Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Rom Coms - more than just a pretty face

It’s no secret around here that I love Rom Com’s. I’m practically as obsessed as Mindy Lahiri from The Mindy Project.

And since I fancy myself a storyteller I thought I’d spend some time breaking down two important story elements in a Rom Com I love. Two very essential plot elements in any good Rom are - the incomplete hero and the third act twist. Now, you may know these two elements by a different name so I’ll spell it out.

The incomplete hero is essential in any love story and is, simply, when the hero is missing something necessary. Now, keep in mind that Rom’s have two technical heroes: the Hero (man) and the heroine (woman). Often you will see this abbreviated as H/h. Anyway, in a Rom both H and h are missing something – they are incomplete. And together, they are complete. Oh yes, exactly like crazy-eyes-Tom-Cruise said.

I can't be the only one who thinks he looks crazy here. Right? No? Oh, okay.

The third act twist
probably has some fancy name in the Rom genre but I just don’t know it. It’s essentially a pinch point at the end of Act II marking the beginning of Act III where the couple faces their greatest challenge and are, usually, forced apart. Each member of the relationship will have to do something to overcome the situation in order to be together again.

So, before we get two far into the weeds, let me illustrate how these two elements play an important role in one of my fave Rom Com’s, Two Week’s Notice, starring Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant:

Warning - spoilers (if you haven't seen it yet, get on it!)

This is an adorable story about an attorney who hates big-business but lands a job working for big-business and falls in love with the big-wig boss. It’s a bit of millionaire-playboy-meets-enemies-to-lovers. Their story is improbable at best. And that’s part of why it works so well. In this story, both the H (played by Hugh Grant) and the h (played by Sandra Bullock) are incomplete. Hugh’s character, George Wade, is a playboy. We see him listless and unhappy in his current existence. He has everything he wants but he’s not fulfilled. He needs something more but doesn’t really articulate that. But we do know that his boss tells him that he must hire a new, competent, attorney ASAP. Sandra’s character, Lucy Kelson, is incomplete as well. She’s a brilliant lawyer but she can’t seem to win any cases. All her pleas and protests to save local landmarks are failing.

Can you see where this is going? On the highest, most basic level, each has something that the other needs. Lucy plays an attorney. George needs an attorney. Lucy needs access to funding to ensure social justice in her community. George runs a multimillion dollar business and agrees to let Lucy manage their pro-bono charity efforts. Each character provides something for the other character.

But they still hate each other. At least at first. So it’s not like they fall into insta-love just because she’s an attorney and he’s rich/powerful. They have to learn to respect each other’s differences.

I just love the setup here.

But the setup is not enough. Once the couple learns to respect each and maybe even falls for each other they must be tested. And that’s where the third act twist comes in. In Two Weeks Notice the third act twist is a little muddy for me. I think it’s probably when Lucy learns that George went back on his promise to her and agreed to demolish her cherished community center. But that’s not the worst of it. When Lucy decides to go back and talk things through with her boss she finds him in his underwear playing strip-chess with the new attorney.

Now, Lucy is done, she leaves and takes a new job at legal aid. How the two characters work through this big issue is what makes for a satisfying ending. Will he overcome his shortcomings? Will she?

The third act twist has to be meaningful enough to one or both of the characters that we feel the pain – otherwise the crisis won’t seem legit.

When I think about these two very important story elements I see them, not just in my fave movies, but in a lot of my favorite YA or NA Contemp Rom’s. Do you enjoy these elements of Rom Com’s?

Do you see theses story elements playing out in your favorite novels?

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