to believe in stolen kisses, cheeks pink from festive cocktails and chilly air, a perfectly tied cashmere scarf, city lights twinkling under the lightly falling snow. Not the kind of snow that turns to filthy grey slush, but the fake kind that is easily swept up by underpaid production assistants after a film shoot.
The British expression, “cuffing” sounds like something from “50 Shades of Grey” but it really means settling for someone while you both hibernate during the winter months. This way you can both watch “Love Actually” on a lumpy sofa, sipping the instant cocoa that floats around in clumps in your chipped mug, and find it romantic until it thaws outside and you both realize that you have better options.
Point is, we’re in prime Rom-Com season. Whether you’re “cuffed”, cuddling with your puppy, or watching “Legally Blonde” with your pals on a bone chilling night. But I’ve been taking note, and with all the with all the comic book franchises, de-glammed actors gunning for Oscars and a general cinematic shift towards loud, bombastic, exploding plotlines, there don’t seem to be enough Rom-Coms.
So here’s where I come in. Budding screenwriters, directors and producers take note. I’ve made it easy for you. It’s Rom-Com DIY time. All you have to do is take one piece from each of the following sections, heed the pitfalls and VOILA! You’ve created you’re very own Rom-Com. Let’s get started…
Choose your…IMORTANT LIFE LESSON
While Rom-Coms are by their very nature are frothy and light, they still need to impart some Important Life Lessons. But don’t worry, they don’t have to be particularly deep. One of these should do:
- Big cities are cold and impersonal. You won’t notice this until you’re forced to return to your hometown (possible reasons: wedding, holiday, family obligation, unemployment.) You realize that your hometown is teeming with warm, kind people spouting folksy wisdom, not just the annoying, small-minded jackasses you remember from high school.
- That tall, skinny, rich, gorgeous lawyer/business tycoon everyone envies? Bitch, please. She’s a fucking mess on the inside.
- Your mom was right. You’ll know this when she gives you wry smile and shows you an old photo or hugs you in the kitchen. (Alternate option: you have this realization in your teenage bedroom, which hasn’t changed since you were 15; replete with teen idol posters and dusty trophies. Rom-Com parents don’t move to a Boca Raton condo or convert your teenage bedroom into a home yoga studio.)
- There’s nothing so bad that can’t be cured by a shopping montage (punctuated by an upbeat song.)
- If you are a Professional in a Cold, Impersonal, Big City you don’t have time for kids…until that one moment when you realize that kids are everything. This moment will most likely involve a baby peeing in your face when you inexpertly try to change his diaper. You will both laugh (punctuated by a syrupy song.)
Life Lesson Pitfall: Any life lesson even hinting at the idea that you can decline the honor of being a bridesmaid is to be avoided.
Choose your…ROM-COM HEROINE QUIRKS:
Every successful Rom-Com heroine has a crazy, cute, goofy, relatable personality. Even if she starts out as a Professional in a Cold, Impersonal, Big City, her quirks will be revealed during a day in the park with a dog (this could be a real dog or a hot dog) and a handsome love interest in stylish casual wear. Here are some reliable, tried and true quirks:
- CULINARY TOMFOOLERY: Can’t cook without burning down the house or turning the food weird colors, can’t eat a cupcake without getting frosting on her nose.
- BOOZY REVEAL: Cocktails make her hiccup, burp, cry, blow her bangs out of her face in an exasperated yet cute fashion. If she is hung over, the phone will inevitably wake her up in the morning and she will have to search for it under a pile of clothes. (Bonus points if she is wearing a sleep mask.)
- THE JULIA ROBERTS STABLE OF ANIMAL TRAITS: Laughs like a horse, a walks like a newborn deer in heels, flips lionesque mane of hair while flirting with male protagonist.
- OVERSIZED SWEATER REVEAL: Looks winsome, vulnerable and totally adorable as she pulls an over-sized sweater down over her hands and cradles a mug of coffee.
- ENDEARINGLY AWFUL ARTISTIC EFFORT: Bad singer, bad dancer (both of which come out while our heroine is drunk.)
Quirk Pitfall: Picking and eating one’s boogers on public transport .
Choose your… SUPPORTING CHARACTERS:
Supporting characters must be amusing, further the plot and be faithful to the Important Life Lesson. These options should serve your script well:
- The Stylish Gay Man lives to deliver witty quips and offer his shoulder for our heroine to cry on. Although he works in a glamorous, stressful, high profile job, he is able to drop everything at a minute’s notice if our heroine needs to be told she’s pretty. (See “My Best Friend’s Wedding”)
- The “Chubby” Friend exists to deliver the message that what really matters is who we are on the inside. Even though she is very pretty, any male character who finds her attractive clearly has a good heart. (See: “The Truth About Cats and Dogs”)
- The Kooky Sidekick exhibits wacky fashion sense and doles out relationship advice in her zany way. Often has a regional accent. (See: “Working Girl”)
- The Sarcastic Slut is a scene-stealer. But her zealous, lusty, regret-free sex drive that never results in a ring or a baby relegates her to a supporting role. (Refer back to: Important Lesson)
- The Cock Blocker is the asshole best friend of the male protagonist. His job is to ensure that the main couple breaks up at least once during the course of the movie. (See: “Pretty In Pink”)
Supporting Character Pitfall: Any Mild-Mannered Accountant in practical shoes who doesn’t have time for this shit.
Choose your… SETTING:
When you choose your setting, you can’t go wrong with glamorous standbys like Paris, London and NYC. These places have brand name appeal and the requisite amount of cute cafes and boutiques. Bonus Points: Amazingly, even though they are big cities, you can still run into your ex-boyfriend on cue. (Punctuated by a poignant song.)
Setting Pitfall: Sure, you can choose a smaller city. In fact, it’s a great idea. “Sleepless in Seattle” is a winner. But steer clear of suburbs. “Tired in Tukwila”? “Pooped in Puyallup”? Same general vicinity, yet somehow lacking in romance.
While rock icon David Bowie and beat author William S. Burroughs are not two names that automatically come to mind when one thinks of Rom-Coms, they have an important part to play here. They both used something called the “cut up” method; where they just cut up a bunch of words on paper, shifted them around and incorporated them into their work. So go ahead and try that with these Rom Com-centric words.
- New York/London/Paris/[FILL IN YOUR CITY]
- I Met This Great Guy At A Museum While I Was Wearing My Cutest Shoes And We Went For Coffee At the Most Adorable Little Café With Violets On The Tables And This Sweet Old Spanish Guy Smiled And Played Guitar And I Never Had To Use Tinder Again Because Six Months Later We Got Married in Barcelona
Title Pitfall: Anything involving the words, “My Bastard Husband Left Me With Three Kids And Now I Can’t Pay The Mortgage On My Cheap Tract House That Stinks of Cat Piss Here In Peebles, Ohio.”
Unless you’re doing a Jane Austen period piece, your heroine needs a job. Now, I think we’re all pretty well acquainted with the prime Rom-Com jobs (bookstore owner, writer, dog walker, cupcake decorator, hooker.) So here’s a list of unacceptable Rom Com jobs. To ensure success, avoid these vocations:
- Porn Set Janitor
- The Unscrupulous, Cold, Impersonal, Big City Lawyer who has no desire to have a life-changing experience involving peeing babies, an old photograph/letter from mom or a day in the park.
- Medical Guinea Pig
- Zamboni Driver (Actually, hold up. This isn’t such a bad idea. “You, Me and a Zamboni”. We shoot it at Rockefeller Center. A Christmas release date. Drew Barrymore-call me.)
Addendum: These problematic jobs can all be alleviated if you give your character a secret, glamorous, off-the-clock life. (See: “Flashdance”)
So, there you have it. Make your selections, put ‘em all together, hire an actress who straddles the line between pretty and nonthreatening and you’ve got yourself a Rom-Com hit on your hands. You’ll have them at hello. What, like it’s hard? Snap out of it, raise your boombox over your head and tell ‘em you’ll have what she’s having.