The basic plot of a romantic comedy is that two people, usually a man and a woman, meet and then part ways due to an argument or other contrived obstacles. Initially, these two people do not become romantically involved, because they believe that they do not like each other, because one of them already has a partner, or social pressures. However, the screenwriters leave obvious clues that suggest that the characters are in fact attracted to each other, or that they would be a good love match.
While the two people are separated, one or both individuals then realize that they are "perfect" for each other, or that they are in love with the other person. Then, after one of the two makes some spectacular effort to find the other person and declare their love, (this is sometimes called the grand gesture), or due to an astonishing coincidental encounter, the two meet again. Then, perhaps with some comic friction or awkwardness, they declare their love for each other and the film ends happily.
There are many variations on this basic plotline. Sometimes, instead of the two lead characters ending up in each other's arms, another love match will be made between one of the principal characters and a secondary character (e.g., My Best Friend's Wedding). Alternatively, the film may be a rumination on the impossibility of love, as in Woody Allen's film Annie Hall. The basic format of a romantic comedy film can be found in much earlier sources, such as Shakespeare plays like Much Ado About Nothing and A Midsummer Night's Dream. A movie in which a romantic intercourse could happen, but does not, is referred to as Platonic Comedy.
Contrived romantic encounters: the "meet cute"One of the conventions of romantic comedy films is the contrived encounter of two potential romantic partners in unusual or comic circumstances, which film critics such as Roger Ebert or the Associated Press' Christy Lemire have called a "meet-cute" situation. During a "meet-cute", scriptwriters often create a humorous sense of awkwardness between the two potential partners by depicting an initial clash of personalities or beliefs, an embarrassing situation, or by introducing a comical misunderstanding or mistaken identity situation. Sometimes the term is used without a hyphen (a "meet cute"), or as a verb, as in "to meet cute."
In many romantic comedies, the potential couple comprises polar opposites, two people of different temperaments, situations, social statuses, or all three (It Happened One Night), who would not meet or talk under normal circumstances, and the meet cute's contrived situation provides the opportunity for these two people to meet.
In movies, the attraction between the lead characters must be established quickly. The subject matter of romantic comedies are the obstacles that the potential pair must face before they can acknowledge, fulfill, or consummate their love, and the audience must care about the relationship enough to finish the movie. The meet-cute, by virtue of its unusual situation, helps to fix the potential relationship in the viewers' minds, and the spark of the meeting is the impetus by which initial vicissitudes of the developing relationship are overcome.
Use of "meet cute" situationsCertain movies are entirely driven by the meet-cute situation, and contrived circumstances throw the couple together for much of the screenplay. However, movies in which the contrived situation is the main feature, such as Some Like It Hot, rather than the romance being the main feature, are not considered "meet-cutes."
The use of the meet-cute is less marked in television series and novels, because these formats have more time to establish and develop romantic relationships. In situation comedies, relationships are static and meet-cute is not necessary, though flashbacks may recall one (The Dick Van Dyke Show, Mad About You) and lighter fare may require contrived romantic meetings.
The heyday of "meet cute" in films was during the Great Depression in the 1930s; screwball comedy films made a heavy use of contrived romantic "meet cutes," perhaps because the more rigid class consciousness and class divisions of this period made cross-social class romances into tantalizing fantasies.
While film critic Roger Ebert has popularized the term "meet cute" in his reviews of romantic comedies, the term is mostly used in the film and screenwriting industries, where it provides a convenient shorthand for screenwriters who are doing a very compressed pitch to a film production company.
In the film The Holiday (2006), Eli Wallach's character Arthur Abbott (a Hollywood screenwriter) described a meet-cute by saying "Say a man and a woman both need something to sleep in and both go to the same men's pajama department. The man says to the salesman, I just need bottoms, and the woman says, I just need a top. They look at each other and that's the meet-cute."
Some ExamplesSome Examples of couples "meeting cute" in romantic comedy films include:
- It Happened One Night throws runaway heiress Ellie (Claudette Colbert) and world-weary ex-reporter Peter (Clark Gable) together in a dispute over the last seat on a bus.
- In Bringing Up Baby, nervous paleontologist David (Cary Grant) finds that his golf ball and his car get inadvertently driven by strong-willed heiress Susan (Katharine Hepburn).
- In Singin' in the Rain, the character played by Gene Kelly is running through the street to try to escape from his fans. He is jumping from the roofs of cars and taxis, and he accidentally lands into a woman's convertible (Debbie Reynolds). Even though they do not get along at first, a romance ensues.
- In Notting Hill, the character played by Hugh Grant accidentally spills orange juice on the character played by Julia Roberts, which leads them into a conversation.
- In Serendipity, the characters played by John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale coincidentally grab the same pair of gloves at a Bloomingdale's store.
- In The Wedding Planner, the character played by Matthew McConaughey saves a woman's life (Jennifer Lopez) when a runaway dumpster is heading towards her.
- In The Holiday, Kate Winslet's character and Jack Black's character "...meet cute after she swaps her London home for the Los Angeles digs" of the character played by Cameron Diaz)