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Rom Com Guilty Pleasures by Eleanor Ball

Love, Actually has got to be one of the nation’s favourite guilty pleasures. The other week, over on the Bang2write Facebook page, I asked what you think of Richard Curtis’s shameless Christmassy love fest and I got some interesting answers.

We had one or two people take away Brownie Points for its Christmas setting! Bah, humbug. Sure enough there is a jingle-jangle fairytail lightness to Love, Actually, and I imagine the film reel smells of fruitcake, but it’s watchable any time of year. At least, any time of year you feel like an indulgence. I think we all put on a bit of weight when we watch Love, Actually.

But that’s the perfect setting, because the film relies on indulgence and overcoming pessimism. If you can get through Love, Actually you’ve well and truly embraced the wonderful world of Rom Com indulgence.

Love, Actually may not be the best Rom Com out there – though Hugh “News of the World Nemesis” Grant does top a few, like About a Boy, which isn’t really about romantic love; it’s about a boy. And Love, Actually is about love, actually, and resolutely so, despite not being the best romcom out there. I mean, take this famous screenshot:

Why does Keira Knightley’s character need to be told she’s perfect, huh? Since when did she have self-esteem issues? They must have cut out a scene in which she sobs “ooh my husband doesn’t think I’m perfect, what am I going to do?”

Anyway, although it doesn’t reek of quality, Love, Actually certainly towers above the rest in terms of… quantity.

Back over on Bang2writers John made the very good point that Love, Actually has strength in its structure. It tells about a dozen stories of lurve; stories that, were each to be a feature film on its own, would be drawn out and dry. You know how we often praise films for showing bits of the story that “we don’t normally see”? Love, Actually does the opposite; it shows only the biggest and best parts of the story.

Take Colin Firth’s story. It comes in four parts. 1) Boy meets girl, 2) boy falls in love with girl, 3) boy and girl part ways and 4) boy and girl spend their suspiciously copious free time learning one another’s languages and then meet up and suddenly get engaged in a crowd of randoms.

If that had been a feature length story, we would have learned more about those randoms, we would have explored Colin Firth’s backstory as a writer, and we would have learned at least something about the female love interest, but really what we want to see is the first meeting, the falling in love, and the kiss. With Love, Actually we’re allowed to skip the main course and go straight to dessert. That’s why we put on weight when watching it.

Writing a guilty pleasure Rom Com must surely be just as guiltily pleasurable as watching it. You can shy away from logic and realism and instead paint beautiful pictures of what we want to see. Cosy bits, passionate bits, heartbreaking bits; and, let’s face it, bits in which at least one character takes their top off.

I would’ve thought Rom Com would be a pleasure to write anyway, but we heard on Bang2writers that our own Lucy has read more than enough romcom scripts to know that there there is a lot of room in which to stumble disastrously off track. As Lucy says, there can be not enough Rom and not enough Com. Love, Actually is stuffed with both, and when we’ve not got Rowan Atkinson pulling faces, we’ve got Emma Thompson and a stepfather-stepson relationship playing guitar on our heartstrings.

Even cynics can enjoy guilty pleasures like Love, Actually, but you have to push through a barrier of self-awareness first and shake off the cynicism, which is sometimes best done on your own, and in secret. And, as a tip: sometimes shame can be scrubbed off using sandpaper.


Eleanor is on the MA Scriptwriting degree at Goldsmith’s, specialising in comedy drama. Join her on Facebook here and read her own blog, here.

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2 thoughts on “Rom Com Guilty Pleasures by Eleanor Ball”

  1. I quite like the few decent romcoms, but it's always struck me as a genre where, more often than not, the films are really lazy and derivative. Then again, maybe the whole cosiness thing is the point and I'm missing it.

  2. I watched it recently just after the twitter question you asked, and I do actually think it's really good. Structurally none of the stories feel undertold, it doesn't feel overlong, and plenty of it actually isn't that chocolaty, some of it's actually pretty grim.

    I could do without the Colin Firth story, though I do really like him. It's lifted in concept and sometimes directly in dialogue from a play called Translations by Brian Friel, and that did it much more interestingly and believably than Love Actually does.

    Personally though, I do really like the Keira Knightley storyline, because it's not about her. She doesn't need to be told she's perfect, she's quite happy as she is. It's him, and he wants to show her how he feels because being in love is an end to itself, regardless of whether it's reciprocated. And it's nice to see such a story where he doesn't seem to torn up about it. He likes being in love with her. He doesn't need her to feel the same (though I'm sure it would be nice).

    Overall, some of the storylines are rubbish (like going to America to meet dumb American women because we all hate America and American women are DUMB) but some of them are great, Emma Thompson is wonderful, not only with her husband and family having a private moment of grief, but when she lets it show just so slightly when her brother Hugh Grant shows up with a big hug, it's a real moment.

    The solution? I stuck it into my editing software and carefully cut out the storylines that annoy me.

    I shall not be a passive recipient!

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