Billy Mernit of Living the Romantic Comedy recently wrote about the following truism: “The less said, the more felt.” Mernit writes:
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.