It started off innocently enough. What are you working on? A romantic comedy, she said. Freeze the fargin’ frame. Did you say what I think you said? Sure did (big grin.) Whoa. Rom. Com. Two words that strike terror into my movie-loving heart. I’m not saying there are no great rom-coms out there. Take Moonstruck, permanently stuck in slot numero uno for moi. It’s hilarious. It’s surprising. It’s got romance up the wazoo. And giant moons? Oh yeah, it’s all in there. There are a few other standouts: When Harry Met Sally. Bridget Jones’s Diary. Working Girl. Splash. I’ll let Pretty Woman slide in, even though I detest that “she saves him right back” ending. Pass the Cheese Whiz, please.
A few others I deem romantic comedies that you might not think of right away are Office Space – there’s hypnosis-induced romance galore in there. Also, Bull Durham, a seductive little rom-com in the guise of a sports movie. And who could leave off America’s Sweethearts? I mean, was that role tailor-made for Catherine Zeta-Jones, or what?! Take out Julia’s forgettable used-to-be-a-fat girl and you’ve got a movie! Just kidding about the inclusion of America’s Sweethearts on the best list, but MIA CZJ is delish in it!
Back to the convo. You’re writing a rom-com. Is it funny, fresh, and fabulous? Does it take the genre and elevate it or will it be another cringe-inducing trailer (will not mention We’re the Millers, will not mention We’re the Millers) that makes me want to crawl under my gummy-lovin’ movie seat?
Some pre-requisites for writing rom-com, as proclaimed by me – I mean, who else would issue them? Number one – you must be a snappy dresser. Mod shoes, hip-chick (or dude) pants, jewelry that sneezes success. No dowdy outfits or necklace-less napes. Oh no. Splash it on and strut your stuff. You must also be a clever conversationalist. No quarter on this one. If you’re not quick witted, throw it in reverse and go back to drama-land right this second. That’s where you belong, and there’s no shame in it. Number three – (the last one was number two and if you missed that, stop reading. Seriously.) – you must not harbor any secret dreams, crushes, or literary fantasies about Joan of Arc, Gloria Steinem, or Frances Perkins. Yes, Dirty Dancing, I see how you snuck that one in there. Naughty, naughty, naughty. To write rom-com you must eat, sleep, and Netflix Jennifer Anniston, Drew Barrymore, and Katherine Heigl all day, all the time. And that’s just phase one.
So, I guess my conclusion is – rom-com (suppresses a shudder) – have at it. 500 Days of Summer me. Dress to impress. Speak like the queen and buzz like a bee. Bring it on, I pizza-pie moon dare you. And don’t forget to make your characters quirky, charming, and please-for-the-love-of-gawd make them funny. I heard that rocks their socks at the multiplex.
-By Dianna Zimmerman, writer, mother, competition winner and the inimitable Director of Judging of the Just Effing Entertain Me Screenwriting Competition.
Is the Romcom dead? Not according to expert and friend, Billy Mernit.
Treat yourself to Just Effing Entertain Me: A Screenwriter’s Atlas