In the last post: Economist’s Perspective: Guide to Making Money While Making Romantic Comedies Part 1 we looked at successful romantic comedies measured by US box office results and began to formulate ideas that capitalize on elements gleaned from that list. Stars are most important. More specifically, we need stars that have appeared in popular romantic comedies previously. Additionally the stakes need to be high in the story. We want there to be pressure to get married not pressure to date. If there is a break-up it better be devastating. This can make or break the story.
We settled on Reese Witherspoon to anchor the film. She has appeared twice on the list and is the favorite to take over Julia Roberts’ crown as the most bankable rom-com star. But do all her movies generate revenue? Actually… no. Her biggest resume blemish in recent past is the film How Do You Know.
How Do You Know has the rom-com stars (Reese, Paul Rudd, Jack Nicholson,
Tony Shaloub Owen Wilson) and its director (James Brooks) appeared on our list with As Good As It Gets, however, the movie breaks our second rule of success. The stakes are wayyyyyy too low. Instead of deciding who Reese should be marrying she’s trying to decide who she wants to be dating. One lead is comfortable with a fuck buddy and the other just wants a shot. The climax is an emotional story about play-doh that gives him a shot. A shot to date her. Wheres the risk in that? Wheres the pressure? Seriously, how do you NOT know that this would fail?!
Building a rom-com around the premise of hoping characters get together to date or become boyfriend and girlfriend instead of an EPIC break-up or awesome wedding is the equivalent of making a Rocky movie about staying in half decent shape and then when you want there to be a championship fight its actually a street fight. Wait… you mean that’s the plot of Rocky 5? How did it go? BADLY!? Toldya.
So let’s not make the How Do You Know mistake. We need bold characters that are ready to make life-altering changes. Reese Witherspoon in a movie with high stakes. What else can we cherrypick from popular romantic comedies? Since we are doubling down on the wedding theme we should look at wedding movies in general as well as successful romantic comedies.
Knocked Up (not a wedding movie but useful in understanding how to use Katherine Heigl)
27 Dresses (clearly a wedding movie but not particularly successful)
Knocked Up appears on our list but it’s the only Katherine Heigl movie. She has been in every kind of romantic comedy you can think of but outside of Knocked Up they have not sold well. Well what worked in Knocked Up then? For starters its a story told from both the Male and Female perspective. The two leads are split up for half the movie and you see Seth Rogen coping in his own way (with his immature friends) and Katherine Heigl coping with her (slightly more mature) sister and brother-in-law. She wasn’t forced to carry the movie as a lead and both men and women could identify with the leads.
What else worked? Well the stakes were extremely high. A bomb was ticking. For 9 months. The pregnancy premise was used brilliantly as a means to resolve their relationship happily but there was also a fear that the shit could hit the fan and they would have a dysfunctional split household at the end.
So they use 2 perspectives with meaningful, pressure-is-on, get it together or your kid will be fucked-up stakes.
So how do we take a movie like 27 Dresses and give it the Knocked Up treatments? Don’t make it all about Katherine Heigl. Populate the movie with identifiable leading men who get a chance to share their perspective.
So we want Reese Witherspoon telling one side of a story and ummmm let’s say Matthew McConaghey telling the other. Now we need stakes. We need these 2 to get together by the end and it has to be a wedding. Before that, however, we are going to load this with other weddings. So we are ripping off 27 Dresses, Wedding Crashers, and Four Weddings and a Funeral and we are going to have Reese Witherspoon as the always the bridesmaid character who goes to her sisters wedding (Kate Hudson), and her best friends wedding (ummmm. Anne Hathaway will do). And she meets a couple guys at these weddings (Matthew Mcconaghey and someone else.. let’s go with opposite personality/body type Charlie Day).
This plot affords the writers to build in plenty of wedding hijinx, toasts, dance scenes, post-reception romps, hangovers etc. But it also sets up two important elements. We see Reese going through a quarter life crisis as she is a bridesmaid forever and you see this through her perspective. She feels pressure to get married so she doesn’t end up a spinster. And you see the male perspective through Matthew McConaghey and Charlie Day (or whoever we put in the supporting funny role) as they charm and go through women but are ready to settle down. The male side is a blatant rip-off of Wedding Crashers. It’s been fun but now I’m in love.
But what makes this slightly different than these other similar movies will be the secondary plot-line. We need an epic break-up at the end to juxtapose with our sweetheart leads finding love and getting married at the end. We need to see the first wedding/marriage crash and burn by the end. We will see this through both gender perspectives. The male (actor only needs to look good and have have so-so Q rating) will be a dog who hits on anything and eventually gets caught in the climax (of the movie… get your mind out of the gutter).
Climax/ending is a Las Vegas one year anniversary trip that for some reason the whole original wedding party attends. Original groom is caught cheating. As well as Reese and Matt elope at a cheesy chapel. Vegas scenes always work. The charm of this will be that they both assume the other person is drunk as they are revealing how much they actually feel for each other. They get married. Matt gets pulled over driving back to casino. Blows a .00 bac and Reese realizes she really did find her love. WE CAN WORK WITH THIS.
Beginning is some weddings.
Middle is the different directions the marriages seem to be going. Maybe Reese dates Matt but there is a mix-up and then she dates Charlie.
End is one big break-up and one sweet, secretly sober, eloping ceremony in Vegas. This movie writes itself.
Between vegas hijinx, wedding hijinx, high stakes, stars, quirky side characters, and bitchy best friends, we are only a couple of recognizable actors as parents away from your next surprising BLOCKBUSTER.
Call it Wedding Season and start printing tickets. The key is to balance who is carrying the weight of the movie but make the weight heavy.
About Reese Witherspoon’s next movie This Means War, it will probably do well but I think it is more of a genre mash-up which is a lot harder to predict but has a good chance to top all of the movies on our list. And she is definitely a spy too. 50% chance it makes more than $100M.