Great romantic comedies are an endangered species. It’s not often we get a gift like Harry meeting Sally — or Alvy Singer meeting Annie Hall. It’s not often that Julia Roberts stands in front of a boy, asking him to love her — or that Sandra Bullock kneels in front of Ryan Reynolds on the sidewalk. Most romantic comedies are clichéd, contrived, and an insult to love. ”Making a good romantic comedy is no harder than making a good drama or crime story or musical or Western,” Woody Allen insists, via email from a set in Rome. ”It’s hard to make a good picture, is the problem — and that’s why there are only a few really good pictures in any genre.” Maybe so, but bad rom-coms are particularly painful to behold because relationships are the one subject everyone knows something about. ”The romantic comedy is like a soufflé,” says Denise Di Novi, producer of the invigoratingly good new movie Crazy, Stupid, Love. ”They can just drop in one second if even one thing is wrong.” There are six big stumbling blocks to baking a great soufflé.
1. Chemistry can’t be faked.
No matter how sublime the script, a romantic comedy is never going to succeed if there isn’t palpable energy between its stars. ”It’s the one special effect you can get into a romantic comedy — that wow factor when two people are so good together that you believe it,” says Peter Chiarelli, who wrote The Proposal. But predicting who’ll have chemistry on screen is notoriously difficult. Which is why we’ve all witnessed the stupefying sight of two gorgeous leads whose romantic electricity could not power an Easy-Bake Oven. Who could have guessed, 10 years ago, that Jennifer Lopez would have chemistry with Ralph Fiennes (Maid in Manhattan) but not with her actual boyfriend at the time, Ben Affleck (Gigli)? If the same stars appear in all your favorite rom-coms — say, Sandra Bullock or Julia Roberts — there’s a good reason. ”There are some actors that have chemistry with anybody,” says Di Novi. She cites Crazy, Stupid, Love’s Emma Stone, and we’ll let her because we agree: ”She’s just one of those people. They just vibrate on a different RPM level. She’d have chemistry with a lamppost.” That will come in handy, because Hollywood is full of lampposts.