En route to Sundance, I was thinking about last year’s favorite, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, and how storytellers tell the most heartwarming stories like Little Miss Sunshine, Juno, Billy Elliot, Six Feet Under, and Sense and Sensibility. What do all of these stories have in common?
These heartwarming stories are serious family dramas with comic overtones, where the hero doesn’t necessarily attain her goal but experiences an emotional or spiritual triumph at the end.
I call these stories “human comedies” because the comedy is subtly interwoven into the intense family drama, and they deal with deep themes about life, death and survival.
Renowned “Sense and Sensibility” producer and script doctor Lindsay Doran calls the audience’s response to these stories “laughter from the heart.”
In her “Psychology of Storytelling” talk, Lindsay Doran adds that the stories that have the hero achieving her goal are not often as meaningful for the audience as stories when the hero reconciles with the people she loves.
This is often the case with human comedies like “Little Miss Sunshine” when Olive (Abigail Breslin) doesn’t win the contest but her performance is so inspired that her stick-in- the-mud father Richard (Greg Kinnear) realizes that winning isn’t everything and starts dancing with his family.
If you wish to explore these heartwarming stories further, here is a list of 41 elements that are special to this genre — and I’m happy to clarify any of these aspects for you: firstname.lastname@example.org.