24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Romantic Comedies

'The Vow' writers: A tale Tatum and McAdams could appreciate

February 20, 2012 |  7:30 am

The Vow, starring Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams, has become a hit at the box office. Its writers have endured their own romantic struggles
What if you were engaged to your professional partner and called off the wedding -- but decided to keep working together anyway?  It could be a plot line from a movie like "The Vow" or "He's Just Not That Into You." But it's something a tad more surreal: the real-life story of the writing duo behind those films.

Directed by Michael Sucsy and released last week, "The Vow" is set to close out a strong holiday weekend with a likely four-day haul that will top $27 million, making it the most lucrative release of the young year. The relationships in the Rachel McAdams-Channing Tatum romantic drama, in which he must court his amnesiac wife anew after she wakes from a coma and reverts to an earlier version of herself, are complicated enough.

But the tale of writers Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein rivals anything their characters grapple with.

Kohn and Silverstein dated for seven years, then broke up in the early 2000s. They proceeded to marry other people -- she, in 2005, music executive Jason Linn; he, two years later, actress Busy Phillips. They each now have daughters with their new spouses. But they continue to collaborate on scripts about relationships and romance -- in fact, they've found far more success since their breakup -- as they practice what is surely one of the oddest professional relationships in a town filled with them.

Abby: "It's a little weird," speaking by phone this weekend in a joint interview with her writing partner, the two routinely finishing each other's thoughts.
Marc: "Maybe more than a little weird."
Abby: "I think when I first started dating [my husband], he had questions, but he got it pretty quickly."
Marc: "My wife had a tougher time at the beginning."
Abby: "It's not simple."
Marc: "It's not a simple thing to explain on a first date."
Abby: "On a third date."

After meeting in film school at USC and hooking up as lovers and filmmaking partners, Kohn and Silverstein graduated and began writing feature scripts about young love. Though only in their 20s, they soon sold a pitch, a back-to-school comedy titled "Never Been Kissed." Within a year, the movie was shooting with Drew Barrymore. It was considered a respectable hit when it came out in 1999.

PHOTOS: "The Vow" premiere

The years that followed were rougher. The pair toiled in television, watching as pilot deals came and went. For a time their relationship intensified -- they became engaged and were just a few months from the wedding -- then it sputtered. The two decided to break up. (Abby: "When we were younger it was work all the time." Marc: "It was probably a little unhealthy, though we got a lot more done." Abby: "We got a lot more done, and we also didn't do anything else.")

Most couples would have thrown in the towel on their creative partnership at that point. But the breakup wasn't messy, and besides, the two had more pressing concerns.

Marc: "When we decided not to get married, we were contractually obligated on a pilot."


Abby: "We were in pre-production; we couldn't take time off."
Marc: "So we figured we should try to work together."
Abby: "We had to do it."
Marc: "It was not great."
Abby: "But it didn't take that long for it to get normal again."

They continued with that pilot, then others. At one point they even created a show,  "Splitsville," that was based on their own story. It didn't turn into a series, but the pair continued trying to get a movie or television show going.

Then a few years ago, a break came. After numerous writers tried to crack the story on a thin self-help book called "He's Just Not That Into You," Kohn and Silverstein had the idea to turn it into an ensemble romance with overlapping characters. They  were given the assignment, then watched as the movie went on to become a hit in February 2009.

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'The Vow': What is it about Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams?

February 13, 2012 |  9:28 am

In the weeks leading up to the release of "The Vow," it was easy to knock the movie: the amnesiac plot line (Rachel McAdams' character wakes up from a coma and must be wooed anew by hubby Channing Tatum), the lovelorn glances, the schmaltzy sentiments.

Come to think of it, it was easy to knock the movie after it came out too; self-knowing irony isn't exactly the name of this game, which lends itself to all sorts of comic opportunities from the cheap seats. That Tatum and McAdams' acting, which in recent years has been characterized by his stoned-faced qualities and her chipper ones, hasn't lately made the Oscar voters come running added to the fun.

Yet after the weekend's heart-stopping box office — $41.7 million, well above expectations and in fact the sixth-highest February opening in history — it's clear that, for all the ways one might compare this movie to a cross between "50 First Dates" and "While You Were Sleeping," we still rushed out to see it.

PHOTOS: 'The Vow' premiere

The truth is it shouldn't be entirely surprising. McAdams and Tatum are shaky leading draws  in movies that aren't romances — see under "Morning Glory" and "The Eagle." But they do OK when star-crossed love enters the picture (see under: McAdams' "The Time Traveler's Wife" and "The Notebook" and Tatum's "Dear John.")

They're apparently even more persuasive when they're star-crossed together: "The Vow" is on pace to take in more money than any of those films, and in fact more money than any movie than either of them has done as leading actors on their own, save for Tatum's "G.I. Joe," a different beast entirely.

How does that work exactly? Why do actors we're only lukewarm on apart work when together? Certainly the traits that can seem like too much on their own — say, McAdams' perkiness and Tatum's earnestness —can be complementary when mixed, two extremes somehow neutralized, the filmic equivalent of sweet-and-sour sauce.

It's why Meg Ryan's constant poutiness and Billy Crytal's relentless wise-guy-ness worked well in "When Harry Met Sally" (also, incidentally, a better performer than many movies they did on their own), or how Audrey Hepburn's effusiveness and George Peppard's stoicism made for a classic in "Breakfast at Tiffany's."

Not to compare this movie to those classics. But in that sense, at least, "The Vow" has located the formula of many cinematic romances — they work best not necessarily because the actors seem like a real-life couple, but because the traits of one half mitigate the other.


Review: 'The Vow' leaves you wanting more

'The Vow' leads strong weekend with $41.7 million

'The Vow' fails to live up to its promise, critics say

— Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum in "The Vow." Credit: Screen Gems

Garry Marshall: 'New Year's Eve' more than a money grab [Video]

December 6, 2011 |  2:11 pm

Lea Michele Katherine Heigl Garry Marshall and Sofia Vergara at the New Year's Eve premiere

Let's be real: There aren't many people in town who view "Valentine's Day" and the upcoming "New Year's Eve" as much more than a studio throwing together a bunch of celebrities in an easy ploy to make big bucks at the box office.

The films, both directed by Hollywood stalwart Garry Marshall, are set up in a similar fashion. Neither revolves around a particular character; instead, the films feature various vignettes of numerous players, all of whose story lines are vaguely connected to a popular holiday. Big-name celebrities agree to take part in the movies for a reduced fee in return for a shorter shooting schedule -- and, of course, the chance to rub elbows with some of the industry's A-listers.

2010's "Valentine's Day," with a lineup of stars that included Julia Roberts and Ashton Kutcher, received a lowly 18% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes but ultimately grossed about $110 million at the box office. "New Year's Eve," which opens Friday, seems poised to follow a similar trajectory. But the argument that the film is nothing more than a money grab bothers Marshall.

"It annoys me, because the stars come to act and people say, 'Oh, it's all those stars, they'll be cameos.' There's no cameos," the 77-year-old filmmaker said at the film's premiere in Hollywood on Monday night. "Most critics would rather see a film by a man from Tanzania -- a convict who's mute, Woody Harrelson in the woods. A snake bites him. That's a different kind of movie than I make. I make a joyous movie for the holiday so you come to have a good time."

Hilary Swank, who stars in the new film, echoed that sentiment.

"I didn't know people were cynical about it, but thanks for letting me know," she kidded. "I find it really hard to find a great supporting role. So to not only have one great supporting role, but all the supporting roles to be so fleshed out and human -- I think it's fun."


The making of 'Valentine's Day' is a real love story

Hilary Swank 'deeply regrets' attending Chechen gala

'New Year's Eve' premiere: Swank sees every day as a new start

-- Amy Kaufman


Photo: Lea Michele, left, Katherine Heigl, Garry Marshall and Sofia Vergara at the premiere of "New Year's Eve." Credit: Kevin Winter / Getty Images

Around Town: Superman flies again and the New Wave returns

December 1, 2011 |  7:00 am


A Francois Truffaut retrospective, an animation festival and a screening of 1978’s “Superman” are among this week’s highlights.

The American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre celebrates the legacy of one of the founders of France’s New Wave cinema, Francois Truffaut, who died at the age of 52 in 1984. “The Film Lover: A Francois Truffaut Retrospective” commences Friday evening with his first feature film, 1959’s “The 400 Blows,” his critically acclaimed autobiographical drama about a troubled young boy, Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Leaud in a stunning performance). The second feature is Truffaut’s third entry in the Antoine Doinel series, the 1968 romantic comedy “Stolen Kisses,” with Leaud and Delphine Seyrig.

Truffaut pays homage to one of his icons, Alfred Hitchcock, in his 1968 mystery thriller “The Bride Wore Black,” starring Jeanne Moreau in the title role, which screens Saturday. Also on tap is his 1962 masterwork, “Jules and Jim” with Moreau and Oskar Werner. The retrospective concludes Sunday with his 1960 film noir, “Shoot the Piano Player” with Charles Aznavour, and 1980’s World War II drama “The Last Metro,” with Gerard Depardieu and Catherine Deneuve. http://www.americancinematheque.com

Cinefamily’s Silent Movie Theatre gets highly animated this week. The “Animation Breakdown” begins with “An Evening With Don Hertzfeldt” on Thursday, featuring the L.A. premiere of his latest animated short, “It’s Such a Beautiful Day.” The filmmaker will be appearing in person. On Friday, Cinefamily shines the spotlight on Polish animation with several shorts by noted animators including an exclusive presentation of the Brothers Quays’ latest film, “Maska.” Saturday afternoon’s offering is a sneak preview of Pixar’s newest short film, “La Luna,” six months before its theatrical release. Later in the afternoon, Cinefamily presents a cast and crew reunion of the Cartoon Network series “Space Ghost: Coast to Coast.”

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Pierce Brosnan will collaborate with Oscar winner Susanne Bier

March 3, 2011 |  7:08 pm

EXCLUSIVE: It's been a while since we've seen Pierce Brosnan in a romantic comedy -- nearly three years, in fact, since he vied for Meryl Streep's attentions in the romantic musical comedy "Mamma Mia!" In the time since. Brosnan has dabbled in a lot of other genres: political thriller ("The Ghost Writer"), widower drama ("The Greatest"), religion-themed thriller (the upcoming "Salvation Boulevard.")

But Brosnan will now return to  one of his wheelhouses: He's signed on for a lead role in "All You Need Is Love," the first post-Oscar project for Susanne Bier, who took a statuette for her youth-violence drama "In a Better World" on Sunday. The movie, which Bier wrote with Brosnan in mind, shoots in Amalfi this spring.

Although Bier is known mainly for melodrama -- she also directed Danish war weepie "Brothers" and the broken-family picture "Things We Lost in the Fire," her English-language debut -- the filmmaker revealed this week that her new movie is a romance with a more buoyant feel.  “It’s a tender story with a much lighter atmosphere than my previous works: Enough with conflicts,” she told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica.  (Her 2006 Oscar-nominated "After the Wedding," though a drama, did have a few comedic moments.)

The paper also said "Love" would center on a Danish family, although given that Brosnan doesn't speak Danish, we're imagining said family will speak English, or the movie will at least be bilingual.

Brosnan called the new project a "delightful love story" that mixes the serious and humorous. "It's a comedy -- a love story which has punch and deals with loss and a great love."

Pierce Brosnan leaves the Bond role behind

 New movie widens Susanne Bier's world

A modern Scandinavian takes on Bergman

 --Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Pierce Brosnan in Los Angeles last March. Credit: Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times

'Life as We Know It' had an unlikely conception

October 11, 2010 |  9:30 am


For all of its fluffy romantic-comedy trappings, "Life as We Know It" isn't the most obviously marketable premise. It starts, after all, with two tragic deaths and an orphaned baby, the narrative springboard to a mismatched pair taking responsibility for a child. On hearing the premise, a non-film colleague reacted with, "Is that really what it's about? Sheesh."

That may be at least partly why the weekend's strongest new opener (at $14.6 million, it came in just behind "The Social Network," a respectable if not overpowering performance) took a twisty path to the screen. Written nine years ago by then-newbies Ian Deitchman and Kristin Rusk Robinson, the project languished around town for a long time, with executives flummoxed by its two-toned approach.

"It's such an unconventional way into a romantic comedy," Deitchman told 24 Frames as he described the film project's first go-round at Fox 2000, which eventually opted not to make it."We'd get the note: 'It's kind of a comedy and a drama. Can't it be one or the other?' And we'd say ' No, that's the whole point.'"

Despite the slightly jarring conceit, the pair say that they saw the film as eminently relatable. "We always felt that people would identify with the new parenting experience because that's universal," Deitchman said. "And everyone in one way or another has dealt with grief and loss."

"We envisioned it as a romantic comedy in reverse," Robinson added. "These people get the baby, now they have to fall in love."

Friends from Northwestern University who toiled at Hollywood apprenticeships (Deitchman worked for James Brooks; Robinson for the director Randa Haines), the pair tried their hand at various ideas, selling only one script before they churned out "Life" in late 2001. (Although they are a male-female team that specializes in comedies about marriage and children, Deitchman and Robinson are actually in relationships, and raising children, with other people.)

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With 'I'm Sure,' hope for the romantic comedy?

October 4, 2010 |  6:44 pm

Sure, we still have "Valentine's Day," "The Ugly Truth" and scores of romantic-comedy clunkers. But the genre in the past couple of years has gotten a lot better (after it got a lot worse). Or at least there are a few gems in the rough among the younger-skewing titles — Marc Webb's "(500) Days of Summer" "Nick 'n Norah's Infinite Playlist," the indie darling "In Search of a Midnight Kiss."

That pattern could (hopefully) continue as buzz builds for a new project called "I'm Sure," in which a 20-something man realizes he's in love with a 30-something woman who's about to get married — and then sets about stalking her. (It plays funny, those who've read and liked the script assure us.)

The writer-director behind it is Thomas Bezucha, who's best known for "The Family Stone," the Sarah Jessica Parker vehicle of a few years back, which may have been the most female-skewing movie in recent memory and was more of a drama than a comedy anyway.

Bezucha does, however, go a little lighter in the upcoming CW-happy stylings of Leighton Meester and Katie Cassidy in "Monte Carlo" (college-age woman whisked to Monaco after being mistaken for an heiress). And apparently he really gets his comedy on with "I'm Sure" while telling a piece of slice-of-life humanism at the same time. There's also a producer on it who might suggest he could pull it off, Michael London, who was behind that off-kilter take on modern relationships in "Sideways" a few years back (and "Family Stone").

Several midsize studios are interested in "I'm Sure." Don't be surprised if it gets bought in the coming days and moves forward with an appealing young cast. Something to pleasantly ponder the next time you're ambushed by a 'Life As We Know It" trailer.

— Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Craig T. Nelson, Sarah Jessica Parker and others in 'Family Stone.' Credit: Fox 2000

Fox Searchlight utters the 'F-Word'

May 3, 2010 |  6:04 pm

EXCLUSIVE: Fox Searchlight is pretty much the undisputed master in the quirky character-romance, a reputation it acquired with "Napoleon Dynamite" and solidified with "(500) Days of Summer" last year. Which is why one can't but be hopeful about a new hire it's set to make.

The company is negotiating to bring on Alex Holdridge to direct a romantic comedy called "The F-Word." Holdridge is the director of an indie gem (and Independent Spirits winner) titled "In Search of a Midnight Kiss" (think "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist," only smarter) that has a down-on-his-luck twentysomething in an unlikely New Year's Eve romance.

The "F" in question in Holdridge's new movie is friendship, and the film is about a young man and woman who harbor romantic interest for each other but must escape the platonic curse if they're to make it work (or escape the romance hex if they're to make a friendship work). It's written by a screenwriter named Elan Mastai, who has romance and breakup movies set up nearly all over town.

For a while it looked like emo romances were going to take over moviedom, what with not only "(500) Days" but Michael Cera unleashing the power of a thousand waifish, soft-spoken Canadians in both "Paper Heart" and "Nick and Norah." Fortunately that didn't happen, but Marc Webb and his cohorts showed what was possible with "(500) Days," which handled its subject with both irony and soul. Look for "The F Word" to follow in the same shoegazing, Morrissey-esque footsteps.

-- Steven Zeitchik

(Follow me on Twitter.)

Photo: "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist." Credit Sony Pictures.

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