‘Your Place or Mine’ Writer Aline Brosh McKenna on Creating Modern Romantic Leads
February 19, 2023
If you love writing romantic comedies, you’re in luck - they are making their way back to the audiences that adore them. While recent titles like Ticket to Paradise (starring Julia Roberts and George Clooney), The Lost City (starring Sandra Bullock) and Maybe I Do (starring Diane Keaton and Richard Geer) have been steadily making their way back into theaters, it’s the streamers that are doubling down on rom-coms.
Amazon Prime’s Shotgun Wedding (starring Jennifer Lopez), Netflix’s You People (starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and now, Your Place or Mine (Starring Reese Witherspoon and Ashton Kutcher) are following the rule of big star = big stream. But does Witherspoon still have what it takes to charm a worldwide audience? Hell yeah! Your Place or Mine is currently the number one film on Netflix!
Your Place or Mine is written and directed by Aline Brosh McKenna, a stellar writer known for such great films as The Devil Wears Prada, Cruella and 27 Dresses. We sat down with Brosh McKenna to find out more about the ins and outs of writing the modern rom-com and where to find inspiration.
In the film, Debbie (Reese Witherspoon) and Peter (Ashton Kutcher) are currently long-distance best friends ever since they had a casual hookup some 20 years ago. When they swap houses and lives for a week – hers, a cozy house in a verdant Los Angeles that includes a 13-year-old son; his, a sleek, masculine New York apartment overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge (yes, a metaphor for two lonely souls coming together) – they discover that the love and romance they seek may have been living dormant within each other all this time. The movie asks the central question: Are Debbie and Peter finally ready to bridge the gap between their independent lives, take a risk and come home to each other?
Brosh McKenna says the story was inspired when she stayed for a week in a male friend’s apartment who was a confirmed bachelor. His life seemed so different than hers and she loved the fantasy of living someone else’s lifestyle for a short period of time. She also thought it would be a great premise for a film.
“I always thought of it like a body switching movie without actually switching the bodies,” says Brosh McKenna. “What’s in their house, the way they live, what’s in their fridge, how they dress, how they get around, all that stuff – I tried to show the contrast as much as I could,” she says.
Perhaps another character in the movie is that of technology, existing like a digital cupid. Living on opposite coasts, Debbie and Peter wouldn’t be able to have such a close relationship without FaceTime or video chats. It’s something most of us take for granted post-pandemic.
“I was interested in how we maintain relationships over technology – how well do you actually know the person? How much are you really connecting?” says Brosh McKenna. “They wouldn’t have been able to have this relationship before all these means of technology were created. I started writing the script in 2019 so I had no idea quite how dependent on that stuff we were going to become.”
Funny how life often imitates art. But beyond the external obstacle that physical distance creates for Debbie and Peter, Brosh McKenna wanted to create internal obstacles for the star-crossed lovers, too.
“A lot of what’s holding Debbie back is her internal idea of who she’s supposed to be. Peter thinks he’s not good enough for her and in a certain way, she thinks she’s not good enough for him. It’s really these obstacles they put up for themselves emotionally. I tried to make sure the audience is always following along and understand what those conflicts are. I think people’s conflicts are mostly internal not external,” she says.
When it comes to following the so-called genre rules of a rom-com, Brosh McKenna prefers to follow her own instincts. “Writing a rom-com is just basic storytelling. You have the genre conceits there as sort of a guard rail. Whenever you write anything, the genre is there to inform the storytelling,” she says. But society and rom-coms are more progressive these days and the rules a lot less rigid – especially when dealing with an older protagonist.
“Debbie’s not 25, she’s 45. If she was excessively chaste it wouldn’t make any sense. It’s a different type of heroine. She’s older, has more experience, has a child and isn’t necessarily some kind of chaste, virginal figure.”
To create Debbie, Brosh McKenna’s inspiration came from the female characters in rom-coms from the 1930s and 40s, the films that starred Irene Dunn, Katherine Hepburn, Rosalind Russell and Claudette Colbert.
“The women in those movies are equals, they’re not sad sacks. Those were the movies that made me fall in love with romantic comedies. Those characters have a strong point of view, they are equal to the men and there is a lot to be mined from their strength and equality,” she says.
She also wanted to give a complexity and decency to Peter’s character that would be relatable to the men of 2023. “I wanted to show a man who doesn’t need to be parented. He’s not an overgrown man-child who doesn’t know how to make an egg. He’s a fully grown adult – he just has these internal obstacles about things he’s internalized about why he’s not a suitable romantic partner. I think a lot of times we see men in these stories as being evil womanizers or overgrown man-children. I really wanted to show a capable gown up who just has some erroneous beliefs about himself,” she says.
In terms of advice for writing a modern rom-com, Brosh McKenna says it’s not necessary to look to the past. “I think there’s so much interesting stuff going on today about how we fall in love and how we meet each other, so I don’t think you need to look at movies so much as just look around at your life and your friends and what you’re experiencing.”
That’s some great advice. Your Place or Mine is currently streaming on Netflix.
Written by: Shanee EdwardsShanee Edwards is an L.A.-based screenwriter, journalist and novelist who recently won The Next MacGyver television writing competition to create a TV show about a female engineer and was honored to be mentored by actress/producers America Ferrera. Shanee's first novel, Ada Lovelace: The Countess Who Dreamed in Numbers was published by Conrad Press in 2019. Currently, she is working on a biopic of controversial nurse Florence Nightingale. Shanee’s ultimate goal is to tell stories about strong, spirited women whose passion, humor and courage inspire us all.
- Women in Film