In the raunchy comedy What’s Your Number?, Ally Darling (Anna Faris) has a bit of a crisis moment, when she reads a magazine article warning that people who have had 20 or more relationships have missed their chance at true love. At a point in her life when she doesn’t have the husband, job or life she thought she’d have, she sets out on a quest to find the best ex on her list. Reconnecting with the colorful and sometimes bizarre assortment of lovers from her past, hoping that one of them will be marriage material, leads to some hilariously wacky moments, all of which she shares with her partner in crime, her neighbor Colin (Chris Evans).
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, writing partners Gabrielle Allan and Jennifer Crittenden talked about what makes their collaboration work so well, sharing the same sense of humor about things, the desire to write an edgy female comedy, that the key to making raunchy acceptable for audiences is having likable characters you can invest in, and how they hope audiences will take away the message not to worry about your number, when they see the film. They also talked about the idea they’re currently developing for a TV show about an attempted comeback for an all-girl band from the ‘90s, and how they hope to direct in the future. Check out what they had to say after the jump:
GABRIELLE ALLAN: We both worked in TV, separately, for years. We just really met socially. I worked on Scrubs with a really close friend of Jen and her husband’s. But, we’d heard about each other for years. There are not a lot of female comedy writers, so everyone knows who the other ones are and we had always heard about each other.
JENNIFER CRITTENDEN: Yeah, I would hear about this Gabby Allan, and I’d be all jealous and like, “Who’s Gabby?” We immediately didn’t like each other, but once we got to know each other, we couldn’t deny that we did like each other.
ALLAN: Exactly, there was nothing to be afraid of. I know what drew me to Jen was that I just thought she was hilarious, and writing comedy by yourself is really hard and no fun. And, we were also at very similar places in our lives. We both had very small children, at the time, who were babies, and being on the staff of a TV show is pretty grueling. You’re there long hours. We both had wanted to make the shift into film, anyway. That was a life-long dream for both of us, and it seemed like the right time. Our lives were very parallel, in that way. We were both looking to make a shift, at the same exact time. Creatively, we are on the same page, and personally, we are also on the same page, and that really helps.
CRITTENDEN: We were both looking for a schedule that would improve our quality of life, and Gabby had a great idea for a spec, so we decided to write it together, and that was about seven years ago.
CRITTENDEN: I think we have the same sense of humor. I think our differences come more in attitude. What I find really wonderful about having a partner is that, when I get discouraged, she is not, and when she gets discouraged, I’m not. We really strengthen each other’s writing and we have the same voice and we find the same things funny, and that’s really wonderful. And, we’re also good at supporting each other through times that would normally be frustrating. I couldn’t write features alone. It’s very solitary. There are a lot of ups and downs. So, having a partner is really helpful, both for the comedy because it’s nice to hear somebody else laugh at your jokes, and just for the moral support also.
ALLAN: We’re both used to collaborating. When you’re in the writing room in TV, there’s usually 10 other people there, and it’s a real collaborative effort. Certainly, when you’re writing comedy, that’s really helpful. It just makes it more fun and really aides the creative process. It’s really no fun to do it by yourself. It’s very encouraging, and it’s nice to have someone to be honest with you. You might be thinking something is funny, and someone else will say, “You know what? It’s just not funny,” and you have to let it go. That’s helpful, too.
ALLAN: Yeah, we do. We have an office that we’ve decorated, basically like a college dorm room, and we sit on couches. We take turns typing and we look at a monitor. We do it all together. I know teams that split up the work and do it separately, and that works for them, but we really enjoy being together.
How did What’s Your Number? come about for you guys? Did you read this book and want to adapt it, or were you approached with the idea?
ALLAN: The book was owned by Beau Flynn and Trip Vinson, the producers, and they had a deal at New Line at the time, so it was in the opening writing assignments, which is this list of available jobs looking for writers. So, we read the tagline, and then our agent sent us the book. The book really made us laugh. We liked the story. And, we had also been wanting to write an edgy female comedy. We were going to write one on our own, anyway, but then we read the book and thought that it would be a really great jumping off point. We really loved the character. So, we had to go in and get the job, and we luckily did.
CRITTENDEN: We wanted to write a funny, edgy female comedy. We both really fell in love with the main character of the book, and Gabby called and said, “This is just the kind of fudgey comedy we’ve been wanting to write.”
ALLAN: I was nursing at the time. I had a very young baby, and I hadn’t slept in weeks. So, female and edgy turned into fudgey, and we decided that that’s what we would do.
CRITTENDEN: Well, the book is a road trip story, and we knew we wanted to make it a romantic comedy. We needed to change, structurally, so that Ally and Colin are together, instead of one being on the road. We needed to change the set-up. We basically used the character and her journey as the jumping off point, and the rest was made up from there. We wanted to use ex-boyfriends that we created. Some stuff from the book is in there, but then there’s also some stuff that we just invented on our own. We gave Colin a different personality because, for a romantic comedy, you need an obstacle for them. We needed him to have an obstacle, whereas in the book, he’s just a sweet guy.
ALLAN: Their obstacle in the book is that they’re not in the same town, so she’s looking for all these guys, and they’re not together. But, if they’re in the same room all the time, you need a reason why they’re not together.
CRITTENDEN: Yeah, so we tried to make him as much of a dog and a male whore as possible, so she would knwo that he wasn’t the one for her. And then, “Surprise, he is!”
ALLAN: No, we don’t prefer one of them over the other. I think it’s all about what the material is, and if it speaks to us and we think we can make it a movie. It’s really hard to adapt source material. I think you have to read it and have a vision about how you see it. Luckily, we felt like we had a vision for What’s Your Number?, but it just really depends on the material. We’re writing a spec right now that’s our own original idea, and that’s also really fun and gratifying. They both come with their own challenges and upsides.
CRITTENDEN: When you get to the end, you’ve invested enough that you feel a certain amount of ownership, whether it’s based on source material or not. Absolutely, this idea came from a novel and the novel is great in its own right, but we spent so many years working on it and loving it that it becomes your own.
ALLAN: Not that we’re saying we came up with it, but it becomes a part of you too, even though it comes from source material, and you have to take it on that way and feel like you’re creating something as well.
CRITTENDEN: Otherwise, it just feels like a job.
CRITTENDEN: The producers, from the get-go, wanted it to be R-rated. That was their intention, so it was never a question, and everyone was always fully supportive of the town that we took. It was actually supposed to come out before Bridesmaids, but they wanted to hold it because Chris Evans was going to be Captain America, and they thought having him in the movie would be a huge boost. So, they held the movie until after Captain America came out, which was also after Bridesmaids came out.
ALLAN: It’s coincidental that that came out first, but it didn’t have any baring on our rating. We shot in June of 2010, before Bridesmaids was shooting.
CRITTENDEN: The producers and the studio were always really supportive of the R rating.
Do you think the key to making raunchy acceptable for audiences is adding heart to it?
ALLAN: I think it’s all about your characters. If you’re characters are likable and you’re invested in them, if they’re being raunchy because it’s truthful, then it’s great. If they’re being raunchy just to be raunchy, and you don’t like them, sometimes that doesn’t work. For me, as an audience member, when I’m watching a raunchy, R-rated movie and I don’t like the people, and they’re being gratuitously raunchy, for no reason, and it’s not even really within the context, you don’t need it. What we were trying to do, which we hopefully achieved, was have them speak as we would speak, and have women speak how they do when they’re alone together. We weren’t trying to push the envelope. We just wanted to make it truthful, and that’s how it came out. Hopefully, you like Ally Darling. She’s a lovable character, and you’re rooting for her. I think they had that in Bridesmaids, too. There was heart. You were rooting for their friendship. Kristen Wiig’s character was so lovable, and so was Maya Rudolph’s character. I think that’s the difference with certain R-rated comedies. You don’t necessarily need to have them pull at your heartstrings, but you really need to like the people you’re watching.
CRITTENDEN: Yeah, I think that’s true, with both female and male characters. With The 40 Year Old Virgin, he was the sweetest guy in the world, surrounded by all that raunch, and you go with it because you’re invested in his journey. So, I think your question is a good one. We also lucked out because Anna Faris is the most lovable actress. She’s so beautiful and she’s so sweet. She could have slept with 500 men, and you’re ready to go on this journey with her.
Had you ever thought about your own number, or looking up one of your own exes, before reading this book?
ALLAN: I did. I don’t want to speak for Jen because she’s not as crazy as me, but I definitely did. I have looked up old boyfriends, and I was concerned about my number, at a certain point, but really only because I was very prude, and then had a real phase where I just went nuts. I had to cool it. It was just a lot of people, in a short amount of time, not that I think my number is so high, or that people should be concerned with their number. We truly don’t believe that anybody should give a shit about their number. But, the flawed part of me that cares about stuff like that, certainly cared. There was a time before I got married, where I was really trying to track down my kindergarten boyfriend.
CRITTENDEN: That wouldn’t change your number, though. You didn’t have sex when you were in kindergarten.
ALLAN: I know, but I wanted to see what had happened to him. I was very curious. I think it’s funny because it says so much about who you were, at the time, and who you are now. There are experiences and things that you put up with when you’re younger, that you wouldn’t put up with today. I think that says a lot about a character, to revisit those people, at certain points in your life.
CRITTENDEN: When Anna signed on to do the movie, we were ecstatic. There couldn’t have been a better person for that. She signed on first, and she’s basically the perfect person to play this character because of that vulnerability. I feel like she brings a real level of lovableness. We added a little more physical humor, once we found out that she was on board, because she’s so talented, that way. And then, once Chris was on board, we basically wanted him to be naked, the whole time. I’m actually kidding.
ALLAN: It was written like that, before Chris came on. We just got lucky. It could have been anybody.
CRITTENDEN: We knew from seeing the rehearsals that they were going to be incredible together, so we didn’t change the script so much, as we just knew it was going to be really special to see them together.
ALLAN: We felt very lucky that they both signed on, and incredibly lucky that, five days later, Chris became Captain America.
Was it a challenge to keep the film from feeling episodic, and deciding how many exes to show and how long to spend with each one?
CRITTENDEN: That’s a great question. That was always a struggle.
ALLAN: It’s still challenging. We’re still rewriting it, when we watch it.
CRITTENDEN: That was another switch from the novel because that way, by nature, episodic. It was one boyfriend after another. What we did to try to counteract that was develop the B-story with Ally’s parents and her sister’s wedding, and that whole backdrop, to give her journey a little context. Although, if it was up to Gabby and me, I think we would have wanted to see a lot more ex-boyfriends, just ‘cause they were so fun to write and cast. We got such great casting for those boyfriends, it was really a delight. But, that was always the challenge, to not make it seem like an endless series of sketches.
ALLAN: It was definitely a delicate balance between how much you showed. There were some we wanted to see more of. A romantic comedy needs to be short and sweet. You can’t spend that much time on those characters. I know that the director (Mark Mylod) had a challenge with cutting it because there was a lot in there that we wanted to use and just couldn’t.
ALLAN: One of the things we really hope they walk away with is that the message of the movie is not to worry about your number. Part of the flaw of Ally’s character is that she worries about it, at first. At the end of the movie, she’s no longer worrying about it. But, let’s be honest, we don’t really think she’s going to end up with that guy and that’s going to work out. He’s a dog. He’s going to break her heart and marry somebody else. So, she will raise her number. That’s what makes her a modern day heroine.
What do you think makes Ally a modern heroine?
ALLAN: She’s not looking to get married. She thinks she is, in the beginning, ‘cause all of her friends are, but you don’t have to do what all your friends are doing, if that’s not what’s in your heart. Ally’s journey is going to be a little bit different than the rest of the people that she’s around. She’s going to let herself date this dog for a little while, and maybe he could be the one, but most likely he’s not, and that doesn’t really matter. That’s why she’s a modern day heroine. She’s just going to enjoy herself and do what’s true to her heart. If it happens to be Colin then great, and if not, then she’ll be fine because she knows who she is now.
CRITTENDEN: She is one of those messy characters. We were really inspired by Bridget Jones. She’s not perfect. Her flaw is not that she’s too good. A lot of romantic comedies have these characters who are just so perfect at balancing everything, and Ally is a little bit of a mess and she’s more real than other characters I’ve seen. That’s what I think makes her somebody everybody can relate to.
ALLAN: Sometimes you do fall into bed with people for the wrong reasons. That happens. Or, you thought someone was someone that they weren’t. Most importantly, Ally changed her persona to fit with certain guys, her whole life, in order to make it work. What she learns is that, when she’s herself, she attracts the right kind of person for her. Whether it’s this guy or another guy, that doesn’t matter. The bigger lesson is that Ally learned to be herself through this experience and not change herself, in order to fit into somebody else’s lifestyle and life. Her lifestyle and life is enough. The strongest message in the film is probably that part of her journey.
CRITTENDEN: We’re so excited about it! We love the Go-Go’s and we love Spinal Tap, so we were figuring out a way to combine the two. That is a case of people being really excited about Bridesmaids, and it seemed like a good time to bring an idea like that out.
ALLAN: Also, just the idea of, “Where are they now?,” always fascinates us. What happens to a band, after they make it huge? If they disband, where do they go and what do they do? You usually hear about one of them, but you don’t know what happened to the rest of them. We just love the idea that you have to incorporate that into your everyday life, when you’re no longer a big rock star. Who are you, at that point? No matter what, it’s a part of you that you can’t let go of. If you’re 45 and you’re still dining out on the fact that you were a big rock star, for some that’s really cool, but for others, it can be really sad. But, Spinal Tap is one of our all-time favorite movies, so we were just inspired to do something with a group of women to incorporate that humor and that, “Where are they now?,” element. We’re really excited. We hope we get to cast it. We’re just writing it now, but we think about how super-fun it would be to cast. We can’t wait! We hope that all the women are juicy enough that people are going to want to play them.
CRITTENDEN: Yeah, all the roles are going to be good.
Do you know what you’re going to do next, feature wise, or are you just focused on the TV show right now?
CRITTENDEN: We’re finishing up a spec script that we wrote that was our own idea. And, we’d love to do another thing with Anna. We find her to be comedically talented and hilarious, so we’d love to do another project with her. And, TV is keeping us a little busy, too.
Are you guys looking to direct, at some point?
ALLAN: I think we’d like to direct.
CRITTENDEN: I think that would be a great thing to do. It’s definitely somewhere down the road for us.