Monday, June 8, 2009

The Tourist

note: If you know nothing about this script, I suggest you download it before reading anything below. The beginning plays out much better if you do.

Genre: Sci-Fi Dark Comedy
Premise: An alien who lives on Earth in female form searches desperately for a way back to her home planet. Best watch yourself E.T.
About: So on the Holy Grail list of best unproduced screenplays, this is usually mentioned in the top 3. It is said it would have been made had it not been for Men In Black. For a fascinating backstory on the script which chronicles its plight through a series of Hollywood legends, go here.
Writer: Claire Noto

THE TOURIST has always had incredible supporters and incredible detractors. Right from the very beginning it aroused very strong feelings one way or another. People were either very taken by it or felt it was the Anti christ. I still don't, to this day, really comprehend what all the fuss was about. - Claire Noto

Richard Jenkins plays a college professor who discovers a pair of homeless, illegal aliens living in his New York apartment. But instead of giving them the boot, the lonely introspective Jenkins decides to let them stay. An unexpected friendship begins, dragging Jenkins out of his comfort zone and into the------Wait a minute. Wait a minute. That's The Visitor. My bad.

Let's start over. Grace is your average driven, if slightly eccentric, executive at a no-name corporation with more floors than ideas. But almost immediately we sense that something's off about the chick. She's constantly distracted and as far as I can tell, not very interested in her work. When her overworked assistant, Marty, pesters Grace about a flurry of messages from someone named "Frogner", Grace's unorthodox yet concerned reaction hints at an iceberg of a person we're only seeing the tip of.

Hot and bothered by the Frogger messages, Grace hops over to a business party with her on-again off-again boyfriend. He tells anyone who will listen that Grace isn't giving it up. Why he's sharing this with complete strangers I have no idea. While the eternally-distracted Grace observes the party, on the other side of the room Sideshow Frogner, the bug-eyed over-caffeinated message-leaver, sneaks in and charges over to Grace like a lost dog. He bombards her with requests for business, to which she's cautiously receptive.

But as Grace and Frogner lock into an intense stare, they see something in each other that freaks them the hell out. Enough to send Frogner racing out of the party. Grace goes chasing after him but obviously, once they get outside, Frogger's got the advantage when crossing the streets, and easily ditches Grace.

Actual pre-production art of the film

The encounter rattles Grace enough that she makes it a priority to find Frogger at all costs. Over the next couple of days she follows a trail of clues that leads her to a funeral home. Except this isn't your ordinary funeral home. Behind the walls, through a hidden door, Grace makes her way into a hidden backstage universe. Aliens from all over the galaxy are chatting it up in a dark eerie pub. Grace tiptoes through, shocked but also calm - as if she's heard about this place. It doesn't take long for us to figure out why. Grace is really an alien. And these fellows are her alien brethren. It is here, she hopes, that somebody will be able to tell her how to get back to her home planet.

Although Noto doesn't care to get into some pretty important details - namely how the hell Grace got to this planet and why - she does give us clues. Apparently earth is some sort of galactic armpit of the universe - the biggest criminals and scum of the galaxy are sent here when there's nowhere else to put them. This is one of the many nonsensical pieces of The Tourist. If these aliens are so bad, why the hell are they spending all their time hiding in the shadows? Why, in all these years, have they done nothing bad to us? I mean if they're as bad as it gets, the universe must be a pretty fucking awesome place.

Connections she makes in the pub lead Grace to a new target, the elusive Taiga, the only guy who has the means to get off this planet. Hoping to hitch a ride, she begins a desperate search to find him.

The most surprising thing about The Tourist are its moments of unapologetic darkness. Grace walks into houses to find the disembodied eyeballs of a mother and daughter. When Grace visits the alien hangout, one of the aliens not so discreetly slips a tentacle up and into her nether-regions, performing a probe that definitely isn't for scientific purposes. As all the aliens watch, Grace, who essentially allows it, nears orgasm until someone comes along and obliterates the offending alien. Weird sex runs rampant throughout The Tourist with scenes that are so odd, Dr. Ruth would have a hard time making sense of them. People die having sex. People grow cocoons while having sex. People dream of having sex as giant worms on other planets. I don't know what else to say. Lots of weird sex going on here. Weird alien sex.

As the script went on, more and more rules are thrown out the window. I found myself getting increasingly annoyed. The last 30 pages were particularly baffling, as seemingly all structure and logic were jettisoned in favor of the most anti-climactic ending in cinema history. Grace is trying to secure a ride home from Taiga but the transport isn't anywhere even close to nearby, and it's clear they don't have time to get to it, erasing any and all suspense about if Grace is going to make it. While this is happening all Grace does is bitch about how much she hates the planet. Then at the last second, she has some half-assed epiphany where she believes she's bonded with a human. For the first time she's "conflicted" [/me rolling eyes] At this point the writing and purpose are so sloppy and slapped together, I actually stopped paying attention.

I honestly couldn't tell you why this script is so popular. There's some imagination in here for sure. But they're kidding themselves if they think Men In Black is the reason this didn't get made. The script's got major issues, especially the last 40-50 pages. What a mess. In interviews, Noto has practically bragged about her disregard for structure, inspired by the no-rules anything-goes attitude of the European New Wave. I'm not Structure Sammy or anything, but in my experience almost every script that ignores structure completely falls apart in the end. And what do you know? The Tourist completely falls apart in the end.

Noto's complained that executives have been notoriously cruel to her in dealing with the script, telling her no one would go see the movie. Well I'm sorry to champion the evil empire here but in this case, THEY WERE RIGHT. What really did it for me though was Grace herself. Call me old-fashioned but I'm not about to do jumping jacks for a protagonist that spends the majority of the fucking screenplay whining about how much she hates my planet.

Ugh, I just didn't like this. I'd designate it as trash if the first act wasn't so intriguing.

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

What I learned: Even though I didn't like this script, I want to focus on the positive because there is a great scene in the beginning. Early on, Grace is at a party and there are 3 separate things going on at the same time. First is her date, who she's not paying attention to. Second is a handsome man hitting on her. She's intrigued by the man and their chemistry upsets her date. The third is the mysterious "Frogman", who comes crashing into the party to close a business deal with her. As we see each thread build, the tension builds along with it. A more inexperienced writer would probably write a straightforward scene that only involved Grace and Frogger. Adding these multiple elements made what could've been a boring scene an exciting one (If only she had done this with the rest of the script).