Friday, April 21, 2006

Playing to the Majority

Another revelation in my quest for discovering what makes a Romantic Comedy endure came from Terry Rossio.

Rom-Coms reflect the society more than shape it, although any individual example could do either or both. The rom-com leaning toward marriage, monogomy and security reflects the current most general desire of most woman. (For proof of this, check any ten thousand singles want ads at random. The guys want youth, slim, beauty, adventurous, the woman want handsome, professional men seeking long term commitments.) Yes I know that doesn't apply to all, but films are designed to play to the majority.
Films are designed to play to the majority. And, yet, Romantic Comedy seems to be the genre where many amateur writers think anything goes and to some degree, maybe it does. A 95 year old man in love with a 20 year old stripper is funny. But will the majority find it romantic or icky? That doesn't mean it can't be romantic. But the viewing majority may not perceive it that way no matter how well written, credible, and amusing it is.

An important word in Terry's quote is "current". Some prevailing attitudes about relationships are the same as they were 50 years ago and will be the same 50 years from now. Others are fickle. If currently, the majority of film viewing women want handsome, professional men and long term commitments, our 95 year old man is a dud. Give him a billion dollars and put that same 95 year old man's story out after Anna Nicole Smith just married J. Howard Marshall and you might have something -- temporarily -- even if it doesn't play to the majority. Release the film after Anna's gained ninety pounds and is fodder for late night monologues and the dynamics are different.

Not playing to the majority does not mean it's a bad film. But playing to the majority gives the film wider roots to stand on so chances are, it will stand longer.

Another element of Rom Com endurance comes from Billy Mernit who says that one prerequisite for Rom Coms that are memorable (I didn't say GOOD, I said memorable) is that they are the same -- boy meets girl -- but different.

Sleepless in Seattle - boy meets girl in last five minutes
Defending Your Life - boy meets girl after they're dead
Groundhog Day - boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy loses girl, boy loses girl
Tootsie - boy meets girl as girl, boy loses girl as boy
50 First Dates - boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy meets girl, boy gets girl

My "what makes a Rom Com endure" list so far and their sources of wisdom:

* Story first. Romance second. (Ted Elliott)
* Same, but different. (Billy Mernit)
* Play to the majority. (Terry Rossio)
More to come. I love the internet.


Neal Romanek said...

Nice insights!

Georgi Rimsakov said...

Is that a euphemism, neal?

MaryAn Batchellor said...

My blonde roots are showing. What euphemism? Insights?

Anonymous said...

I think a romcom with an octegenerian character is just what we need, team up Paul Newman with Reese or Lauren Bacall with Jake Gyllenhaal (that sort of pairing) I constantly read that our elder actors are crying out for good scripts. Maybe if we cross polinate them and get the new hot young actors into the mix?

MaryAn Batchellor said...

If it was along the lines of Cocoon with a primarily senior adult cast, I think it's a good idea. I'd write that. But if you're still talking about my December/April couple, I'm afraid I'm gonna fall into that "thinks it's icky" league -- well, until I read it and am proven otherwise anyway.