Very Late on 50 First Dates
One of my more embarrassing truths (now I've gotten your attention, right?) is that I see remarkably few films in the theater, considering my job, etc. (I know, not as exciting as you might have hoped for!) I do see a few, definitely keep up on the box office and business, and see plenty on cable and/or DVD. But I still don't see many in the theaters.
Thus it was that I just saw 50 First Dates (by George Wing) a few nights ago for the first time. I thought it was a perfectly pleasant little movie that illustrates some great aspects of how to do romantic comedy right.
Now, I don't talk much about RomCom on here, and that's for a few reasons. Firstly, it is not a genre in which I generally write (though one of my most promising ideas for an upcoming script is a wedding-themed movie, which is similar but different, I think, from a RomCom). But more importantly, there just isn't a lot of variety in the genre. So many horrible RomCom specs are floating around, and I can't tell you how many of them I've had to push through. So I try not to think about them too much.
Regardless, I think there are two very important points to remember when writing a RomCom spec script. Firstly, make sure you have equal emphasis on both halves of the formula. The script needs to be funny, and also romantic. Secondly, your obstacles need to be believable enough that your ending is (in the famous description) both inevitable and surprising. I think Wing's script achieves these goals admirably.
The comedy here is solid. Yes, it is of a typical Adam Sandler variety, and would be out of place in a Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan kind of RomCom. There's a lot more slapstick/gross-out/childish humor here. But I think that also works in this film's favor, tapping into a different market that might not be attracted to the Nora Ephron variety. But there is no question that 50 First Dates is a funny movie.
At the same time, the film delivers equally well on the romance front. It's not just the pleasing chemistry that Sandler shares with Drew Barrymore (whose off-screen persona I must admit to finding tantalizingly lovable; I'm not saying I want to date her or anything, I just want to hang out and have a few drinks with her, since she seems like a kindred spirit to me. So Drew, if you're reading...). More than that chemistry, the script does a great job of creating the romance. We love and admire the dedication that Sandler's character shows. The moments in which Drew's character begins to understand Sandler's, and also starts trusting him despite her lack of memory of him, are the ones we remember, and that endear the relationship to us. So the script gives us both romance and comedy.
More important, however, to this film's success is its concept alone. Why did a film such as Sleepless in Seattle work so well? The obstacle to Hanks and Ryan uniting in love was so great. They were on opposite sides of the continent, for God's sake, and they'd never actually met in person! Well, Wing one-ups that obstacle here. How could two people possibly get together in love when one of them will never remember the other as she wakes each morning?
Then we have the 2nd act turning point. When Drew dumps Adam, and we see him preparing to sadly get on with his life, it is completely believable. Exactly what we've feared all along is now coming true before our eyes. This complication doesn't grow out of something silly like a mistaken belief that the other is cheating (or something equally ridiculous). It grows out of the story and characters.
Finally, we have our final resolution. While Drew's you're-the-man-of-my-dreams-literally speech is a bit cloying, it still adds the requisite touch of magic to seemingly insurmountable odds. But this is no deus ex machina. No one discovered a cure for Drew's memory problem, which we've been told many times in the film is permanent. The Power of Love did not overcome all. Though Adam is in her dreams, she still has no clue who he is. And in our final brief scene, we see she will probably have to deal with this issue daily for the rest of her life. But they have found a way to deal with it.
A surprising ending? Yes. Inevitable? I'd say so. Romantic? Sure. Funny? No doubt. 50 First Dates is RomCom done right. How does your RomCom spec stack up?
Tags: screenwriting, romantic+comedy, 50+First+Dates, Adam+Sandler, Drew+Barrymore, George+Wing, Nora+Ephron