I’m afflicted with what may be strep throat, tonsillitis, or just punishment for something horrible I did somewhere, at some time in my past. It feels like gravel or tiny shards of glass are going down every time I swallow, so I try to do it as little as possible. However, I have discovered that telling yourself “not to swallow” is like trying not to think about a pink elephant. It makes it irresistible to do so.

Tylenol, ginger tea, and gargling with salt water have only gotten me so far. During this bleak time, especially in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep, I have found my greatest comfort in an unlikely place: the Romantic Comedy. Being out of the U.S. for two years and not a huge movie watcher even before then, it turns out I have missed hundreds of them!

Hundreds of movies with cheerful upbeat music, situations that always resolve themselves positively, and lots of cute handbags and shoes. After 20+ hours of exposure to the genre, I can state with confidence the few basic requirements of the formula in case anyone is interested in writing their own to great profit and acclaim. I’ll make it easy for you. Based on my research, a successful romantic comedy should:

Be set in New York City.

There’s not a lot of room to maneuver on this one. The glittery high-rises for the opening sequence, the bustling, the taxicabs, and the impossibly huge stylish apartments with views of the Park prove too much for the genre to resist. The only acceptable alternative is a quaint and rustic small town setting into which heroine is dumped to her surprise and discomfiture (See: “The Proposal,” “New in Town,” “Leap Year,” “Did You Hear About the Morgans?”) Bonus points for hitting New York City + rustic small town in the same film (See almost all of the above).

Give the heroine a very cool job.
Specifically, one of the following two jobs that almost no one has in real life:
1) Owner of a fancy food/flower/pet/stationery store with an adorably creative name despite only being in her 20’s or early 30’s (See “Life as We Know It,” “The BackUp Plan,” “Love Happens”), or
2) A super high-powered position such as working at the New York Stock Exchange or at a slick fashion magazine. (See “What Happens in Vegas,” “13 Going on 30,” “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days”) Bonus: this job includes a prerequisite bitchy boss role to toss older actresses a bone (i.e. Candace Bergen or Frasier’s mean wife from “Cheers”).
Make sure the heroine’s past includes something sad.
This makes her more “interesting,” quickly gives her depth and personality, and gives the male lead the opportunity to show how he really understands her. Parental death is the easiest way to get this one done, as it serves as easy emotional shorthand (See “27 Dresses,” “The Back-Up Plan,” “50 First Dates,” “The Proposal,” and every single Disney princess movie ever made). This is my least favorite part of the formula, as it is lazy and mildly manipulative storytelling. But what can you do: nobody’s perfect.
Give the heroine a less attractive but funny friend.
The heroine herself usually isn’t very funny: this task is left to her wise-cracking best friend, who is usually the actress Judy Greer (See “13 Going on 30,” “27 Dresses,” “Love Happens”), but if she’s not available any sarcastic, spunky foil will do.
Cast Matthew McConaughey as the male lead.
I know there are other actors out there willing to engage in the mild acting and manscaping that the role requires, but Matthew’s track record makes him king of the genre (See “Fool’s Gold,” “The Wedding Planner,” “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days,” “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past,” “Failure to Launch,” about a million others). This is because it is imperative that the suitor at first repulse the female lead. There are no exceptions to this. The eventual apple of her eye must at the beginning fill her with revulsion, disgust, disapproval, and distaste. I don’t know why it has to be this way, but it does. Don’t even question it. And McConaughey has that roguish, needling quality that can magically turn into charm and appeal by the movie’s final third.
Finally, if you really want to make sure you’ve hit the ball out of the park…
Cast Selma Blair in an unflattering role.
It will only help your movie if you can shoehorn Selma Blair into a role where she is a witchy ex-girlfriend, witchy current girlfriend, small-minded colleague, or general loser. (See “Legally Blonde,” “A Guy Thing,” pretty much any Selma Blair movie.) I can’t help but think Selma Blair needs a new agent.
I myself may need a new hobby, as Apple TV will at some point run out of romantic comedies to download and my current state of sickness will reject all but the lightest, airiest fare (no Oscar nominees or foreign films here, thanks). But for now the player is all queued up with “Confessions of a Shopaholic” and “The Ugly Truth,” (the latter starring the rom com’s latest queen, Katherine Heigl), and I have research to conduct.
Meanwhile, there is talk of the US suspending bilateral relationships with Pakistan (if you don’t know why, read up on the incident that occurred in Lahore), the weather is gray and moody, and I can’t taste the chocolate chip pumpkin bread I pulled out of the freezer to cheer myself up. Until everything gets better, I’m staying on the couch and burying myself in the tried-and-true formula. This is at least one thing we can count on.