Confessions of a Rom-Com Writer: Liz Tuccillo Talks ‘Sex and the City,’ ‘Take Care,’ and More
What does a career writing about romance do to one’s own love life? A chat-turned-therapy-session with Sex and the City and He’s Just Not That Into You writer Liz Tuccillo.
In her Twitter profile bio, writer Liz Tuccillo calls herself a “relationship know-it-all.” She’s not being cute. She’s clarifying.
The world, apparently, was confused.
Famous for working as a story editor on Sex and the City (she wrote the iconic “The Post-It Always Sticks Twice”), co-writing the bestseller He’s Just Not That Into You, authoring the book How to Be Single, and penning and directing the upcoming indie rom-com Take Care, Liz Tuccillo has made a career writing about love, dating, and romance. But a life creating Hollywood romantic comedies does not make you a love doctor.
“I was mortified,” she recalls, recounting the press tour she went on to promote He’s Just Not That Into You. “People started introducing me as ‘relationship expert Liz Tuccillo,’ and I’d have to be like, ‘Ehh…I’m not really…’ It was all very embarrassing.”
“Relationship know-it-all” works, though.
As any writer will tell you—and which Tuccillo, dressed to the T in the New Yorker uniform: black-on-black topped with a black leather jacket, confirms over breakfast in the West Village—you write what you know. “So it ends up that I didn’t get married and have kids,” she says. “And I’m still in the world of looking for someone. I’m seeing someone right now, but in my life I’ve been looking. It’s a very specific place in your life, so it’s hard to write about something else when you’re still looking for it.”
Then, midway through breakfast, Tuccillo laughs. “This is like a therapy session.”
The occasion for the conversation-turned-therapy-session is the upcoming release of Take Care, Tuccillo’s indie film baby and directorial debut that she wrote.
But don’t let Tuccillo’s Sex and the City pedigree fool you. There are no Manolos in Take Care, nor is there a meet-cute, a grand entrance down a staircase, a makeover montage, or any of the formulaic beats that have become trademarks of the polarizing rom-com genre—a genre, she says, that has “gotten very stupid.”
Starring Leslie Bibb as a woman recently hit by a car and confined to her apartment to convalesce and Thomas Sadoski as her ex-boyfriend, Take Care is surprisingly intimate—it pretty much exclusively takes place in a small Manhattan apartment—and actually quite provocative in concept. Bibb’s character, Frannie, lost her job spending two years taking care of Sadoski’s character, Devon, when they were together and he had cancer. Now she’s at a low point, and her friends are too busy to care for her. Though she and Devon are broken up and he’s engaged to someone new, she wants the sacrifice returned.
“It’s that question, do people really show up for each other?” Tuccillo says. “With that, just the pondering of people piling up a lot of exes in their lives nowadays. People who share such huge parts of your life—when they’re gone, what do they mean to you? And do they owe you anything?”
Tuccillo says she relished the fact that it’s a small film, shot entirely in one apartment, features a lead actress who spends most of the movie unbathed instead of in designer gowns, and missing most of the trappings of a rom-com cliché. But she still wants to make the point that it is still a romantic comedy, in the way that the definition of that term is evolving.
“When I say it’s a romantic comedy I hesitate, because to me romantic comedy means it’s with Jennifer Lopez or Katherine Heigl and there’s huge set pieces and everybody’s running down the street to meet somebody or jumping out of airplanes or into the pool,” she says. “I wanted to make a romantic comedy that was very real and very grounded and relatable. The film is so low-budget that I don’t think anyone expects to see a character galloping down the street on a white horse.”
In fact, you’ll almost never see a white horse—in neither the literal nor metaphorical sense—galloping in any of Tuccillo’s work.
That makes sense, considering her roots on Sex and the City, a series in which the characters reached incessant versions of happily ever afters, but with none of those endings ever gifted to them tied with a perfect bow. There was always darkness and a little mess, both on the way and in the end. “I love how the show always had hopeful, optimistic stories, but always making sure that nothing’s perfect or as expected.”
It’s remarkable, too, that given all of the grand, sweeping moments of romance that Carrie Bradshaw and her brood of Cosmo-swillers encountered on the streets of Manhattan, arguably the show’s most memorable episode is about a breakup.
“The Post-It Always Sticks Twice,” should you need reminding, takes place the morning after Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) reunites with her boyfriend Berger (Ron Livingston), only to find he left in the middle of the night, leaving only a post-it note: “I’m Sorry. I Can’t. Don’t Hate Me.” The rest of the episode follows Carrie spreading the gospel of her indignance over the thoughtless goodbye. Sex and the City fans were right behind her, ready to preach.
“Everyone wants to talk about terrible breakups,” Tuccillo says, when asked to surmise the episode’s popularity. “Breakups are horrible, they’re relatable, and people do them badly. Everyone has a story of a terrible breakup.” But seriously, a post-it? “All the writers pitched our worst ones and then came up with the most dismissive way you could break up with someone: it’s not even a piece of paper, it’s a post-it.”
But, as the “relationship know-it-all” soon learned, it’s not just breakups that people are dying to talk about. It’s anything about their relationships—particularly insecurities—and to anyone—particularly strangers. Take the press tour for He’s Just Not That Into You, for example.
“We would be getting ushered into a TV interview at the Today show, and the woman on the headphones and the clipboard would be like, ‘Listen I have this boyfriend and he doesn’t call me,’” Tuccillo remembers. “And then we’d get on air and Katie Couric would interview us and when it was over she’s be like, ‘Listen, here’s the thing about men…’ And then want to talk about her relationship.”
And there was one resounding truth, too: “If you’re having to ask a stranger, he’s not into you”
At first blush, you’d think that someone who spent her career writing about love would be a hopeless romantic, but surveying Tuccillo’s most famous work—about a breakup—and especially the book titles—He’s Just Not That Into You, How to Be Single—and it suggests that she might be exactly the opposite.
“I fall very much on the pessimistic spectrum, in the sense that I get very confused about it,” she says. The “hopeless romantic” idea that there’s a lid for every pot and soul mate for all of us? “I get really mad that we still tell people that.” It’s not as if people apply the same blind optimism to finding the perfect job, or attaining life-long perfect health.
“I find meeting someone that you fall in love with and are going to be with for the rest of your life a miracle. So that’s one half,” she says. “The other is: it does seem like most people are getting married and having children, so it must not be that hard. So I’m a little confused.”
There are things that she’s less confused about, however, like her desire to branch out of the rom-com niche she’s gotten herself into thus far in her career. Earlier this week, it was announced that she’d be writing a new NBC series, currently in development, with Lauren Graham (Gilmore Girls) about a late-night female talk show host. She’s also working on a FX series based on the book I See You Made an Effort: Compliments, Indignities, and Survival Stories From the Edge of 50, about women turning the big 5-0.
“I think what happens is the natural progression, where you get married and have kids and then you want to start writing about motherhood, because it’s so insane,” she says. “That’s why my friends are doing. A lot of people who wrote for Sex and the City have gone to write about marriage and motherhood.”
On her own path, though, the “relationship know-it-all” is embracing her own, different natural progression. “There’s a lot of things that you want to explore,” she says, “that has nothing to do with being single.”