“Well – nobody’s perfect.”
says Joe E. Brown’s Osgood Fielding III to Jack Lemmon’s Jerry at the end of ‘Some Like It Hot’ just after Jerry has whipped off his wig and confessed that he is a man and not the voluptuous hunk of female wonderfulness Osgood had fallen in love with.
I was reminded of this line recently in a meeting with a company exec. When asked what my big plan was, I answered, as I invariably do, to write a good romantic comedy. The exec harrumphed and dismissed this ambition because he was no fan of the rom-com. Well, I thought, nobody’s perfect.
The rom-com is synonymous with chic-lit, both of which are marketing constructs aimed at appealing to a certain section of the audience and, by implication, to exclude everyone else. But if your passion is for a good story well told, then you don’t really care about marketing constructs. And if you believe, as I do, that at the heart of every great story there is a love story, and that the primary purpose of entertainment is to entertain, then there is no greater form of narrative entertainment than a good romantic comedy.
And yet there is no feverish anticipation for the arrival of the next rom-com; no talk of creating a romantic comedy cinematic universe; no appetite at all for a ‘Some Like It Hot Again’ and a ‘When Harry Met Sally 2’.
We all know why rom-coms are derided, largely dismissed and treated with a profound lack of respect. Why, if they arrive at all, they are scheduled as counter-programming to the main event which is an effects laden behemoth aimed at teenage boys (films I quite enjoy having been a teenage boy myself once and now having a teenage boy of my own). And because of this profound lack of respect it is assumed that it is easy to make a rom-com when, of course, it isn’t.
You see this same lack of respect with entertainment produced for children. Stick a few aliens running around over there, a couple of sparkly explosions going off inexplicably over here and a few dim-witted adults falling over each other every so often and you have the perfect children’s story.
But then people like J.K. Rowling will come along, and John Lasseter and Ed Catmull at Pixar or Hayao Mayazaki at Studio Ghibli. People who know that great children’s stories aren’t childish.
Occasionally the same happens with the rom-com: Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond knew that a good romantic comedy has the same requirements as any good story: interesting characters facing an intriguing dilemma with a satisfactory conclusion. Nora Ephron and Rob Reiner knew it, so did Ron Howard and Brian Glazer, and Tom Stoppard and John Madden and even Richard Curtis.
But the golden age of the romantic comedy has yet to come: the time when the rom-com isn’t counter-programming but is the main event; the time when we scour the entertainment pages to see when the next one will be out and who will be in it. The time when we treat stories that make us love and laugh with respect.
So the next time I’m in a meeting and an exec asks me what the big plan is, I’ll say what I always say: to write a good romantic comedy. Because someday I’ll meet someone who’ll say a good romantic comedy is the most perfect form of narrative entertainment. And we’ll start to talk about two characters who are so obviously right for each other from the moment they first meet and we’ll come up with intrinsic ways to keep them apart until the very last scene at which point they’ll fall into each other’s arms. And the audience will be with them all the way and will feel the joy when they finally get together.
Because all great stories are love stories - and a love story that also makes us laugh is like the brightest star in the night sky.