Showing Intimacy between Characters

Two Weeks Notice is an average romantic comedy in which Sandra Bullock plays a lawyer Lucy (a brilliant tofu-eating liberal) who agrees to work for George, a lazy, self-indulgent playboy, played by Hugh Grant at his corporation. After working for him for several months, she becomes so annoyed with being more like his personal nanny than his lawyer that she tries to quit.

As I said, the movie is average. Both leads are funny and charming and they play well enough off of each other to keep things entertaining. (The movie also has one of my favorite movie lines, when Lucy declares that she’s going to quit. George says he’s become addicted to her opinion and needs to know what she thinks. He holds up a pair of cuff links and asks, “What do you think?” She replies, “George, I think you’re the most selfish person in the entire world.” He replies, “Well, that’s just silly. Have you met everyone in the entire world?” Classic.) However, I never can’t quite buy their relationship fully. I know opposites attract is the point of many romantic comedies, but sometimes the connection isn’t always there.

But that’s not the point of my post.

While Two Weeks Notice is far from a perfect romantic comedy, it does have one scene that perfectly shows intimacy between the two characters. I don’t mean sexual intimacy. I mean the kind of intimacy that comes about when two (or more) people spend so much time together that they come to be very comfortable in each other’s presence.

At one point in Two Weeks Notice, about a third of the way through, Lucy and George sit down to an otherwise uneventful business lunch together. The conversation between the two of them is unmemorable, the same kind of “this meeting is when” conversation that anyone would have. What’s important is what they do while they are talking.

The waiter brings over their plates of salad — they both have the same thing — and without hesitation Lucy reaches over and takes the crispy noodles off of George’s salad. Once she’s done, George reaches over and takes the beets off of Lucy’s salad. Just like that.

I would never take food off of my boss’s plate without asking. I wouldn’t even take food off of a good friend’s plate without asking, and even then I would feel shy and embarrassed just by asking. But with my brothers and sisters, whom I’ve known just about all my life on the other hand, I would have no problem reaching over to take something off their plate.

Having Lucy and George share their food in such a manner makes it instantly clear that these two people know each other very, very well. So well that they are completely comfortable around each other and in their interactions.

When my friend, Jordan Dobbs Rosa and I were working on the script for Firecracker together (he plays the firecracker salesman, btw), he came up with the idea of having our MC reach over, take her boyfriend’s sunglasses off of his face, and put them on herself. “It’s that kind of gross intimacy,” Jordan said. “It’s when you know two people have been together too long.”

I don’t know about gross (sometimes I think it’s cute), but it definitely shows that two people have known each other a long time. That bubble of “this is my space / this is your space” is broken and becomes closer to “this is our space” or at least “this is communal space.”

It helps to remember this kind of thing when writing stories in which you have characters who know each other well. These little seemingly insignificant actions are excellent ways to show that they are comfortable with each other without saying so.

What are some movies or books you’ve seen that show this kind of comfortable intimacy well? How have you approached showing intimacy in your own stories?

[Cross-posted to my livejournal.]