A dream finally takes flight

Times Staff Writer

WITH the release Friday of the romantic comedy "My Super Ex-Girlfriend," Don Payne's longtime dream to write a feature film is finally coming true.

Payne, a staff writer for the last eight seasons on Fox's "The Simpsons," received his master's in screenwriting from UCLA with the intent of writing movies. But he got a bit sidetracked.

"I hooked up with a writing partner, John Frink, out of college," Payne explained. "I wanted to do films. He wanted to do television."

The team decided that whatever medium they landed a job in first was what they would pursue. And that ended up being the sitcom world, where they wrote for such series as "Hope & Gloria" and "The Brian Benben Show."

Trying to write a script while on staff at most sitcoms is nearly impossible. "You are working late nights and weekends," said Payne, who no longer writes with Frink. "It's terrible." But the "Simpsons" is run like a well-oiled machine. "So I had nights and weekends free."

Payne had written a few scripts on spec -- meaning he hadn't been hired to do one -- and one had even sold, but it never got made.

"Ex-Girlfriend" was a different story. It sold quickly. Veteran comedy director-producer Ivan Reitman of "Ghostbusters" and "Stripes" renown came on board as the director. And the script attracted Uma Thurman, Luke Wilson, Rainn Wilson, Eddie Izzard and Anna Faris.

There certainly isn't a romantic comedy like it currently in the theaters.

Luke Wilson plays Matt Saunders, a New Yorker who is looking for love in all the wrong places. But he believes his luck has changed when he meets the sweet Jenny Johnson (Thurman) on the subway.

Before long, however, Matt realizes there's something different about Jenny: She's incredibly strong and disappears suddenly whenever anyone is in danger in the Big Apple.

Jenny's not a bird. She's not a plane. She's actually Manhattan's own superhero, G-Girl. She also turns out to be needy and clingy, so Matt decides to break up with her and date a co-worker (Faris). Jenny doesn't exactly take his rejection lying down.

Rainn Wilson plays Matt's nerdy best friend, and Izzard is the villainous Professor Bedlam, who attended high school with Jenny.

"Ex-Girlfriend" is the first film Reitman has directed since 2001's disappointing "Evolution."

"It was time for me to go to work again," Reitman said. "It was time for me to stop hanging out in Santa Barbara. I sort of got distracted producing a bunch of movies. It's stupid because I love to direct. I loved this."

Reitman didn't see "Ex-Girlfriend" as a superhero movie. "I thought there was an opportunity to do a romantic comedy in a new way," he offered.

"It's not a comic book movie; there just happens to be a character looking for relationships and getting out of them who has super powers. I thought that's a very interesting, postmodern way to change the power dynamics and talk about how men and women are with each other. And mostly a great way to do comedy in a genre in which we know most of the moves all too well."

The superhero aspect of the plot was fueled by Payne's lifelong love of comic books.

"Much to my wife's chagrin, I am a superhero geek," Payne acknowledged. "Definitely growing up I was into comics and became a comedy writer as an adult, so I put the two things together. But I wanted to make a reality-based comedy with a superhero. I wanted to see if it was possible."

REITMAN toned down some of the fantastic elements of the original script. He eliminated a few superhero scenes and had Payne write a flashback to Jenny and Bedlam's relationship in high school.

Reitman said he got all of his first choices for the roles.

"Uma is so right," he said. "Who else would you cast? Not only is she 8 feet tall and looks gorgeous and has the hair, she has this wonderfully goofy quality to her. I thought if I could get a little bit of that in the character, it would be quite delightful."

Ditto Izzard as Bedlam, a high school nerd turned villain because of his unfulfilled longing for Jenny.

"It's not about him taking over the world," Reitman said. "It's really how men and women deal with each other and the tensions in relationships and getting over unrequited love."

Despite the fact that Jenny turns psychotic when Matt breaks up with her -- even throwing a live shark into his bedroom -- Payne said that Thurman made her sympathetic.

"As badly as she acts out and behaves, her emotions are real," Payne said. "She is super strong, super fast, but I think she's super needy and super vulnerable. Everybody is looking to be loved."

The writer was a welcomed presence on the set. "I had a blast on the set," he said. "I was like a kid in the candy store. Every single person's job was fascinating to me. It was a real learning experience."

Payne, who is still on staff at the long-running "The Simpsons," is finishing his latest draft to the sequel to "The Fantastic Four."

"That goes into production next month," he said. "It's been an incredibly busy period."

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