Roger’s here to review…a romantic comedy? Well, you know it has to at least have an interesting hook for him to take a chance on it, so I’m going to trust this will go well. Tomorrow I’m reviewing the script for what I consider to be the first big summer release, even if it’s opening at the beginning of April. Wednesday we’re going to go over you, the readers’, Top 25 list. Friday I’ll be reviewing another past Nicholl winner which I’ve been hearing great things about from everyone who’s ever read it. I only haven’t reviewed it yet because the subject matter isn’t my cup of tea. But you can only ignore recommendations for so long. Thursday is still a mystery. But I’m sure I’ll figure it out. Here’s Roger with the review…
Genre: (Anti?) Romantic Comedy
Premise: Cynical best friends Amelia and Ruth love nothing more than to ridicule romance. When they take it one step too far at their friend’s wedding, they are sentenced to a fate worse than death –- becoming heroines in their own romantic comedy.
About: According to the UCLA Writer’s Extension Blog, Annabel Oakes was working twelve hours a day at her advertising job and felt that her “relationship with writing was going to slip through my hands if I didn’t start treating it as a more structured part of my life”. So she enrolled in the UCLA Extension Writer’s Program and three years later she placed third in the 2007 UCLA Extension Screenplay Competition with her script, My Invisible Savior. A year later she won the competition with Lovestruck. Apparatus is producing. It was also on last year’s Black List.
Writer: Annabel Oakes
I feel like this is a review Abby McDonald or Erica Kennedy should be writing. You know, a smart female writer who knows the genre better than I do. My idea of a romantic comedy is watching Dr. Who and his plucky female companion (that Amy Pond is so hot I’m openly weeping right now) save an alternate Earth from robots and disembodied heads in jars. What can I say? Unless it’s The Wedding Singer or Wedding Crashers, the romantic comedy genre (and Chick Lit genre in general) is something I prefer screwball as opposed to straight up.
And why not?
I have a writer friend who once described the entire RomCom genre as, “Steven Seagal movies for girls with brain damage, artificial films full of loathsome characters that promote retardism.” He shall remain anonymous to protect his identity, to spare him a cloistered Salman Rushdie-like existence, where he would surely be living in fear from all the Type A career girls hunting him with garrotes fashioned out of the finest pink chiffon.
I pushed him to see why he thinks scribes are attracted to the genre.
“It’s the safety of the formula and conventions.”
Earlier this week Mindy Kaling tweeted, NO MORE TYPE A PERSONALITY WOMEN IN ROMANTIC COMEDIES WHO HAVE TO LEARN TO PUT THEIR CAREER ASIDE TO FIND TRUE LOVE.
Which is a sentiment I can rally behind, and it was with this mindset that I sought out Annabel Oakes’ Lovestruck. I needed a primer on the genre, and what better instruction manual is there than a script that questions and subverts the lighthearted RomCom staples, clichés and conventions?
I’m here to report that Lovestruck embodies the Kaling ethos with humorous and clever results.
So who are our Type B heroines?
Amelia is a professor on surrealist art at NYU, a woman who has “embraced intellectual as a personal aesthetic.” Ruth produces a music show for NPR (who ironically hates musicians). She listens to Bowie and The Kinks, and she can “both drink you under the table and kick your ass at Trivial Pursuit”.
Girls dolled up in hipster chic? Nah, not really. They’re not Williamsburg trust fund kids living in their own stupid caricature of poverty. These gals are counter-culture ladies in their late thirties who happen to crave substance.
They’re real to a fault, cynical and quick to judge others and form opinions, perhaps defense mechanisms to protect themselves from getting hurt.
For some, this violates the number one cliché when it comes to RomCom heroines: That they must be likeable.
As their wacky friend teaches us, “The modern romantic comedy heroine is not a cliché. She is a collection of hundreds of clichés.”
So automatically, Amelia and Ruth are characters with real flaws, existing in stark contrast to heroines whose flaws are really a list of “weaknesses in a job interview”, such as a)
I work too hard, b)
I’m too nice, c)
I’m in debt because I have an unusual affinity for gift giving and d) I’m clumsy.
So how do these ladies get trapped in a romantic comedy?
When we meet Amelia and Ruth, they’re walking through the streets of New York, recklessly acquiring all manner of damage and stains to their hideous bridesmaid dresses.
At their friend Mindy’s wedding (their old African American college roommate), they spend most of their time engaged in snarky commentary, de-valuing the “J. Crew asshole” groomsmen and pointing out that The Wedding March is a song from a Wagner opera where “the marriage is doomed to fail.”
They cross the line when they make a toast to, “Fairy tale bullshit, just like this wedding!”
The bride overhears them and runs off to the bathroom, crying. In the bathroom, while they are trying to apologize to her, two flower girls named Karma and Destiny arrive and have to potty.
But Amelia and Ruth, instead of letting them in, decide to spray the flower girls down with Dom Perignon.
Big mistake, as these flowers girls may or may not be cupids.
All bets are off when our heroines are hit between the eyes with red rose arrows.
So what kind of things happen to them?
Strange things are afoot at the Circle Amelia & Ruth. (Was I delighted to discover a Bill & Ted reference in this script? Of course I was!)
First, they clumsily collide into Chad and Skip whilst trying to flee the wedding. Chad and Skip are impossibly gorgeous brothers. One is a struggling musician and the other works in advertising. Bewitched and enamored, they take the guys home and have one night stands to the music of Coldplay.
They hate Coldplay.
In the morning, they pow-wow and discover a carton of Chunky Monkey icecream in the freezer. Although they’re attracted to these dudes, they know something is not right. Even though they decide these guys are like cheeseless pizza, sugarless chocolate and decaf coffee, they go out with them again anyways.
We’re treated to a montage of the dates through New York City, and strangely, the city seems cleaner than usual. Something is happening to New York. Like clues in the first ten minutes of a zombie flick, we notice things like flyers for missing couples.
Other clues: They’re wearing four-inch heels and their waists are smaller. Their apartments have magically grown bigger and have sprouted breakfast nooks.
And the biggest clue that ultimately tips them off?
Their gents call them Mel and Rudi, plucky unisex names, which, according to their wacky friend, is Cliché No. 6. A unisex name denotes a trustworthy and likeable heroine.
Who is the wacky friend?
Reid, a dour and unstylish gay film studies professor. He was my favorite character, and I’m not even gay. I laughed out loud during all of his scenes.
At NYU, he’s being forced to take over a class he loathes, The Romantic Comedy: Love and Laughs in the REEL World.
“I will NOT cancel my graduate seminar on Psychosexual Asian horror films of the 1960s for a trifle.”
This is a professor I can get behind (in a totally non-gay way, of course).
Reid is the guy they go to for answers. He tells them, “A lead female in a romantic comedy is rarely over 29. Unless they had to adjust it to 30 because Meg Ryan was too old to pass for 29. 35 is pretty much the max unless Dianes Keaton or Lane or Sarah Jessica Parker is involved.”
He’s the one who helps them figure out what’s happening to the missing couples.
“True love in the movies is as inescapable as ‘Happily Ever After’ and ‘The End’”.
So these missing couples are disappearing?
Yep, romantic comedies always end like a fairy tale. We never see what follows Happily Ever After, we never see what the ups and downs of a relationship are really like.
So all these happy couples that are finding true love?
They’re disappearing, and Amelia and Ruth have to stop it.
Not only that, but Reid is fully transforming from gay misanthrope to the wacky best friend, which we realize when he acquires an Italian Greyhound in a pink dress that daintily pees on rugs.
Xena Warrior Princess.
Also to their horror, they finally find the missing bride Mindy, who is transforming into the Token Sassy Black Girl.
So, as a ticking clock, all of our characters are slowly losing their free will.
So, how do they stop it, Rog?
They have to become the anti-Julia Roberts. The anti-Meg, the anti-Drew…in short?
They have to become the worst romantic comedy characters ever to scare off the gents courting them.
Except the stakes are upped when Ruth can’t resist her suitor’s proposal for marriage, and Amelia, Reid and Mindy have to go on a quest to stop the marriage and not only save New York City from turning into a Hallmark Card, but to save Ruth from disappearing.
Is this an Anti-Romantic Comedy?
No, it’s more like a deconstruction. Here’s an analogy for you fanboys: Lovestruck is to romantic comedies what Grant Morrison or Mark Millar comics is to superheroes. Or, this accomplishes what Scream does for horror movies.
It’s fun, and although it skewers the genre, it does so with love.
I think you have to love the genre to know it so well, and it manages to inject something that is absent from the genre: Irony and Commentary.
And that’s fun to see.
Scenes where the characters find they can’t curse because they’ve been PG-Thirteened to navigating their way through a fun musical number are just charming and clever.
It’s easy for a guy like me to make fun of an entire genre, but never do I whole handedly dismiss it. It would be a double standard for me, a guy who loves many an action flick that could be criticized for its lack of subtext, to say I don’t find pleasure in wish-fulfillment. I’m obsessed with Entourage, which is basically Sex & the City for guys.
I think knowing all genres makes one a storyteller with range, and we should all learn how tell stories in a plethora of genres.
If I have any criticism concerning Lovestruck, it’s that Amelia and Ruth’s dialogue is very Juno-esque. Based on the other characters and the prose, Annabel Oakes has a unique voice all her own and she should just let her protags speak sans the Diablo Codyisms.
If you want to learn everything there is to know about a romantic comedy, this is the script to read.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Even if you’re not satirizing a genre, you must have a command of your genre. Know the ins and outs. Seriously. Really study the genre you’re working in. Know the narrative formulas. In Lovestruck, there are so many references to other romantic comedies, and such an in-depth deconstruction of the clichés and patterns, that you really get the sense the writer knows everything there is to know about her genre. She’s not fucking around. How do you do this? Easy, you just watch every movie you can get your hands on and read books that explore the mechanics of the particular genres.