By Steven Zeitchik, Los Angeles Times –
LOS ANGELES — What if you were engaged to your professional partner and called off the wedding — but decided to keep working together anyway? It sounds like the setup for a romantic comedy, but it’s actually the real-life story of the writing duo behind the film “He’s Just Not That Into You” and the new breakout hit “The Vow.”
Directed by Michael Sucsy and released by Screen Gems, “The Vow” closed out a strong holiday weekend Monday with a four-day haul of $26.6 million, making it the most lucrative release of the young year ($88.5 million).
The relationships in the Rachel McAdams-Channing Tatum romantic drama, in which a man must court his amnesiac wife after she wakes from a coma and thinks she’s in love with her ex, are complicated enough. But the tale of writers Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein rivals anything their characters grapple with.
Kohn and Silverstein dated for seven years, then broke up in the early 2000s. They proceeded to get married to other people — she, in 2005, to music executive Jason Linn; he, two years later, to actress Busy Phillips. They each have daughters with their spouses. But they continue to collaborate on scripts about relationships and romance — in fact, they’ve found far more success since their breakup — as they practice what is surely one of the oddest professional relationships in a town filled with them.
“It’s a little weird,” said Kohn, speaking by phone in a joint interview with her writing partner, the two routinely finishing each other’s thoughts.
“Maybe more than a little weird,” Silverstein added.
“It’s not a simple thing to explain on a first date.”
Or, Kohn clarified, “On a third date.”
After meeting in film school at the University of Southern California and hooking up as both lovers and filmmaking partners, Kohn and Silverstein graduated and began writing feature scripts about relationships. Though only in their 20s, they sold a pitch, a back-to-school comedy titled “Never Been Kissed.” Within a year, the movie was shooting with Drew Barrymore. It was considered a respectable hit when it came out in 1999.
The years that followed were rougher. The pair toiled in television, watching as pilot deals came and went. Their relationship, in the meantime, began to intensify. They became engaged and began planning a wedding. Then they broke up.
Most couples would have ended their creative partnership at that point. But the breakup wasn’t messy, and besides, the two had more pressing concerns.
“When we decided not to get married, we were contractually obligated on a pilot,” Silverstein said. “So we figured we should try to work together.”
Kohn: “We had to do it.”
Silverstein: “It was not great.”
Kohn: “But it didn’t take that long for it to get normal again.”
They continued with that pilot, then others. At one point they even created a show, “Splitsville,” that was based on their own story, but it never became a series.
A few years ago, a break came. After numerous writers tried to adapt a self-help book called “He’s Just Not That Into You,” Kohn and Silverstein had the idea to turn it into an ensemble romance with overlapping characters. They were given the assignment, then watched as the movie went on to become a hit in February 2009.
Soon after, they did some work on “Valentine’s Day,” another ensemble romantic comedy. And then came “The Vow,” a movie on which they share credit with two other writers. The movie is Kohn’s and Silverstein’s third Valentine’s Day breakout in four years — all after they called it quits as a couple.
The two events, they say, might not be a coincidence. They speculate that they’re able in their scripts to cover the gamut of romantic experience — breakups and happy unions, expressed as both comedies and dramas — because they’d been through it all themselves.
Part of the inspiration for “The Vow,” in fact, came from a potential scenario in their own lives. “It was like ‘What would happen if somehow I forgot I was with my husband and thought I might still have feelings for Marc? How would my husband react?’” Kohn said.
The pair will now try to write an original script (much of their work to this point has been based on existing projects). They’re also set to start work this week on a rewrite of a comedy called “Mean Moms” that’s a sequel of sorts to “Mean Girls.”
“I think we have the best of both worlds,” Silverstein said. “I know a lot of writing teams that, as good friends as they are, still can’t say to each other what we can say to each other.”
Kohn: “There’s no tiptoeing with us.”
Silverstein: “We’ve already said the worst possible things to each other.”
Kohn: “Well, maybe not the worst.”