Brad Johnson is a screenwriter promoting the mantra “Read scripts, watch movies, and write pages.” Brad also works as a script consultant for writers of all levels to develop and grow their screenwriting toolbox. Follow Brad on Twitter @RWWFilm.
Despite the current general state of the genre, I have always been, and still am, an unapologetic fan of the romantic comedy – from Golden Age hits like The Philadelphia Story, to modern classics like When Harry Met Sally, to post-modern entries like Crazy, Stupid, Love. Even though the romantic comedy has been pulled down under the weight of endless studio notes, and Hollywood’s fixation on plugging every new star they discover into the rom-com machine (Tom Hardy in This Means War), I still hold out hope for a return to form.
If we, as writers, can just get away from the clichéd formula of putting an overly attractive person in an unusual job, giving them a quirky best friend, and then going through the motions until true love is achieved… We can save the romantic comedy. Maybe all we need is a reminder of the true building-blocks that every great rom-com is built on.
Let’s start, as all good stories do, at the beginning, and take a look at one of the key moments in any romantic comedy: the meet cute.
The Meet Cute and ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary
For those that might not have heard the term before, the meet cute is simply a plot device; something that has to occur before you can get to your real story. Roger Ebert described the meet cute perfectly when he called it a scene “in which somebody runs into somebody else, and then something falls, and the two people began to talk, and their eyes meet and they realize that they are attracted to one another.”
You can set your meet cute in any number of ways – some set of circumstances that are interesting, not too contrived and, hopefully, funny. This is a comedy after all. And the outcome can vary greatly as well. Sometimes this future couple experience love at first sight, but circumstances keep them apart, and other times, as with Bridget Jones, they hate each other, and the hook for your film is how these two people that start out hating each other, end up in love. Whichever of these paths your story takes, the point of the meet cute remains the same – you can’t have your characters fall in love until they meet.
When it comes to modern day rom-coms, Bridget Jones’s Diary sits pretty close to the top, which makes it worth studying. Written by Helen Fielding, Andrew Davies and Richard Curtis (and adapted from Fielding’s novel of the same name), the story follows the titular heroine, Bridget (Renee Zellweger), as she explores modern day London, looking for the right man, the right job, and a sense of peace within herself. In our opening scene, Bridget goes to a family holiday party where she’s introduced to, and proceeds to embarrass herself in front of, Mark Darcy (Colin Firth). Darcy in turn, delivers a scathing description of Bridget, which she overhears, and our future couple is off the races, having started their relationship with a collection of insults, embarrassment, and general disdain.
It illustrates the true brilliance of a good rom-com script, and why they are so hard to write well. You can find yourself totally enraptured with a story that, because of the genre, you already know the ending of, and Bridget Jones pulls it off with grace and good humor.
It’s also worth noting that something Bridget Jones does that other successful romantic comedies do (like When Harry Met Sally) is the idea of multiple meetings for the main characters. Even though the one described above is the official meet cute, Bridget and Darcy don’t have more than a handful of scenes with one another. They occasionally run into one another at various social functions until well into the second act when he finally admits to having developed some feelings for her.
Take a look at your own romantic comedy and focus in on the first time your characters meet. Is it unique? Is it memorable? Is it funny? Is that one moment enough to make your audience want to sit and watch these two people fall in love?
If the answer isn’t a resounding YES… You have some rewriting to do.
- More articles by Brad Johnson
- Specs & The City: The Meet Cute and ‘When Harry Met Sally’
- Breaking In: Rescuing the Romantic Comedy
“I’ll Have What She’s Having”: The Art of Romantic Comedy
Gain a Deeper Understanding of Romantic Comedy Structure and Characters
Learn How to Successfully Make the ‘Comedy” in Your Romantic Comedy Work
Discover How to Avoid the Most Common Mistakes in Romantic Comedy Screenplays