Monday, June 22, 2009

Danny Graves' Man Cave

Genre: Comedy
Premise: A family man on the verge of a mid-life crisis turns his basement into a "man-cave", complete with all the amenities every man needs. Later he discovers a hidden passage in the cave that takes him into an alternate reality male dreamworld.
About: Man Cave was picked up by Sony in April. Joe Roth will produce. Lutz and Isser have another project set up at Intrepid called "Park Narcs," a comedy about park rangers.
Writer: Jacob Isser & Paul Lutz

I admit it. I'm a sucker for "Guy feels lost and tries to change his life" movies. Why? Oh, I don't know. Maybe because I feel that way every other week! The idea of someone taking charge and doing something about their problem is inspiring because normally, in real life, all we do is sit around and bitch about it. We never actually do anything to change our circumstances. The title "Danny Graves' Man Cave" doesn't exactly inspire thoughts of a contemplative exploration of what it means to be a man, but that's kind of what Man Cave is about. Does it succeed? I don't know if I'd go that far, but it's definitely more ambitious than your average comedy. For a script I expected to be a 2 hour beer commercial, getting this unexpectedly complicated look at life was a nice surprise.

Danny Graves is a somewhat-loving husband to his wife Alison, and a serviceable dad to his weird elementary school son, Lucas. But things have been deteriorating in Danny's life lately and he's starting to wonder, "Is this all there is?" In a random trip into his basement, a trip that gives him some much-needed downtime- he sees...the light. A cave. A MAN cave. No women allowed. No children allowed. No work allowed. Just peace, beer, and TV. A utopia to celebrate owning a penis.

Upon completion of his Mantopia, Danny discovers a secret passageway which leads to a crawlspace, which leads to a ladder, which opens up to his backyard. Except this doesn't feel like the backyard he knows. One look around tells us why. There's a picture of a vagina on the local water tower. There's a Mustang in the garage. His neighbor is no longer a pussy about everything. His wife actually dresses up sexy for him. His son actually has friends! It' alternate Man Universe! A man-iverse.

Danny gets situated in his new world pretty easily - this world where people drink beer instead of water, where men get tattoos during their lunch break, where women are sex objects and love it, where if you want to make a point at work, you light something on fire dammit! And best of all, Danny is the Alpha Male in this world.

But his alternate universe isn't a time machine, and whatever time he spends in the "Man-World" is time that goes by sans Danny in the real world. Needless to say, his wife, son, co-workers and boss start to get suspicious. And since there are only so many excuses (I think all us guys know that), Danny must begrudgingly balance his time between the two worlds.

The entire second act is the weakest part of Man Cave because it's just one long extension of the premise. Danny experiences awesomeness in Man World. Danny experiences suckage in Real World. Man World = good. Real World = bad. It's frustrating because you're waiting for the story to take over - but there is no story. Danny's only goal is to escape the Real World as much as possible. Not until late in the 2nd act when the Man World starts to show its cracks does the story pick up momentum again. But it's when Alison discovers Danny's Man World, this terrifying alternate reality, her sluttier hotter dopplehanger, that things really derail for Danny.

I'll be honest with you, after a great first act, I was really down on this script because nothing interesting happens for the entire middle portion. For lack of a better word it was boring. But I have to give it to Lutz & Isser. The surprise 3rd act sequence brings Danny Graves back from the grave.

In the act, Danny finds a second passageway in his Man Cave, and wonders what a Man World inside of a Man World would be like (come on - wouldn't we all?). So he crawls through the crawlspace, up the ladder, into the yard to see...Man World 2. In this Man World, his lawn is made of astroturf. His wife is dressed like a hooker and is ready for a 3-way with his hot co-worker. There's a picture of a shaved pussy on the local water tower. Neighbors have monster trucks parked in the driveway. It's both horrifying and fascinating. But Danny's curiosity isn't quenched. He needs more. So he goes into the basement, through the passageway, and into the 3rd Man World. This world is even darker. His neighbor, Norm, has a cro-magnum face and is dragging his wife by the hair. Women run around the neighborhood topless. Men are beating the shit out of each other. But Danny doesn't stop there. He goes into the basement, through the passageway, and opens up the vent to enter the 4th Man World. And it's just darkness. Darkness and shadows. And he sees something coming towards him. Hunched over. Dirty. A monster. And when the creature gets close enough to see, we realize...

It's Danny. Or some version of Danny.

He slams the lid closed and runs back through all the Man Worlds, back to the main world, desperately in search of his family, because he finally understands just how beautiful and satisfying and worthwhile his real life is.

Does it work? Not really. His wife is so unlikable and his kid so weird, that it's not clear why he would all of a sudden realize he likes them again, or have ever liked them in the first place for that matter. I kinda wanted Isser and Lutz to grow some balls (ahem - staying with tonight's theme) and stick with their dark instincts on the ending. If you create a reprehensible living situation for your protagonist, you have to give us a reason why he would go back to it other than that it's the end of the movie. It makes no sense.

To me, this is an odd script. It starts out like The Graduate, becomes a broad comedy, then hits us with a dark third act. The tonal issues alone probably should've prevented a sale. But there is *something* about Danny Graves' Man Cave, particularly towards the end, that makes it difficult to dismiss. By no means will I say you have to read this. But there are enough interesting choices in here to make it worth the read.

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

WHAT I LEARNED: What's driving your story? I consider this to be *the* most important screenwriting question you can ask yourself. At every point in your script, there needs to be a clear and intense force that's driving the story. Something propelling us along. A point. A goal. A purpose. The reason Danny Graves' second act drags is because it doesn't have that engine. What's Danny's goal? What's the story's goal? What are we working up towards? Nothing. We're just waiting to see how extensively Danny's life can unravel. Personally, I don't think that's compelling enough. Sure there's the rare movie that doesn't have an obvious driving force (The Graduate comes to mind) but in those cases the characters have to be so incredibly captivating that we forget about the story. Giving Danny something tangible to go after here could've helped the script a lot. As it stands, there's nothing to look forward to other than more "antics."