Meet me in Montmartre

New Year’s Eve. An English girl. A French boy. A blind date. A kiss before midnight?

Meet Me in Montmartre is a delightfully romantic short story and a taster for the forthcoming collection, Lovers in Paris, a multi-strand novel about various couples meeting in Paris on New Year’s Eve (to be published September 2011).

In this 10,000-word short story, vintage-obsessed English girl Sandy travels to Paris on New Year’s Eve for a blind date with her French pen friend, but ends up being entertained by elderly barman Claude when her date doesn’t show up. Continue reading

The Budapest Breakfast Club

This summer: Go to Budapest… Make a movie… Have an affair.

Ten years ago, a group of students fell in love with each other and had their perfect moment. Now screenwriter Nathan Beck is back in Budapest to shoot a movie about it.

But his return stirs up memories for the old Breakfast Club survivors trying to cope in this city now their perfect moment is over:

Gábor lives to make films but writes bubble bath ad copy to live. Virág is the hotshot career woman, with a different man in her bed each night and a bottle of vodka in her handbag. Luca (Gábor’s girlfriend and Nathan’s ex) hides away in her home town because she’s scared of love.

And then there’s Judy Carter, movie star: seduced by the story of the Breakfast Club, she embarks on an affair with Nathan, risking the happy marriage that everyone but her believes
in.

It’s a only a matter of time before the story breaks and the press and her fans turn on her …. and two muckraking Hungarian journalists are digging up all the dirt they can find.

The Budapest Breakfast Club plays like a mash-up of Judd Apatow, Richard Linklater and Woody Allen: a comedy with laughs, heart and brains. Continue reading

You make my dreams (come true)?

In the romcom everyone loves to hate, Notting Hill, floppy-haired beta-male Hugh Grant bemoans his mid-point split with out-of-his-league movie star Julia Roberts with the words ‘It’s as if I’ve taken love heroin, and now I can’t ever have it again.’ We then see a montage of him depressed and lonely without her, mocked by memories of her.

If they turned that montage into a move all of its own, its name would be (500) Days of Summer.

They would also have to play back all the days  out of sequence, flit back and forth randomly      and employ enough edit suite tricks to serve 500 normal movies. Because (500) Days of Summeris definitely not your average romcom.

First off, its central premise sticks two fingers up to traditional romcom fare: Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love. Girl doesn’t.

Then it sets out to tell the truth about love: how ephemeral it is, how here-today-gone-tomorrow, how it’s often a gigantic delusion foisted on real people by sloppy songs, gushy greeting cards and, yes, mushy movies.

It does this by exploring what it feels like to be dumped by  a beautiful girl who’s just not that into you. And it’s the conceit of presenting the 500 days of the romance out of sequence that hits home the message and provides the laughs along the way.

It’s a technique that serves up wonderful moments of contrast that capture the joy and the agony of love, none more so than the laugh out loud walk to work when Tom is so full of the joys of new love he sees it echoed back to him by commuters all stepping to his (and Hall and Oates’) infectious musical beat that takes him right into his workplace elevator, only to emerge from the elevator doors several hundred days later, post-break-up angst written all over his face.

There’s also the brilliant split-screen scene later  which presents us the Expectations and Reality of a disastrous reunion party.  And it’s this relentless adherence to the autobiographical truth of their catastrophic relationships with women by writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H Weber that makes this film such a psychologically accurate depiction of what happens when a beta male somehow gets the girl of his dreams and then doesn’t have the cojonesto keep her (as if Tom’s love of The Smiths wasn’t a big enough clue).

In his interview with Creative Screenwriting (download here) Scott Neustadter points out that in previews the flm scored most highly with exactly the same audience that would least likely recommend it to a friend: men.

And it really is a man’s film. (500) Days of Summerhas a lot to say to men about how not to ruin a relationship, so it’s a shame that its romcom label will mean that most men won’t see it.

As I’ve revealed before, I love romcoms. It’s a genre I take a lot of interest in. And interesting things are happening in romcom land.

You wouldn’t know it if you watched predictable    guff like The Ugly Truth, but there are people out there who are trying to do something interesting with the form and revive some of the excitement it had in the 1930s, and much of it seems to have come about through a desire to make them more man-friendly.

It’s not just in  low-budget indie films (Orgies and the Meaning of Life or In Search Of A Midnight Kiss) or tragic love stories (Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind), both arenas where you can expect a degree of experimentation. The romcom Sleeper Curveis happening in the mainstream too.

Judd Apatow is often credited with single-handedly delivering a messy heart massage to the romcom genre with films like 40 Year Old Virgin, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but R-rated, sexually frank romcoms that appeal more to a male demographic have been around a while now: see There’s Something About Mary, American Pie and more recently Wedding Crashers (I’d also namecheck brilliant Brit romcom, Hear My Song, which predates them all).

And now it’s gone mainstream, with more complex romcoms like Definitely, Maybe and 50 First Dates   trying to do something different (not always successfully in the case of the latter), and (500) Days of Summer, which is hopefully the first of many truly experimental romcoms that speak to an adult audience, male and female, about one of our most primal urges: the need for love. It’s a subject that deserves films this good.


Love me one time, baby

Anyone who’s ploughed through this site will know that I’ve got a bit of a thing for time travel stories, as well as a penchant for romcoms and tragic love stories like Somewhere in Time. So it’s no surprise that I was pretty eager to see the long-delayed movie adaptation of Audrey Niffeneggar’s smash hit faux-lit novel The Time Traveler’s Wife.   And, despite the sickly trailer, it doesn’t disappoint.

Bruce Joel Rubin has done a great job distilling the novel’s sprawling scope to its essential elements without losing the sense of epic tragedy at its heart.

But where I chiefly find the film fascinating is in the question of genre, and where it stands in the particular genre of the Tragic Love Story (which I’ll call TLS from now on, if you don’t mind).

When I want to know more about a genre I go to two people. One is the late Blake Snyder. His 10 Story Types are great for getting a handle on what a particular genre is really all about, but I don’t think he fully nailed the TLS, which he tends to categorise under ‘Epic Love’, and I’d like to see it recognised as a sub-set all of its own, because maybe not all TLSS are epic.

The other person I go to is the Script Factory’s Lucy Scher, who’s made something of a specialty of studying genre and championing its importance with UK screenwriters.

In her excellent article Love on Screen: Romantic Comedies and Tragic Love Stories, she pinpoints the crucial differences between these two ‘chick flick’ staples. Yes, they are both about two people that the audience  want to be   together who suffer obstacles to their union.

But in romcoms it’s the present situation of the characters which is   important. The obstacles to the union of our two main characters are situational   and/or internal to the characters and are invested with humour… which is why we don’t need to know much about their lives, backgrounds or how they came to be the people they are. They’re usually products of their time, and they’re two people who don’t want to be together.

In the Tragic Love Story it is the lovers who want to be together and   this is a key and significant difference. The obstacles are that one or both of   the protagonists are violating and disregarding the power structures in their   lives by pursuing the union… Therefore, we do need a wealth of information   about the background of the characters in order to understand why the stakes are   so high.

In most TLSS, the obstacle is class. This is why so many TLSS are set in the past. Class was much more of an obstacle then than it is now. It’s harder for us to accept it as a major obstacle these days, especially one with tragic potential.

While Romeo And Juliet and West Side Story could make do with the  class conflict of rival families/gangs that must never mix, most of the great  TLSS offer class and one other conflict to create tragedy: Love Story (class and cancer), A Walk To Remember (class and leukemia), Titanic (class and drowning), The Notebook (class and dementia). .

So how do you write a TLS in an age when no one cares about class?

The answer is to be found in other genres. Bruce Joel Rubin was onto this a long time ago when he created a smash hit by going the supernatural  route with his screenplay Ghost, in which it’s not lovers transgressing the social divide that leads to tragic death; it’s tragic death that leads to lovers transgressing the divide between this world and the next.

A more popular route at the moment seems to be science-fiction, in particular, time travel. Look at the recent successes of The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button (how can love survive when he’s ageing backwards?), The Lake House (how can love survive when he’s two years in the future?), Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (how can love survive when she keeps having her memories of you erased?), and now The Time Traveler’s Wife (how can love survive when he suffers from chrono-impairment and keeps disappearing to other moments in his life?).

The reason time travel offers such fertile ground for the TLS is that it can explore what love means when pitted against the random nature of the universe, and that’s much closer to how we feel about the world these days than outmoded notions of class.

Judith Maas, reviewing Audrey Niffeneggar’s novel in The Boston Globe, notes that ‘time travel becomes a means for representing arbitrariness, transience, plain   bad luck.’ It’s love struggling against a hostile cosmos, but in this instance it’s something more. Natasha Walter in The   Guardian refers to ‘the sense of slippage that   you get in any relationship—that you could be living through a slightly   different love story from the one your partner is experiencing.’

Choosing to write a TLS over a romcom is a risky venture. By its nature, it’s not going to have an entirely happy ending, and there can be a fear of that in the commercial film world. People are supposed to like happy endings. Well, they don’t. Not always.

The highest grossing film of all time is a tragic love story (Titanic) and another is the highest ticket-selling film of all time in North America and the UK (Gone With The Wind).

The Time Traveler’s Wife won’t quite be doing the same business but it’s a decent addition to an important genre that is all too often overlooked.