I don’t know about you, but I have a soft spot for romantic comedy films. After suffering through a pretty rough patch in 2018, it’s nice to come across a film that not only entertains but also teaches you a valuable lesson about love and life.
Set in New York City, Robert Pattinson stars as Oliver, an awkward young man who is determined to become the best playwright in the city. To that end, he enlists the help of Sophie (played by Kristen Bell), a quirky writer who has recently fallen for Oliver. Together, they embark on a journey that will change both of their lives forever. As the movie opens, Oliver is seen walking down the street, deep in thought. Suddenly, he ducks into a bar, seeking solitude to work on his latest play. As he sits there, a gorgeous woman (played by Elisabeth Moss) walks in and starts making small talk with Oliver. Before long, the two are chatting like old friends, and the bartender (played by Walking Dead‘s Lauren Cohan) remarks, “You two make such a lovely couple. I wish I could marry her and settle down with her.”
As the conversation continues, the bartender gestures towards the exit, letting Oliver know that he and Sophie should really be going. Still, Oliver and the woman, named Claire (played by Marisa Tomei), keep talking and laughing. Finally, the bartender says, “Enjoy your night, but I’d stay away from my daughter. She’s way too attractive and doesn’t deserve to be messed around with.”
For a while, Oliver is determined to ignore the warnings of the bartender. He and Sophie continue to see each other regularly, occasionally inviting Claire along on their dates (she doesn’t seem to mind that Sophie is basically using her for sex). But over time, Oliver stops playing by the rules and starts breaking down barriers, embracing the unexpected relationship that develops between him and Claire. As a result, he learns that sometimes, the most important thing is to be true to yourself, even if that means going against the grain and listening to the naysayers. He ultimately decides that, rather than wasting his time with writing, he should pursue a career in acting, putting his skills to use in order to make his grand dream of being an esteemed Broadway playwright come true.
In terms of story structure, Robert Pattinson plays it safe, opting to follow a traditional romantic comedy blueprint. We meet Oliver, a seemingly nice guy who isn’t actually all that bright. Through a series of misunderstandings and awkward interactions, we learn that Oliver is actually a pretty cool customer. But when push comes to shove, he’ll be the first to break a sweat in order to prove that he’s not that shallow. (Forgive the pun.)
In keeping with the “safe” label, the most notable element of Robert Pattinson’s character is the way he talks. Oliver is the kind of guy who will nod along agreeably while watching a romantic comedy; he doesn’t actually seem to have a very developed opinion on most topics, which makes him a perfectly convenient plot device. But mostly, we encounter Oliver through small talk, which doesn’t exactly lend itself to memorable one-liners. His dialogue is serviceable, perhaps a bit too clean and rehearsed for an organic, natural-sounding monologue. But in terms of character, he’s neither here nor there; he simply serves as a vehicle for Kristen Bell and Elisabeth Moss to deliver some witty remarks and display their chemistry.
It’s Interesting to Note…
While talking about dialogue, it is worth mentioning that Robert Pattinson delivers one of the best cinematic monologues of all time in The King’s Speech. In fact, one could argue that this monologue is what ultimately sold the film to the director. In this scene, Pattinson plays a gay prince named Bertie, who is determined to conceal his identity from the throne. He tells the story of his first meeting with the future king, George VI. Before long, the two have developed a father-son relationship, with the future king frequently inviting his awkward young friend for weekends at his palace. But while there, the two find themselves in the embarrassing situation of having to deliver a formal speech in front of a large audience. After some initial trepidation, King George becomes completely enthralled by his friend’s oration, demanding that he be given a copy. This is the monologue that has sold millions of filmographies, effectively sealing Bertie’s status as one of the greatest movie villains of all time. (If you haven’t seen the film, you really should. It’s not only great cinema, but it also contains one of the greatest scenes in movie history.)
For a more recent example of a great monologue, we can look to Noah Baumbach’s much-acclaimed movie, Marriage Story. In this scene, Adam (Adam Driver) and Siri (Siri Collin Sellers) are attending a dinner party thrown by the French government in honor of the visiting American President. The moment the guests take their seats at the table, the tension is palpable as this is the first time the two have seen each other in what seems like an eternity. In response to the strange coincidence of finding themselves in the same place at the same time, they begin to speak – and what follows is one of the most astonishing monologues in recent cinematic history. Beginning with a question about how the other is doing, the conversation slowly begins to unravel as their grievances are aired, building to a crescendo as Adam demands a divorce. The scene is absolutely gripping, largely due to Baumbach’s direction and Adam’s mesmerizing performance. (The filmmaker went on to win an Oscar for this scene alone – quite an accomplishment considering it’s not even that long.)
There are a few different ways to approach writing dialogue for a screenplay. Sometimes, the best approach is to throw out all the cliches and write exactly what you think, no matter how awkward it might seem. For a more seasoned writer, it’s often beneficial to consider various ways of structuring dialogue, looking for the best fitting structure for a particular situation or, at least, for a character. (More on this later.) One of the safest routes is to write what you know – or, more specifically, to write what you’ve observed. This isn’t a bad idea, particularly when combined with other methods of structuring dialogue. But mostly, it’s just a matter of following the “logic” of the story, letting the characters speak for themselves without any awkward exposition or transparent narrative maneuvers. So while all the other elements of a screenplay may follow a specific structure, the dialogue must be able to stand on its own, delivering exactly what is needed while holding up under imaginary gunpoint.
The Pros and Cons of Structuring Dialogue
While it’s always preferable to write from the heart, sometimes you need to follow the “rules” of cinema, setting precedents for how a scene or sequence should play out, even if you don’t necessarily “agree” with these rules. (Think about it this way: Without any rules, there would be no cinematic “form.”) Writing a screenplay is a difficult enough process as it is; adding even more “art” by trying to figure out the “right” way to write a scene can make things a bit more complicated. But following a set of rules can help you avoid numerous pitfalls and become a better, more efficient screenwriter. Not that there’s anything wrong with the way things generally play out in rom-coms, but it isn’t always the best approach for every movie.
One of the most difficult parts of writing a screenplay is coming up with unique and original ways of telling a story. Of course, you want to put your own spin on things to make them interesting, but it’s also important not to cheat the audience, who are looking for an engaging narrative that keeps their attention. When it comes to structuring dialogue, there are a few tried and tested methods that work really well. One of the safest approaches is to start with a brief conversation, setting up the circumstance of the characters finding themselves in the same place at the same time and inviting a casual yet revealing chat. This is often used as a way of introducing characters or establishing a context for the discussion that follows. Essentially, it’s a matter of following a “conversation guide” that will help keep your narrative clear and concise. This doesn’t mean you have to follow what might be considered a “formula” in terms of how a conversation should play out; rather, it means you’re sticking to a set of ground rules that will make the story easy to follow and interesting to watch.