The King Of Romantic Comedy
by Pamela Price
Rob Reiner and Nora Ephron defined “love” for me at the ripe age of 12 years old when I first watched “When Harry Met Sally.” The story of budding friendship and love transformed me, and millions of other women, into hopeful romantics. These are the kind of tales that drive Rob Reiner as a director and writer. Of course, he made his mark portraying “Meathead” in the hit sitcom “All in the Family,” but over the years he took a more sentimental route, directing romantic comedies, among other genres. Like many of us, Reiner is motivated by the human desire for companionship. The ‘boy-meets-girl’ scenario, if you will. He has a talent for bringing love stories for all ages to the silver screen. From “The Sure Thing” to “The Princess Bride,” “Alex & Emma” and “Flipped,” each of his films touches the heart and leaves us with the feeling that a lasting love is possible to find. In his latest venture, “And So It Goes,” Reiner reunites with Michael Douglas, whom he directed in “The American President.” Douglas plays Oren Little, a thick-skinned realtor who lives a lonesome life. He must change his ways when his neighbor, Leah (Diane Keaton) befriends him, and his granddaughter is forced into his care. Douglas and Keaton are perfectly matched as two characters that have a second chance at love. Just before the film released in theaters, I had the honor of speaking to Rob Reiner about everything from romantic comedies to the future of filmmaking.
You specialize in directing stories about finding love at all stages in life, from “Flipped” to “And So It Goes.” Have stories of love and friendship always driven you and motivated you as a director?
Well, it’s the thing that we all think about more than anything, which is: How do we get with the person we love? Finding love —whether it’s heterosexual or homosexual — is the one thing that we all look for. Like you say, whether it’s “Flipped” with 12-year-olds or “The Sure Thing” with college kids or “When Harry Met Sally” with young adults. And now in “And So It Goes” with older adults.
To me, it’s essentially the same story. I mean, all I know how to do is describe this dance that men and women do with each other the way that I see it, which is women to me are just more mature. They’re more evolved and more developed. They have a greater understanding of what’s important, they instinctively know that. And guys run around like idiots until they figure out they can meet a woman who will show them what’s really important. And I think that happens at every stage of life. You always hear people say, well girls mature faster than boys. But the truth of the matter is I think that girls are born more mature than boys, and they stay more mature than boys all the way through life.
I will take that (laughs).
I think it’s true.
And I think you show that maturity through the female characters that you’ve directed.
The women innately know; they value life more than men do. And they inherently know what’s more important. It takes women to make men see what really is important. And in this movie (“And So It Goes”), Michael Douglas plays this guy who’s basically checking out of life, and he doesn’t want to have anything to do with it. He comes across this woman, who’s played by Diane Keaton, in this fourplex that he owns, and he also finds out about a 10-year-old granddaughter that he didn’t know he had. Through the relationships with these two female characters, he then finds out again what’s important to him in life. And I think that’s what men need. Men need women to show them what’s important.
After you directed Michael Douglas in “The American President,” were you waiting for the right time to work with him again? Is the role of Oren Little meant for him?
Oh, it’s totally meant for him; he’s so perfect for the part. I loved Michael; he’s like a brother. If I could make every movie with him, I would. But this was a perfect opportunity because he’s so perfectly suited. I did work with him in “The American President,” but I think he’s getting better and better as he gets older. Look at the work he did last year as Liberace. It’s amazing.
His versatility is incredible.
It’s incredible! His craft is just getting better and better.
And what about Diane Keaton? How did she come on board?
I had never worked with Diane before, and Michael had never either. It’s amazing —these two great Academy Award winners had never been together.
Diane works differently than Michael does. He’s more craft oriented, she’s more instinctive, and kind of improvisational. She works very similarly to the way I do, and so when we started, she told me, ‘You know, I don’t act. I just am who I am.’ And I said, ‘Well, whoever you are, it’s fabulous, because it’s so real and it’s so honest and it’s so endearing.’ She takes a part and you don’t see the delineation from who she is off camera and on camera. She’ll just inhabit the part and take the words and massage them around and make them her own.
Diane sings throughout the film. She must’ve been happy to sing again.
I think so. I mean, she’s got a great voice. She’s always nervous about everything. She’s always anxious about doing anything, so I’m sure she was anxious singing, but we very carefully picked the tunes that she felt comfortable with and that she knew she could sing okay.
Music in your films is almost a role and star in itself. Composer, Mark Shaiman has worked on many of your films. Do you work closely together?
Usually what’ll happen is if there are source cues — in other words, cues that’ll be coming out of radios or something like that — I’ll usually pick those songs and see which ones I like. Sometimes Mark will suggest them. Mark usually just composes the underlying score music. But sometimes he will come up with an idea for a song. Most of the time I’m looking at songs that I feel are right for the mood, or right for the character. For instance; when Oren is driving around, The Band’s “Up on Cripple Creek” and songs from The Allman Brothers and Canned Heat are playing. These are songs that he would’ve listened to back in the late 60s, early 70s, so they make sense to be in the movie.
You directed and produced “And So It Goes.” Were you a part of developing it and what was it that inspired you to direct it?
It actually came out of “The Bucket List.” We were doing a press junket for “The Bucket List,” and everybody asked us ‘What’s on your bucket list?’ When they asked Jack that question, he would say, ‘One more great romance.’ That gave me the idea to do a film that explored finding love later on in life. Then we hired Mark Andrus who had written “As Good as it Gets,” and we brought him in, we designed a story, and then he did a couple of drafts. Then Andrew Scheinman and I did a couple of drafts and we wound up with what we have.
I feel like there are romantic comedies that come and go, but yours are some of the most memorable. Do you have rules to directing a successful romantic comedy?
Yeah, I don’t really have rules so much as I try to just look at my life experience and then feed that through the characters. So like I say, it could be a 12-year-old finding love for the first time, or college kids or young adults. It’s always pretty much the same story for me, and that’s the way I look at it. I just try to see if I can use my own experience through the characters.
What are some of your favorite love stories?
“Casablanca” is one of the greatest love stories of all time.
Of course. When you directed “When Harry Met Sally,” did you have any idea the impact it would make and the following that it would have?
No, you never know. I mean, you’re just making a movie. When “Spinal Tap” first came out, no one even went to see it. And then over the years, people pick up on it. With “The Princess Bride” it was the same kind of thing. You never know what movies are going to resonate with an audience, you just hope that they do because all they are is just your thoughts and your feelings and your ideas put on film, and hopefully the audience makes a connection with them.
Are you itching to do something you’ve never done before, either in acting or in directing?
I have a few things that I’m developing right now. I have three movies and about four TV projects that I’m developing. There are a lot of things that I would still like to do. For me at this point, it’s just about the doing; it’s enjoying the process. You start internalizing and really understanding those clichés that you hear when you’re young, like “Life is precious” and “Enjoy the moment” as you get older.
When you started Castle Rock Entertainment, you obviously had a certain goal or motto. Do you feel like your films have met that goal?
I do. The philosophy that I had and that we had when we started Castle Rock was that there are four types of movies. There were really good movies that made a lot of money, there were really good movies that made no money, there were really bad movies that made a lot of money, and there were really bad movies that made no money. So try to make good movies; some of them will make money, some of them won’t, and at the end of the day, you’ll have put something there that’s not polluting the culture too much.
Today it’s always about the box office numbers. For you it must really be more about the message and the impact a film has on the people that see it.
Yeah, I think the box office and all that is for studio heads and investors. For creative people, it’s about the process of making something; of actually doing something. Unfortunately now, the studio heads have tried to turn this into a business — which it is — but there’s also a showmanship to it and there’s also a creative part of it. They’re limiting right now the kinds of movies they make. They’ll only make these action, superhero movies or animated films or the R-rated sex comedies. They won’t make anything else. If you’re a creative person and you want to make a movie, you have to find independent financing, which is why I think you’re seeing so many good things on television now — it’s becoming a place for creative people to go to really express themselves.
So with all of the action and raunchy movies, what do you think that does for the future of film?
Well, I think those movies will always get made. You’ll have to scrounge around for independent financing and do foreign pre-sales and all of that stuff, and it’ll be very, very difficult to put those pictures together. They’re still going to get made because artists —whether they’re musicians or writers or painters or filmmakers — still want to express themselves. I don’t think you can really express yourself in the kinds of movies that you see at the studios now.
Because love and relationships are a lot less organic with technology and online dating, do you think that that will change the course of romantic films and how love stories are being told?
Yeah, I do. Because I think more people are using technology to meet each other. “You’ve Got Mail” was the first one that kind of dealt with the idea that you start communicating via the internet, rather than on a telephone or meeting somebody in person. So yes, I do think that will impact things. With “Her,” it’s about a virtual relationship. I think at the end of the day, people are still going to want to meet people. They may start the process through technology, but eventually you gotta see a person, feel a person and touch them. Feel their presence.
Absolutely. I’m hoping for, with Nora Ephron gone, more great romantic comedy directors. Obviously there’s you and there’s Nancy Meyers. Do you see any directors in the midst that are coming up the ladder at all?
There are always going to be some. Romance is the most important subject that we have. Love makes the world go round and everybody’s looking for love and wanting to meet somebody that they can spend their lives with and have meaningful lives together, so that’s always going to be there. And somebody will find a different way to tell the story.