To use an old cliche: ideas are a dime a dozen.
Truth is, there aren’t all that many ideas to spare. How many times
have we seen the same story over and over again, dressed up in new
A man is accused of murdering his wife, escapes custody and hunts
down the real killer.
A daughter commits suicide but her mother thinks
it was murder.
Two young teenagers go on a killing spree.
A house/car/insane asylum/ship/airplane/cave is haunted by ghosts. A man/woman/boy/girl/dog/cat is possessed by evil spirits.
A husband/wife/daughter/son is kidnapped and the spouse/mother/father risks his or
her life to save them.
A man and a woman meet, hate each other, fall in love, break apart
after a huge misunderstanding and finally get back together again.
That last is the plot of many romance books and countless romantic comedy movies.
And you know what? It doesn’t matter that these ideas are constantly recycled. Because, as numerous writers have pointed out in my lifetime, it’s not the idea that counts, but the execution.
Or as The Swallows once sang:
It ain’t the meat it’s the motion
That makes your daddy wanna rock
It ain’t the meat it’s the motion
It’s the movement, it isn’t the stock
For example, let’s take a look at movies. I choose movies over books
for the simple reason that a) I love them as much as books (but in a
different way); and b) it’s much easier to find people who have all
seen the same movie.
If we go back to the romantic comedy example — the meet, fall in
love, break up, get back together plot line — we could, as I said,
point to just about every romantic comedy ever made.
But which ones do we remember?
WHEN HARRY MET SALLY comes to mind. Not because it’s my daughter’s
favorite movie of all time (she can quote entire passages of dialog),
but because it was a huge, huge hit for everyone involved and most of
us have seen it.
But it also comes to mind for another, all important reason: it is a beautifully written, beautifully executed movie.
Harry and Sally meet while they’re on the road to New York. Harry’s
very opinionated about women and relationships, Sally’s a picky,
high-maintenance girl who thinks he’s a jerk and they part ways not
liking each other much.
A few years and a couple of relationships later, they meet again in
an airport, wind up sitting together on a plane and Harry once again
demonstrates what an opinionated jerk he is — only he’s a little more
endearing than he was before.
They part ways, only to meet again a couple years later in a
bookstore. Next thing you know they’re hanging out together, become
great friends and — unknown to both of them, of course, but obvious as
all hell to the audience — they begin falling in love.
In the middle of a personal crisis, they finally succumb to their
attraction and sleep together. Only Harry, being afraid of commitment,
freaks out a little and Sally, sensing his hesitation gets pissed and
they stop seeing each other.
The story continues along the usual romantic comedy path, and the
two eventually wind up together after Harry races to a New Year’s Eve
party to find Sally. And here is an example of where the execution is
Sally at first rejects him. She’s not his consolation prize. But as
people are counting down to the new year around them, Harry,
desperately in love and wanting to win her over, goes into a speech
naming every quirk that Sally has and how much he loves those quirks
and wants to be with her for the rest of his life.
Sally, pissed off, tears in her eyes, just looks at him and says,
“Now, you see? It’s just like you, Harry, to make it impossible for me
to hate you. And I hate you, Harry. I really hate you.”
And then they kiss.
That, my friends, is genius execution. And with a movie filled with this kind of execution it’s no wonder that people love it.
It ain’t the meat, it’s the motion that makes your daddy wanna rock.
So what are your favorite examples of same old plot but GREAT execution?