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By Kevin Nelson · February 14, 2022
Since we couldn’t make it to the New Year’s party to confess our love before the ball dropped, here we are, foolishly waiting atop the Empire State Building, hoping that our unrequited lover shows up.
It’s cold. Windy.
Luckily we have chocolates to keep us warm.
That’s when it happens. The elevator doors open and of all the skyscrapers in all the world, the most beautiful human you’ve ever seen walks out. They are everything that’s right in this world. When they smile, you lose your breath. Your heart races. You’re sweating — why are you sweating so much? They approach you and the world seems to warp.
You faint, just at the worst imaginable time.
Romantic comedies are funny that way.
They’re not all lofty fairy tales and happy endings. Love can be messy and frustrating and complicated. Even worse, dating can be downright comically dismal. We all want to be loved. To find our soulmate. To be whisked away on a magic carpet into the sunset (hey, a boy can dream).
In the same way that no two love stories are the same, no two romantic comedies (or rom-coms) are the same either. The romance and relationship between lovers may be at the core of the story, but they’re often framed by a unique subgenre.
Look at it this way — some couples are slapstick funny. Others, more humdrum and sarcastic. There are couples who seek adventure while others love combat sports. Just as every couple has their own shtick, so too do romantic comedies.
So, no matter what your relationship status may be this Valentine’s Day, there’s a romantic comedy that’ll fit your mood and sweep you off your feet!
When Harry Met Sally is perhaps one of the most quintessential romantic comedies ever created. There’s a reason it tops so many lists. At the encouragement of her director Rob Reiner, screenwriter Nora Ephron made sure to keep it real.
Ephron notes in the introduction of the screenplay published in 1990, that although her name is on the title page, it was very much a collaboration. Her agent informed her that Rob Reiner and his producing partner Andrew Scheinman wanted to meet and discuss an idea, so they met for lunch.
The idea didn’t interest her in the slightest, so instead of awkwardly playing along for an hour she stopped them and they instead started talking about their lives, not necessarily Ephron’s but Reiner’s and Scheinman’s love lives. Reiner was recently divorced, Scheinman was a bachelor, and they were funny in their candor. The lunch ended and they still didn’t agree on an idea, but the chemistry was there and they decided to meet when they were all in New York.
A month or so later, they were discussing ideas when finally Reiner said he wanted to make a film about a man and a woman who become friends, not lovers, and make a deliberate decision not to have sex. The crux of the entire screenplay centered on a discussion between the two protagonists: men and women can’t be friends without sex getting in the way.
The two men would reveal the appalling inner workings of their minds, which would work its way into Harry’s character and dialogue, whereas Sally acted sort of as a vessel for Ephron’s own voice in reaction to their nightmarish ways. At the time following his divorce, Reiner was depressed. Harry is very much depressed in the same way in that he isn’t burdened by it but relishes in it almost as a personality trait.
The old trope of unrequited love is on display here. We find two characters who meet and despise each other yet the audience knows they’re meant to be together, with every obstacle under the sun seemingly getting in the way of their destinies. It’s about finding love through years of friendship and exploring some of the more personal aspects of a lifelong relationship between man and woman.Download the script
Written by Jeff Arch with revisions from Nora Ephron & Delia Ephron (sister) and David S. Ward, Sleepless in Seattle solidified Ephron’s position as the queen of the rom-com. It’s often hard to follow up a classic like When Harry Met Sally, and this tale of a widower looking for meaning in the great void. Meanwhile, his second chance at love is listening and hearing his distress call.
The main characters are unwittingly attracted to each other like magnets but live on separate coasts. With thousands of miles separating them with no real way to make the fantasy work, it’s the supporting characters who get the ball rolling by sending letters behind the protagonists’ backs. By making the supporting characters active in the plotline, you can elevate them above background players and place them inside the action.
Ultimately, whether these long-lost lovers meet and fall in love is up to them. The supporting characters may have given the first push, but they have to actually make the decision a grand gesture in order for there to be a happy ending. Ephron is a master at making it seem like all is lost until just the last second, using the supporting character of Sam’s son Jonah as the catalyst to get Sam to the top of the Empire State Building just in the nick of time.
Ephron popularized the grand finale, where the two characters who have been kept apart for the entire story finally embrace and accept their happy ending together.Download the script
Written by sisters Nora & Delia Ephron, You’ve Got Mail built on the successes of When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle, yet it still felt fresh. The sisters used the framework that audiences grew to love, after all — if it works, why fix it?
Two characters who are professionally antagonists start to fall in love with each other behind the anonymity of the internet. They say there are no new stories under the sun, but there are certainly new ways to tell old stories. Perhaps it was the inclusion of this new technology that made audiences fall in love with Ephron’s formula all over again.
Maybe Ephron just had that magic touch, and like Cupid, could revolutionize a genre with the flick of her pen’s arrow.Download the script
The 90s were a wild time. In My Best Friend’s Wedding, the cut-off age for marriage for our protagonist was a strict 28 years old. As she approaches this dreadful deadline, she receives a call from her oldest friend Michael. He’s getting married. Gulp. Years earlier they made a deal that if they both reach the wretched old age of 28, they’d marry each other to save face. Now, she’s going into her thirties completely alone and old, what is she ever to do?
Why? Sabotage the wedding of course. Now, whether you’re trying to prevent your best friend from marrying the wrong girl or trying to get a film made, nothing comes easy. Screenwriter Ron Bass met with his agents and they came across an article about a woman whose ex-boyfriend was getting married and she realized he was, “the one that got away.”
His immediate reaction to the article was to flip that idea on its head and instead of an ex, make it the woman’s lifelong best friend. The one who has been there through it all.
The idea kicked around in his head for a few years while he worked on other things until he attended a four-day destination wedding. He realized that a wedding was the perfect setting for the idea because so many things can happen in a single location. Weddings are a great framing device for your storyline as they already have a known sequence of events that can act as guideposts if you get lost. Cocktail hour, reception, dancing, dessert, etc.
(If you haven’t checked out the Script Notes Episode on Weddings, check it out!)
The best rom-coms have the ability to subvert the expectations of the genre, and My Best Friend’s Wedding does just that with the ending. Spoiler alert, the gal doesn’t get the guy, yet audiences were left feeling satisfied.Download the script
Written by Karen McCullah & Kirsten Smith, 10 Things I Hate About You is a romantic comedy based on William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. It’s the perfect example of what you can happen when you give a fresh take on a classic story.
McCullah was living in Denver when she met Smith after Smith read one of her scripts and called her. The next time she was in Los Angeles, the two met for drinks and immediately struck up a bond. They started writing an action movie on cocktail napkins right then and there.
They wrote that action script over the long-distance using low-tech methods like faxing/snail-mailing pages back and forth (this was the early days of the internet). It failed to garner much attention but they knew they had to write another script together. So they scoured the public domain to find the right story to adapt for months. The public domain is a great resource if you’re ever looking for story ideas to modernize.
A friend recommended The Taming of the Shrew, and the idea fit well into the high school teen movie they were planning. The two went to Mexico and they outlined the script on the beach. They then resumed their pre-tech collaboration that ultimately became their big break. Their follow-up was Legally Blond.Download the script
Kevin Kwan wrote the hilarious novel Crazy Rich Asians and it was published in 2013. Producers began flocking to Kwan before it was even released but Kwan had to remain steadfast in order to keep any adaptation true to his original work. Producers suggested whitewashing the characters, so Kwan signed a dollar option in order to maintain creative control.
Screenwriter Peter Chiarelli was hired to write the original screenplay. When Jon M. Chu earned a seat in the director’s chair, he rightfully insisted on hiring a writer of Asian descent to add authenticity to the script. Adele Lim was brought on board for the rewrite. Chiarelli has been credited with plot structure and the relationships between the three main characters while Lim provided cultural details and developed the characters to give them more depth.
Crazy Rich Asians is a classic romance story that acts as a celebration of Asian culture that has been missing from cinema for far too long.Download the script
Mr. and Mrs. Smith was written by Simon Kinberg and began as his thesis project for film school. He had the idea after observing his friends, who were a married couple in couples therapy. The way they described it, Kinberg felt a sense of aggression, as if they were two mercenaries trying to defeat the other. He has described Mr. and Mrs. Smith as, “a romantic comedy pretending to be an action film.”
Not only was the chemistry of the lead actors apparent, but the script also exudes the same sexiness in the dagger-like quips found in the dialogue that jumps off the page. There’s a slyness to his style that forces you to smile at its ingenuity. Also, check out the treatment as a resource for when you need to fashion one for your own projects.Download the script
J. F. Lawton went to a small film school and made a couple of films that made some noise on the college circuit. So naturally, he moved to Los Angeles, into one of the rougher neighborhoods at the time, to make his dreams come true. He was a struggling screenwriter whose neighbors were homeless, sex workers, and addicts.
“I was a screenwriter who was trying to get a job, I was unemployed and I was working in post-production and I was trying to sell scripts, and I had been writing all of these ninja scripts and comedies, and I just couldn’t get any attention.”
— J. F. Lawton
So he switched his style up and decided to write something more dramatic. He drew inspiration from his neighborhood to write Three Thousand, a darker version of Pretty Woman that was accepted into the Sundance Institute and soon found itself in a bidding war between studios. Garry Marshall signed on to direct and numerous writers worked on the screenplay to turn it into what we see today, essentially a rom-com.
In the end, they weren’t supposed to end up together but Richard Gere and Julia Robert’s chemistry was undeniable. But, they didn’t want to settle for a cop-out. The rich billionaire ultimately doesn’t save her. She walks out on him and he has to choose to go after her. Thus, he’s the one changing, not her. It’s yet another example of a film that is successful because it approaches the genre conventions from a non-conventional point of view.Download the script
Written by Edgar Wright and Michael Bacall and based on the graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World shatters all conventions of the genre and screenwriting itself. The script is as bold as the source material (not to mention the sluglines). Wright and Bacall do a great job of somehow adhering to formatting standards while breaking free from any rule that may limit them.
A major influence for the adaptation was the 1968 Italian film Danger: Diabolik, which was also an adaptation of a comic book. The screenplay for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is as stylized as the finished film. Complete with comic book-styled action lines.
Wright told Time Out Magazine that he took an “Italian influence, a sense of completely unbridled imagination. They don’t make any attempt to make it look realistic. Mario Bava’s composition and staging has a real try-anything attitude.”
If you’re looking for a screenplay that defies screenwriting rules, this is it.Download the script
Love, Simon is a coming-of-age romantic dramedy written by Isaac Aptaker & Elizabeth Berger and is based on the novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli. It’s credited as being the first major Hollywood studio film to focus on a gay teen romance.
In the script, a closeted gay high schooler starts an anonymous online love affair in a town not known for being too open to other walks of life. There’s a mystery over who the anonymous pen pal could be, which keeps the reader turning the pages. The heartfelt message and moments of tender dialogue, like the scene between Simon and his parents when he comes out to them, make those pages memorable.
Aptaker and Berger, co-showrunner of This is Us, recently adapted Love, Simon for a streaming series, Love, Victor, on Hulu. Their hope for the show is to explore other stories of the LGBTPQ+ experience, especially those that don’t have a happy ending. That’s just not the truth shared by many members of the community. What happens when your parents don’t accept you? What about when you’re rejected by your crush and your life changes because now your secret is out? With a series, the creators have more room to tell more stories.Download the script
Novelist, playwright, and screenwriter of Moonstruck, John Patrick Shanley, describes his rom-coms as being more akin to human comedies. Moonstruck is a wildly ridiculous script with magical realism and sweeping melodrama at the heart of Shanley’s sharp comedy.
He got the idea for Moonstruck because a lot of women in his life were reaching the point of their lives where they have to make a choice — should they settle for the guy they can get but don’t love, or hold out for the guy who may or may not exist.
Shanley considers Moonstruck to be a fairy tale containing a bunch of smaller fairy tales, with each setting named specifically to telegraph, “that this is a world where everyone is affected by or in love.”Download the script
Coming out of a rough divorce with her former writing partner, filmmaker Nancy Meyers took the courageous step of writing her most personal screenplay of her life, Something’s Gotta Give. Drawing from her own experience, Meyers cried while writing it. She took out all of her pain and put it on the page. Sometimes the best catharsis is to laugh through our tears.
The script features older protagonists who are complete opposites as they search for their own meaning of love. She is said to have been influenced by the screwball comedies of the 1930s and 40s, which is evident in her crisp, clear, and witty dialogue. It’s always funnier when the characters are diametrically opposed to each other on every level of every fiber of their being, and the movie will only end if they find a common ground and newfound appreciation for the other.
Your characters are never too old. It’s foolish to think there isn’t enough talent and audience interest for more films like this. Box office sales sure beat ageism any day.Download the script
Married writing duo Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani wrote The Big Sick, a fictionalized account of their real-life romance, and all the cultural differences they face in the wake of her becoming ill. It’s based on their courtship leading up to their marriage in 2007. Not only were the two main characters based on them, but actual events from their lives made it into the film. Sometimes you just can’t the funniest of life’s treasures up.
The idea was first inspired when Nanjiani spoke with Judd Apatow on an episode of the podcast You Made It Weird. Apatow is known for supporting comedians and providing the resources for them to write their own star vehicles. Nanjiani and Gordon developed the script over the course of three years and Apatow came on to co-produce it.Download the script
It’s tough out there right now.
Whether you find yourself coupled up or single in this season of loving, that isn’t to say you can’t spread some love of your own. When romantic love runs dry, you can always turn to other subgenres of love. Platonically supporting a friend, spending a little extra time with a family member, praising someone’s work are all valid ways to show your love and appreciation for those in your life.
Life is short. Offer some flowers.
Whether roses or a compliment.
We need love and empathy now more than ever.
Show the world some love with your words.