Thursday, May 14, 2009

You Again

Genre: Comedy
Premise: A girl finds out that her brother is marrying the bee-atch who made her life a living hell in high school.
About: "You Again" sold to Disney last month, will star Kristin Bell and be directed by Andy Fickman (Race To Witch Mountain).
Writers: Moe Jelline, revisions by Dave Johnson, further revisions by Moe Jelline

It's been awhile since I've read a script that started off so promising then fell apart so quickly. This could've been a younger hipper version of Meet The Parents, but instead becomes a formless farce of prat falls and spit takes.

Marni is a former high school dweeb who spent her entire teenage existence getting tortured by super-popular Nazi-bitch-from-hell, JJ. But once she enters the real world, Marni's determination helps her land a public relations job at one of the top PR firms in New York, and after eight years, high school is nothing but a memory. So when Marni goes home for her brother's unexpected wedding, imagine her surprise when she finds out he's marrying super-popular Nazi-Bitch-From-Hell JJ (now Joanna). Marni, who's not only terrified of being pushed back into the "nerd" role, must also decide whether to tell her brother the truth about who Joanna was (and probably still is).

I enjoyed this early scene, where Marni and Joanna meet for the first time since high school.

Gail stands at the kitchen island watching JOANNA GOLDMAN (25), aka JJ Freeman, dicing a tomato with the knife.

She’s a vision of perfection. A refined woman oozing with self confidence.

Then you simply finish it like this.

She’s carved the tomato into a DECORATIVE FLOWER DESIGN.

How beautiful, Joanna.

It’s nothing compared to this beautiful spread. I can’t believe you made all this food. You’re amazing.

REVEAL ten impressive platters of food on the counter.

Well, I didn’t know what kind of food your aunt liked, so I just made a little of everything. It was nothing.

Just then, Wade enters with Marni in tow...

Look who I found...

Joanna and Marni make eye contact. After a long beat...

Marni. Marni. Marni.

Are those tears in Joanna’s eyes?

Oh, Marni. I’ve waited so long for this moment and finally it’s here.

You waited so long?

There’s just so much to say.

I know. Believe me, I know.

But first, let me say...

Could this be it? The big apology?


Wait for it... Wait for it...

...nice it is to finally meet you.

Marni’s JAW DROPS. Say what?

Excuse me?

Wade's told me so much about you, but now here you are. In the flesh.


I can’t wait to spend the next four days learning all about my new sister.

Joanna EMBRACES Marni, who is too stunned to hug back.
Not a bad little twist if I do say so myself. Instead of the fireworks happening right away, we get a little mystery. Does Joanna really not remember Marni? Or is she lying to protect her wedding? Of course we think she's lying. Of course Marni thinks she's lying. But there's just enough doubt to keep us wondering, and the mystery inspires a bunch of wonderful subtext-heavy scenes between the two . Up til this point in the script, I was prepared to declare this the de facto standard for how to execute a high concept idea.

And then You Again goes off and becomes The Three Stooges. I honestly can't remember a script changing on a dime this fast. We go from an intriguing thoughtful comedy to an 8 minute slapstick dance scene that has nothing to do with the story and everything to do with someone who's watched too many episodes of Dancing With The Stars. We then move to Marni getting drenched in a sprinkler scene as she halfway tries to protect Joanna's dress, to Marni's mom accidentally dropping Joanna's Aunt's expensive ring down the sink. Yes, we actually get a ring down the kitchen sink scene. It's a radical change in tone that pretty much lasts the rest of the script.

But the biggest mistake You Again makes is creating an entire sub-plot that involves Marni's mom dueling with Joanna's aunt (the two also went to high school together) that's not nearly as funny or interesting as the main plot, and can be argued takes up just as much screen time. Marni and JJ are the draw here. Every second we're away from them feels like stalling.

If you're interested in this premise, you should check out Brad Cutter Ruined My Life Again in my Top 25 list. It's about a former high-school nerd turned company star who finds out that the most popular guy from high school has just been hired into the company. I don't think I've ever read a script that delivers more on the promise of the premise than that one. It's a great read.

To sum up, I feel like two voices are fighting for direction of the script here and as a result, it feels off. You gotta go all one way or all the other. I'd go with the thoughtful comedy. Leave the wacky hijinx for Scary Movie 8.

[ ] trash
[x] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: I think we as writers get a little too wrapped up in what we think the studios want us to do. In a light-hearted movie like this, we assume that the story *has* to end with a wedding. And we write everything around that. But in doing so, we restrict ourselves from exploring much more interesting choices. In You Again, there was never any doubt that Wade and Joanna would end up together. For that reason, they always had to write Joanna really safe because if she was *too much of a bitch* we wouldn't buy Marni sticking up for in the end. But had you opened yourself up to an ending where Wade and Joanna didn't end up together, you could've made Joanna the secret bitch from hell, playing the devil to Marni and the angel to Wade. I think that direction held a lot more comedic potential. Whether you agree with me or not, it's always good to leave yourself open to every story idea, even if it goes against the ending or character or scene or line that you originally conceived. Never set anything in stone. It could open up a whole new avenue of ideas for you.