The less said, the more felt.
An ongoing issue with the romantic comedy spec scripts I read is that they talk too much.
By "they" I mean the characters (i.e. the writers), which is surprising. Given that we're living in the reign of Twitter, seeing as how we all have less time to take in information, why is that screenwriters still seem to think that romantic comedy = two people sitting or standing around talking, for page after page?
It's axiomatic that in comedy, fast is funny. And brevity being the soul of wit, the alert rom-com writer ought to be able to cut to the gag, pronto. In this regard, I've often cited the opening of Richard Curtis's Four Weddings and a Funeral as a model, a paradigm of great romantic comedy dialogue.
The movie begins with a wordless montage of various characters getting ready to go to a wedding. We find protagonist Charles (Hugh Grant) still in bed, sleepily picking up his alarm clock and reacting, eyes widened, with the movie's first dialogue:
Oh, fuck. Fuck!
Charles runs into housemate Scarlett's room and thrusts her clock at her sleepy face. Scarlett reacts: Fuck!
Cut to Charles getting dressed in a hurry. He bends to tie his shoes and his suspenders pop off the back of his trousers. Charles: Fuck.
Cut to Charles and Scarlett in the front of his Volvo. The engine won't start. Charles: Fuck!!!
Now that's great dialogue. I'm not being facetious here -- it's truly impressive how much the sequence accomplishes, in terms of story set-up, character and tone, using one four-letter word. But Curtis is also a master of the long speech, which he demonstrates in the closing scene (which also includes one godawful clunker of a line, Andie MacDowell-as-Carrie's "Is it raining? I hadn't noticed" as she and Charles stand drenched to the skin in a downpour), but at any rate - boy has met, lost, and is getting girl, romantically in the rain, and his pitch is true to Charles' twistedly conflicted anti-marriage persona:
Do you think... after we've dried off, after we've spent lots of time together, you might agree... NOT to marry me? And do you think... not being married to me... might maybe be something you could consider doing for the rest of your life? Do you?
Girl uses two irony-laden syllables in reply:
One of the most moving uses of a commonplace word that I've ever heard, in the closing lines of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, is made up of two syllables repeated by two devastated lovers (He: Okay? She: Okay) which pack so much emotional resonance - they've been through relationship hell together, but they're still willing to believe they've got a chance to make it work - that the scene tears me up every time.
You may remember how effective the wordless first act of Wall-E was (yes, it's a romantic comedy, as well as being a sci-fi animation), and speaking of sci-fi, one of the best cinematic responses ever given to the phrase "I love you" was provided by Han Solo, who replied, true to character: "I know." (Harrison Ford, reportedly bettering Leigh Brackett's script for The Empire Strikes Back.)
The best romantic comedies don't over-explain or over-sell themselves. I've noticed that many people who enjoyed Crazy, Stupid, Love got big laughs out of early scenes like this - Cal and his wife Emily trying to decide what to order at a restaurant...
Cal: How about we see what we want on three? One, two...
Emily: I want a divorce.
Cal (simultaneously): Creme Brulee.
...but cited Cal's big, long, over-sentimental speech at his son's graduation at the picture's end as one of its missteps. Not to belabor the point (i.e. why go on and on?), but movies are a visual medium, and when the talk is brief, there's room for a scene's emotional subtext to be felt. If your characters say more with less words, you're giving the audience a chance to feel what lies between the lines. And isn't that the smarter, funnier, more moving way to go?