Dialogue: 'The Pill' Director J.C. Khoury on Redefining the Rom-Com and Creating a Festival Hit

Dialogue: 'The Pill' Director J.C. Khoury on Redefining the Rom-Com and Creating a Festival Hit

Jul 08, 2011

What happens when a one-night-stand turns into your worst nightmare? When strangers Fred (Noah Bean) and Mindy (Rachel Boston) drink themselves into a booze-fueled night of passion, things get complicated when Fred realizes he didn't wear a condom and she's not using any birth control. Freaked out and afraid she might be pregnant, Fred convinces Mindy to take the Morning After pill. However, he soon realizes that she has to take two pills, 12 hours apart, which means Fred must spend the entire day pretending to like a girl he doesn't know or want to know just so he can get her to take the other pill.

Last month The Pill enjoyed its world premiere at the Gen Art Film Festival, capturing the fest's all-too-important audience award, while at the same time injecting a bit of life into a dying genre. Let's face it: Romantic comedies aren't going anywhere anytime soon, but the lack of originality and risk-taking is seriously hurting the genre. With so many movies squeezing out the same cookie-cutter formula (one usually involving a man and a woman who hate each other, but later learn that love was in front of them the entire time), more and more moviegoers are losing faith in the rom-com.

Up-and-coming director J.C. Khoury recognized the genre's decline and decided to write and direct a rom-com that took a bit of a different approach by creating a situation so close to real life it's almost painful to watch. Not only is it painful, but the characters aren't very likable. They lie, they cheat, they're selfish ... but they're just like everyone else. The Pill works because it comes from a very real place, and while it may be uncomfortable to watch (and extremely hard to sympathize with its lead characters), it's hard not to admire the film's fresh approach and willingness to take risks.

We chatted briefly with director J.C. Khoury about the film, it's unique approach and which romantic comedies he thinks actually got it right.

Movies.com: The film takes some risks in the way it portrays real life and how people would really react in a situation. Why take those risks instead of giving the audience what they've come to expect from most rom-coms?

JCK: The romantic comedy genre is on life support at this point. Most of the comedies and rom-coms that come out lack verisimilitude, have little correlation to the real world, and are devoid of emotional truth. How many times do you see a waiter living in a 3000 square foot Soho loft in a movie? It’s ridiculous. In the past, filmmakers and distributors were a bit more confident and they didn’t pander to the audience, they challenged them with films in all genres. Bonnie & Clyde, Heartburn, Carnal Knowledge, War of the Roses, Tootsie, In the Company of Men, Kissing Jessica Stein, and more recently Humpday, and The Break-Up all pushed the envelope, sometimes making audiences feel uncomfortable.

But I think that’s necessary to hook an audience and touch a generational nerve. Even though people shy away from publicly admitting to doing uncomfortable things or making choices that are deemed socially awkward, if you show those situations and choices on the big screen, and if you can get an audience to empathize with the characters and believably show how the characters got stuck in that situation, people will connect to it. Most romantic comedies don’t want to point the mirror back at the audience; they paint an idyllic world where the protagonists are always “likable” and the character’s goals are straightforward and involve “getting the girl.” Real life is a lot more complicated than that and humans spend most of their life trying to figure out what they want, tip toeing around stuff as opposed to making concrete, life changing decisions. I felt it was worth taking a risk and showing a more complex and realistic side of human behavior that hadn’t been sufficiently exploited in standard rom-coms.

Movies.com: Give us a few romantic comedies that you feel actually get it right.

JCK: The most recent film to get it right was The Break-Up. This is a polarizing movie, and some people who’ve seen it, hate it. The same goes for War of the Roses, though I’m not sure if it falls under the romantic comedy genre. These films come from a place of emotional truth, and the truth hurts. Most rom-coms end with the characters getting hitched, but in reality the hard work begins when a couple says “I do,” and these films had the guts to explore the dissolution of a relationship in a funny way.

2 Days in Paris is another recent film that is emotionally true and filled with great awkward social situations. Both of the characters inhabit a moral gray zone and they are telling white lies and concealing things from each other throughout the film. Relationships in real life are full of this stuff and this film isn’t afraid to show an unflattering part of human behavior, while still maintaining a cute and funny rom-com vibe.

The Apartment is possibly the greatest romantic comedy of all time. Some Like it Hot is not far behind. These movies just nailed it in every department. They’re high concept but feel true and real. The writing, acting, and directing still feels fresh fifty years later which proves these films were ahead of their time.

I would also add As Good As It Gets to my list of great romantic comedies because Jack Nicholson is as good as it gets in the film. The film takes an unlikable prick and gets the audience to empathize and root for him. That's filmmaking.

Movies.com: Any heat on the movie yet from distributors?

JCK: After the critics responded very favorably and I started winning awards on the festival circuit (a Grand Jury Award Honorable Mention from Dances With Films and the Audience Award from the Gen Art Film Festival), there has been a lot of distributor interest and I’m hoping to get the film out in theaters later this year.

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