'What's Your Number?' writers on sex, comedy and slacker heroines
In “What’s Your Number?,” which opens today, Ally Darling (Anna Faris) embarks on a quest for her best ex after reading a magazine article warning that women who have had 20 or more lovers have lost their chance at finding a husband. Screenwriters Gabrielle Allan and Jennifer Crittenden, who adapted their screenplay from the book “20 Times a Lady” by Karyn Bosnak, come from the world of TV, where Allan has been a writer on “Scrubs” and Crittenden on “Seinfeld,” “The Simpsons” and “Arrested Development.” Allan and Crittenden talked with 24 Frames writer Rebecca Keegan about their slacker heroine, the gender politics of humor and the best country in which to be a slut.
Question: This movie raises the question of whether there is an acceptable number of people to have sex with. Why did you use that question as a vehicle to tell a story?
Allan: It’s a great conversation starter. I personally don’t think there’s an acceptable number. In some of the research we did, in certain parts of the world, it’s ridiculous that you even discuss it. In the case of Ally, who is a character, you can pause and take stock of how many people and what that means and why you’re sleeping with certain people. You might come to the conclusion that you’re having a good time and there’s nothing wrong… or you might come to the conclusion that maybe I should slow down, and I’m jumping into bed with these people for the wrong reason.
Q: Where were the places where no one cared?
Allan and Crittenden: New Zealand.
Crittenden: There’s no judgment there. They don’t get married as early.
Q: Is that why you have a picture of the guy from “Flight of the Conchords” hanging up in your office?
Crittenden: You totally figured it out. Those are the two things we love about New Zealand.
Allan: We just think he’s hilarious.
Q: Ally takes the opposite path of the traditional romantic comedy heroine -- she loses her job, she gets less together as the movie progresses. Why did your heroine become less ambitious as she evolved?
Allan: Before we meet her, she went to the gym and got the great job she was supposed to get. She’s deconstructing her life in a way because she’s not living an authentic life. She was trying to make other people happy for so long, she sort of lost touch with who she really was. In a way, she’s doing the opposite of what we normally see, she’ll maybe work out less and be perfect less, and eat what she wants and date who she wants and be who she wants.
Crittenden: That relates to her number. The reason Ally in the beginning of the movie is concerned her number is high is cause it’s a sign she’s trying to please other people. If she’d gone through life up to now completely satisfied with all of her actions and decisions then the number wouldn’t be a concern, but I think for her the number 20 is 20 people she’s tried to please.
Q: You made your own lists of exes when you were writing this film. What was that like?
Crittenden: There was a lot of cringing. Oh, my God. What was I thinking? For weeks afterward I kept adding onto my lists. Three years later I remembered one.
Q: Do you think men and women find different things funny?
Allan: “Bridesmaids” felt like a really good movie, and the hoopla around it -- “It’s a female comedy. Is that gonna set a trend?” -- it’s just a funny movie and men thought it was funny too. Those characters are very engaging and likable. Obviously, there are certain things women go through -– birth and menstruation -- things that are inherently and biologically different. But, for the most part, I do think there is a happy medium.
Crittenden: Sometimes men won’t find something funny that a few women are laughing at but that goes across other lines too. People who grow up in California aren’t always gonna get all the same jokes as people who grew up in New York do. There are differences in humans.
Q: You’ve been a writing team for seven years -- longer than many marriages. What’s the secret to your longevity?
Allan: The sex.
Crittenden: We find the same things funny. We complement each other. When one of us gets overly neurotic, the other one is able to soothe her.
Allan: For comedy, it’s so much more fun to have someone to bounce things off of. Our personal lives are very parallel. We both have two little kids, we’re both balancing work and motherhood. We had careers in TV for about the same amount of years.
Q: You recently sold a show to ABC about an aging girl band. Where did the idea come from?
Crittenden: It’s inspired a little bit by “Spinal Tap.” It’s this hip ’90s girl band. They break up, and 20 years later they’re each at different lows in their lives and decide to reconnect and try to get the band back together.
Allan: Now they’re in their 40s and they don’t look as good and they don’t sound as good.
Crittenden: And they’re tired and cranky and not cool or hip or young anymore. But they’re gonna give it another try.
To hear more from Allan and Crittenden, check out this video of 24 Frames writer Amy Kaufman's red carpet interview with them at the premiere of "What's Your Number?"
-- Rebecca Keegan
Photo: Ari Graynor, Anna Faris and Kate Simses in a scene from "What's Your Number?" Credit: AP Photo/20th Century Fox, Claire Folger