Monday, August 15, 2011

Perfect Match

Genre: Romantic Comedy
Premise: Two best friends, Daphne and Henry, sign up for an online dating service only to find out that they’re each other's perfect match.
About: Yet another 2010 Black List script, and yet another pair of brand-new writers. "Match" finished on the lower half of the list with 10 votes and was purchased by Mike De Luca productions.
Writers: Morgan Schechter & Eric Pearson
Details: 114 pages - June 22, 2010 draft (This is an early draft of the script. The situations, characters, and plot may change significantly by the time the film is released. This is not a definitive statement about the project, but rather an analysis of this unique draft as it pertains to the craft of screenwriting).

The gimmick.

These days you can’t write a romantic comedy without a gimmick. Either somebody has to be a friend with benefits. Somebody has to be knocked up. Somebody has to be a 40-year-old virgin. Just writing about a relationship – a.k.a. When Harry Met Sally – isn't an option anymore. And I guess when you think about it, it wasn't really an option back then either. When Harry Met Sally may be the one exception to the romantic comedy rule.

However, people have been trying to write the next When Harry Met Sally for 20 years now. So the trick is, how do you write the next When Harry Met Sally but with a gimmick? I think Perfect Match has figured it out. Now calm down. Calm down. I'm not saying Perfect Match measures up to the best romantic comedy of all time, but this is one of the better "friendship" romantic comedies I've read.

Perfect Match centers around the friendship of late twentysomethings Daphne and Henry. These roommates are like two peas in a pod. They finish each other's sentences. They laugh at each other's jokes. They make fun of each other's shitty love lives. They'd probably be fine living with each other for the next 50 years if the pressures of society haven't made Daphne so focused on finding someone to spend the rest of her life with – a task she's pretty miserable at.

So one day when a commercial comes on for website, and she sees that her ex-boyfriend, the one who wrote her sonnets while banging every floozy from Santa Monica to the Jersey Turnpike, is now a spokesman for the site after finding true love through it, Daphne furiously insists that she and Henry try it.

The way that it works is it gives you five "perfect matches." The two agree that they will go out with all five matches until they find their perfect companion. Henry is reluctant at first but Daphne talks him into it. What follows is a second act filled with them basically going out on all these wacky dates. She goes out with a guy who's really cheap. He goes out with a gold digger. She goes out with a muscle fitness freak – etc., etc.

On the fourth match, Henry is shocked when he finds a girl he likes, which is bad news for Daphne since she checks the last match and finds out that it's Henry. Daphne of course realizes that she's been in love with Henry all this time, but the question is, now that he's found a girlfriend, is it too late?

Perfect Match falls into that tricky category of the late arriving hook. The late arriving hook is when the thing that makes your concept interesting doesn't show up until the end of the screenplay. So here you have a movie about two people who are supposedly a perfect match. Yet they don't figure this out until the third act.

Now on the one hand you can call this dramatic irony in that we've been told (just by the title alone) that they’re a perfect match, and now we're just waiting for them to catch up to us. The tension comes from us wanting them to realize that they're supposed to be together – sort of like When Harry Met Sally. But the other way to look at it is that an audience could easily get frustrated that it's taking the entire God damn movie to get to the hook.

I actually wondered if this script would have been better making them the very first match. That way, they could've been weirded out, dismissed it as a glitch, and went on with the other four matches. Now, there's a lot more tension in the scenes because both of them are secretly wondering, "Could the site have been right?" All of their really relaxed hangout sessions would all of a sudden become awkward and filled with subtext. But the script chooses to take a more straightforward lightweight approach and just have fun.

Luckily, the writers are really good with guy-girl dialogue and have tuned in on the relationship. You feel like these two people have lived together and loved each other as friends for a long time (Henry will be the first to yell out that he can hear Audrey using her vibrator). Building a believable friendship isn't easy but these guys do it.

Too often in these rom-coms the writers are working hard to create those little cutesy "these two really love each other but just don't know it yet" moments. But there's none of that here. Their friendship is totally natural and unencumbered by romantic comedy clichés. They just hang out, discuss their romantic tragedies, and move on to the next moment.

As for the stuff that bothered me, I did have an issue with the rhythm of the script, which became too predictable. Once we understood how this was going to work –that they were going to go out with each one of their five dates one at a time – we just sort of knew what to expect. Sure, each date was funny, but because we understood that these two were going to be each other's final match, it became an exercise in waiting the dates out. There wasn't enough variety.

I'm not a fan of allowing the reader to get too comfortable in a story because if the reader’s too comfortable then you're probably losing them. So it would have been nice to have a few twists or turns to throw that rhythm off. Henry meeting a girl he actually liked was a good twist, but it didn't happen until the end of the screenplay. We needed stuff like that to happen earlier.

Another moment I didn't love was the ending. I think any writer writing a romantic comedy feels the pressure of having to come up with that big spectacular final mad dash set piece. However, you have to stay consistent with the tone you've established. The tone of this story is low key and honest. The rules stay pretty close to the real world. So creating this huge "galloping across the city on a horse" moment felt like the script had turned the channel just before the climax to a Hugh Grant film, which I don't think it is.

But neither of those things affected my enjoyment of the screenplay too much. In the end, whenever you write a romantic comedy, it's about creating two compelling people who we want to see together. If you do that, none of the gimmicky stuff surrounding your story matters. It's just about those two characters. Perfect Match achieves that.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: There tend to be two types of romantic comedies. There are romantic comedies where the characters meet for the first time. And there are romantic comedies where the characters already know each other. It's important to know how each of those situations affects the audience. There's usually (but not always!) more at stake in a relationship if there's a history there. Think about it. If you meet someone, spend a month or two with then, fall for them, then break up, there's a good chance you'll be able to get over that person. But when a long term friendship is on the line, or a marriage is on the line, or a really long relationship is on the line, then it's not just the love that's at stake, it's everything. History creates stakes because both people have more invested in each other. Now there are circumstances where movies do both – such as When Harry Met Sally – where the two characters meet AND establish a long history with one another. But if you’re choosing one or the other, make sure you understand how each type of relationship affects the audience.