For Charlie Darby, love is intimately linked with lunacy.
From the outside, the grade-school principal in the movie "Lovesick" — played by actor Matt LeBlanc — has everything: a great circle of friends, a supportive family and a satisfying job. All that's missing is a relationship.
He seems to have trouble in that department because while he is perfectly sane, it's a different story when he falls in love.
Although not biographical, the story is based loosely on the experiences of Bel Air-based writer Dean Young.
"The idea came from my own life," he said. "I fell in love and went a little bit — or a lot — crazy. I started to read about the subject and found out that it's a bit of a psychological phenomenon, where certain people go a little crazy when they fall in love."
Although this condition, if you would, doesn't have a name, it causes the brain chemistry to change. And Young finds that creative types with rich imaginations are prone to envision scenarios that don't exist.
The veteran comedy writer has written for "The Drew Carey Show," "Mad About You" and other shows. "Lovesick," which he penned in about a month four years ago, is his first attempt at a feature film.
The 84-minute romantic comedy, whose cast includes Ali Larter, Chevy Chase, Adam Rodriguez, Kristen Johnston, Rachel Harris and Ashley Williams, is slated to premiere at the 15th annual Newport Beach Film Festival at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. It will be shown at Edwards Big Newport 6, followed by an opening-night gala co-hosted by Esquire magazine for those 21 and older at Fashion Island.
It was the idea of Josh Goldstein, one of the film's producers, to submit "Lovesick" to the film festival. Although he currently resides in Rancho Palos Verdes with his family, the 38-year-old grew up in Tustin Hills and studied at Foothill High School.
"I was the one that pushed that because I came from Orange County — Newport Beach has always been my home court, so having the premiere there is very special," he said. "My family still lives down there. My close friends live down there. So being able to tell everyone I grew up with that I'm coming back home to showcase this movie was a great moment. I'm so glad it worked out."
As is often the case with independent films made on a shoestring budget, post-production just ended recently, Goldstein said, and so the movie was submitted only about a month ago. The team was overjoyed when "Lovesick" made the cut.
Not only is the opening-night slot an honor, he added, but so is the fact that "Lovesick" will be in the spotlight for the subsequent reception, where nearly 3,000 people are likely to be in attendance.
"I stopped by the theater to drop off the master, and it seats 1,100 people," Goldstein remarked. "It's crazy because it's so big."
Gregg Schwenk, festival chief executive and co-founder, said his team had been tracking "Lovesick" for several months, going back and forth with the producers regarding its completion.
"We were one of the first groups to see a full, completed version and felt it would be the perfect fit for opening night in that it's an independent romantic comedy, highlights the strengths of the actors and the behind-the-scenes talent — like the director, producer, cinematographer and writer — and also has a local component with Josh being from Orange County," he said.
Schwenk added there were other serious contenders to kick off the festivities, but "Lovesick" had always been at the top of the list.
Luke Matheny, the film's director, recalled receiving the script in 2011 and being "totally charmed."
"I appreciated how the script was so sweet and funny and romantic but also didn't shy away from the more troubling aspects of the hero's very serious psychiatric condition," the Angeleno said. "A movie is generally going to be no more than 15% better or worse than the script. These figures are ballpark, obviously, but I think I'm close."
Although proud of the other actors, music and San Pedro setting, Matheny, 37, is most excited about LeBlanc's performance. The role has humorous and lighthearted ingredients that evoke Joey Tribbiani, LeBlanc's character on the long-running TV sitcom "Friends," but also includes a complexity and maturity that he hopes will move audiences.
LeBlanc was the first actor who signed on to "Lovesick," but others quickly followed.
Thinking back to the monthlong shoot, Goldstein recalled that the actor, also seen in the British-American sitcom "Episodes," was on set all day, every day, showing up on time each morning having memorized all his lines.
"We did the job and had a great time," he noted. "I feel like we created an environment in which everyone had fun doing something that they love."
Young found that many people with whom he discussed the film's concept had been in similar situations — overwhelmed by jealousy and nagged by insecurity and paranoia, to the point of needing to read their partners' texts and emails. Some described competing with an imaginary enemy for the attention of their paramour.
"I wanted to write a funny but also relatable romantic comedy," he said. "I wanted to write something that people can watch and say, 'Hey, I've been there' or 'My friend has been there.' That was the impetus for writing it, and I think it makes a great movie because you can empathize with the lead character."
In retrospect, Young believes that the advantage of working on an independent movie was that he, as the writer, did not simply provide the script and walk away. He was involved in the process — to the point of driving his colleagues crazy, he quipped — and was able to tweak scenes and jokes on the fly when needed.
There's an immediacy in the television business, Young said, inasmuch as he could be watching his work from his couch within four to five weeks of writing it. Since "Lovesick" was written on spec, he had no idea if anyone would ever see it.
"When you're writing the movie, of course you want it to be made, but you don't have any assurance that it will," he said. "So it was a great experience that the movie got made, and it's an even better experience to be able to sit in a theater with an audience and be part of it while they are watching your work."
If You Go
What: "Lovesick" and opening night gala