by Angela Bourassa (@angelabourassa1)
The rom-com is back! Thanks in large part to Netflix movies like Set It Up and Always Be My Maybe and theatrical releases like Isn’t It Romantic, audiences (and more importantly, producers) have opened their hearts and minds to a new generation of romantic comedy – a genre that will always have its tropes and expectations, but that is finally making its leads – both male and female – a little more true to life.
I recently had the chance to interview Jeff Chan and Andrew Rhymer, the writers/directors of an excellent new addition to the rom-com canon, Plus One. Starring Maya Erskine (Wine Country, Pen15) and Jack Quaid (the excessively charming son of Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid), it took Chan and Rhymer a few false starts and five years to get Plus One off the ground, but the results are well worth the wait. A story of friendship, adulting, and the existential pain of wedding season during your late twenties, Plus One is sure to delight audiences with honest romance, witty dialogue, and perhaps the most weddings in one movie ever. (Step aside Four Weddings and a Funeral…)
Angela Bourassa: I for one am stoked about the resurgence of the rom-com, but it does feel like we’re in a sort of testing period where the film industry isn’t sure if they want a full-on revival of 90s style rom-coms with all of their well-worn tropes or if they’re going to demand some sort of evolved take on the rom-com. Am I imagining that, or did you feel that inordinately high pressure on the genre as you were writing and making this film?
Chan & Rhymer: We actually started writing Plus One five years ago, knowing full well the genre was considered dead, but we said, “Screw it! The genre might be done, but let’s make one anyway!” So we were thrilled to see rom-coms make their resurgence over the course of making the movie.
While writing Plus One, we just tried to be as honest and truthful to our own experiences as possible. There were a couple story beats that we deliberately tried to avoid in an attempt to be unique and non-conventional, but once we got into rehearsals, and heard the script read aloud, we realized that the movie wasn’t working when we tried too hard to be different. At the end of the day, rom-coms have an expected arc, but what separates one from another is how the story is told, who the characters are, and how the actors play off each other. To us, the key was not trying to reinvent the genre, but just telling a relatable story with a romance at the center that audiences could really root for.
Angela Bourassa: What drew you to the rom-com genre? What are some of your favorites?
Chan & Rhymer: We both love rom-coms. They’re these warm blankets that can comfort you through love or loneliness. Romance is often the primary thing we talk to our friends about – who went on a bad date, who is going through a breakup, who just met someone they’re excited about… And so when it came time to make our first movie, we knew there were no better subjects to center on than love, loneliness, and relationships. Some rom-coms we both love: Annie Hall, When Harry Met Sally, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Silver Linings Playbook.
Angela Bourassa: I heard an indie producer say once that the absolute most important thing in any indie production is the casting, and you two certainly nailed that. How did you find Jack Quaid and Maya Erskine? Did you have them audition together to ensure that they’d have chemistry onscreen?
Chan & Rhymer: We’ve been close friends with Maya for a long time. She actually played a character inspired by Alice (her character in Plus One) in two short films for us, Pregame and Post-Party, so we knew she was perfect for the part.
We met Jack in a Skype call and quickly knew that he was right for Ben. The thing about the character of Ben is that he’s a bit frustrating on the page, so we were looking for someone who could imbue him with an innate likability and charm. Jack is the kindest person we’ve ever met, and we knew he’d contribute a natural sympathy and warmth to the character of Ben.
We didn’t have them chemistry read before casting them. That might’ve been foolish, but we think it worked out!
Angela Bourassa: Maya’s character Alice, in particular, felt exceptionally real to me. She had such a unique voice and screen presence, and together their banter felt incredibly natural. Could you describe how you go about writing dialogue and making sure that it works not just on the page but out loud? Did you give the actors much leeway to improvise?
Chan & Rhymer: There actually wasn’t a lot of improv on set, but we did workshop a lot of the script with Jack and Maya in the rehearsal process. As for writing dialogue, we can be quite obsessive about it. The two of us will bounce a draft back and forth and modify every line until we’re happy with everything. We rely heavily on Final Draft Revisions Mode. Andrew is always blue, and Jeff is always red, and we’ll just workshop every word till we’re both satisfied. We talk a lot about what feels natural and what feels ‘jokey’ and will try to steer towards honesty in all cases, but as much as we’re proud of the writing, we have to give a ton of credit to the actors for drawing the humor and emotion out of it.
Angela Bourassa: This story, as with basically every rom-com ever, has the two characters part ways for a while. Was there ever part of you that wanted to say screw it, let’s just let them be happy? I guess this goes back to my first question: how do you deliver a rom-com that’s satisfying and complete — as this one is — but at the same time avoid making those expected beats feel cliché? Or do you just lean into the genre and let it be what it wants to be? (I don’t mean to say that the turn in your film was cliché — I hope that’s not the way this question comes across!)
Chan & Rhymer: It doesn’t come across in a negative way at all! The truth is, as we kind of mentioned before, the original script had some plot points that were an intentional turn away from expected rom-com beats. But there was actually this moment in a rehearsal when Maya asked us why we were doing those things with the story, and essentially suggested that maybe what we were doing, though unconventional, wasn’t the best thing for the story and the characters. And she was right. After that, the two of us decided to revise the script to let the story go where we felt it naturally wanted to go, and I think we ended up in a much better place for it.
A rom-com needs conflict, so a breakup or fallout is sort of inevitable, and the film ultimately succeeds if the audience wants the two leads to be together at the end. That might confine you to certain tropes, but if we learned anything, that’s okay. Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke!
Angela Bourassa: If you could go back to when you first had this idea and give yourselves a piece of advice or reassurance, what would it be?
Chan & Rhymer: This movie is going to take five years to make. It will fall apart multiple times, but it will eventually come together in the end. Just be patient.
Plus One will be released in theaters, on VOD, and Digital HD on June 14.
Angela Bourassa is the founder of LA Screenwriter and the co-founder of Write/LA, a screenwriting competition created by writers, for writers. A mom, UCLA grad, and alternating repeat binger of The Office and Parks and Recreation, Angela posts articles through @LA_Screenwriter and unique daily writing prompts through @Write_LA.