Mystery Man on Film, bless his twisted soul, has come up with an impossible task. He's asked me and a bunch of other scribosphere bloggers to each write a post about "your favorite screenplay and why you admire it so."
Favorite screenplay?! Dastardly bastard. Mystery Man is evilly cackling his plasma flat screen-shaped head off somewhere, no doubt, knowing full well that a seemingly benign request like this is enough to drive any serious filmofile stark, raving bonkers.
Because... well, really, come on: one? One "favorite" screenplay out of the... let's see: in my case, we're talking roughly six thousand scripts read over the past 16 years as a professional story analyst, and that's not counting the screenplays read for pleasure in a lifetime of reading. Oh, wait -- in his Screenwriting Blog-a-Thon post MM has thoughtfully eliminated unproduced scripts from contention, so... thanks a lot, dude; I've only got to pick one out of hundreds.
Because I have a lot of favorites, in all different genres and for all different reasons. By the time I narrow it down to even half a dozen faves, this Blog-a-Thon will be but a distant memory. Well, two can play, oh Mystery Meister, so I hereby tweak and twist the rules to my own fiendish ends. At the end of this post I'm going to pop my version of MM's question to you readers of Living RomCom, but to start with, I present this blog's version of the game: in lieu of citing My Favorite Screenplay, here are my nominations for The Top Ten Romantic Comedy Screenplays.
Love them all dearly and have plenty to say about each. But life is short and instead of going long, I've decided that periodically over the next few months, I will devote a post apiece to each of these top ten screenplays, so I can analyze, revere/carp and blather on about them at leisure. For now, I'll just post the list and invite your response on whether or not I've gotten things things right (I welcome the obligatory incredulous "how could you leave out ---?!" comments).
But first let's address the premise. What makes a screenplay a favorite, as opposed to a favorite produced movie? I think it's simple: it's got to be a wonderful read. A great/favorite screenplay must fulfill the first basic requirement for any truly memorable story -- it should be impossible to put down.
That's really all there is to it. Each of these selected screenplays has something -- a voice, a character, a plot turn, a laugh, et al -- that impels you to keep reading it, even if you've read it before. Some are admirably crafty, with all their story beats lined up in structural perfection, some are all-over-the-place whacked, but each of them exerts that primal pull on a reader -- the pull, I'll wager, that got each of these suckers made.
My only proviso in compiling the list is a twist on MM's: all of these screenplays are currently published. Thus a classic like Tootsie, inarguably one of the greatest comedies ever produced, didn't make this particular cut; you can get a pirated draft on-line (Script-o-rama probably has it), but sadly, you can't find it in a bookstore or on Amazon.
ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND
FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL
THE LADY EVE
THE PRINCESS BRIDE
WHEN HARRY MET SALLY
About a Boy, A Fish Called Wanda, Before Sunrise/Before Sunset (published together), Chasing Amy, Hannah and Her Sisters, Harold and Maude, L.A. Story/Roxanne (published together), Notting Hill, Punch Drunk Love, Rushmore, Sense and Sensibility, Shakespeare in Love, True Romance.
ABOUT A BOY (Peter Hedges and Chris Weitz & Paul Weitz): In the small genre of "based on a book by Nick Hornby" movies, I'd prefer High Fidelity, were it in print, but BOY is certainly a winner in its own right, and I list it here (Admiration Factor) because it has The Best Use of Voice-Over in a RomCom. Voice-overs are a much-maligned cinematic technique, but BOY proves the maxim "only use them if you're doing something really special with them," by contrasting the inner voices of two boys, one 12 and the other 38, to maximal comedic and poignant effect.
BEFORE SUNRISE / BEFORE SUNSET (Richard Linklater, Kim Krizan, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke) is such a unique conceit, rare in all of screenplaydom -- one is a sequel to the other, written nearly ten years apart, and taken together, you've Act 1 ("boy meets") and Act 3 ("boy gets") -- with the "boy loses girl" second act for you to imagine in those off-screen years in-between. Also wins a People Really Talk Like That statuette.
PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE (Paul Thomas Anderson) has got to be one of the most unlikely successful failures in our genre; it's a script that shouldn't, by any conventional logic, work. Yet perversely, it makes the most of next-to-nothing on the sheer eccentricity of its protagonists, so I'll give it, in a field where the word gets over-used to the point of meaninglessness, The Definitive Quirky Award.
SENSE AND SENSIBILITY (Emma Thompson) is a paperback especially worth perusing due to the absorbing How I Wrote This Screenplay journal first-time scribe Emma Thompson provides along with the script. Well done and quite good that, I say.
TRUE ROMANCE (Quentin Tarantino) will always occupy a special place in my heart because it was making the rounds when I first moved out here way back in the early '90s, and I remember being blown away by it, thus giving me my first "I can't wait to see the movie" Living in Hollywood reading experience. But it's also one of the great Cross-Genre Hybrids, whose peculiar "Aw, baby, you're bleeding!" brand of post-Modern black comedic romance defined something about the culture's sensibility at the time. Let's add a Best Use of Christopher Walken in a Romantic Comedy award, and kiss the lists goodbye.
So here's the deal: I'll do posts on each of my Top 10 selections throughout Spring 2007, but meanwhile -- what do you consider to be The Great American Romantic Comedy Screenplay? Living RomCom wants to know.