Very quickly. I want to apologize for putting up then taking down the Untitled Cameron Crowe Project (Deep Tiki) earlier today. I learned that the draft I reviewed was ridiculously early and not representative of the screenplay they were going to use. So, I'm replacing the review with another review from a guest reviewer. That reviewer is a mystery man. A man so full of mystery that he doesn't even have a name. That's not true actually. His name is Zack Smith and he has a blog you can visit here. In the meantime, he's reviewing a script that inspired all sorts of reactions when it sold last year: Fuckbuddies....
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Premise: A guy and a girl struggle to have an exclusively sexual relationship as they both come to realize they want much more.
About: This was a top contender on the 2008 Black List with 39 mentions. It’s currently under development at Ivan Reitman’s Montecito Picture Company (under the more marquee-friendly name "Friends With Benefits") as a potential vehicle for admitted “dirty rap” lover Natalie Portman. Liz Meriwether has become one of the more buzzed-about screenwriters in Hollywood, as part of the “Fempire” that includes Diablo Cody. The Yale-educated Meriwether’s sales include the spy comedy Honey Pot and Maynard & Jennica for Scott Rudin. So does this script show if this buzz earned?
Writer: Liz Meriwether
Fuckbuddies/Friends with Benefits is a screenplay with some amusing dialogue and well-drawn main characters. It’s easy to see why this had appeal to some people; it fits into the modern romantic comedy formula that combines some outrageously raunchy characters and/or situations with the more traditional “true love conquers all” ending.
Heck, even the poster seems to illustrate itself – two pairs of feet poking out from under a rumpled sheet, the man’s feet bare, the woman’s with a pair of shoes on.
However, the undated, possibly first draft that I read (there’s no title page, just “FUCKBUDDIES BY LIZ” on the first page of the script), reveals that this isn’t quite the edgy, emotional comedy that it wants to be.
The screenplay involves the history of the relationship between Adam Kurtzman and Emma Franklin. Adam works as an assistant on a horrible sitcom while trying to become a stand-up comedian; Emma is a doctor who works to be detached from feelings in her personal and professional lives. She doesn’t even take her shoes off during sex (hence the potential poster).
The two have encountered each other a few times throughout their lives, but the timing’s never been quite right for them to get together (Emma’s too detached, or Adam’s with someone else).
Adam is a nice-if-not-terribly-aggressive guy who desperately does not want to be like his womanizing sitcom-star dad Alvin. He’s the kind of guy who desperately tries to make the relationship work, even when it’s clear things are not working out. In no way do I relate to this.
Emma has a different perspective: “The way I see it, we’re all just these big dumb animals who, for the most part, just want to have sex with each other. So maybe we should stop beating ourselves up for what we feel and make sweet bone.”
So, after a particularly bad break-up involving his dad, Adam drunk-dials Emma, who as it turns out has recently moved to town. She proposes the idea of sex without strings; Adam, who’s clearly into her, is all for this. All they have to do is make sure feelings don’t get involved, except they already are…
The screenplay falls into roughly three “acts.” The first depicts Adam and Emma’s relationship, leading to their becoming FBs. The second shows said relationship, while both deal with the more complicated feelings under the surface, while the third act deals with both working through the emotional issues they need to understand to be a real couple.
Not bad, right? And the characters have great chemistry on the page. Much of the script simply consists of their having fun or riffing off each other.
However, beyond the appealing lead characters, you have a screenplay with a lot of problems. There’s very little plot, very little conflict, and very little for any of the other characters to do.
There is some clear appeal to this screenplay – it’s a raunchy comedy where the female lead is equal to the male’s part. It’s also a screenplay where the female character has more of the emotional arc, and is more in charge of the relationship.
Still, there’s some question as to how this story is supposed to be focused. Emma isn’t a “Manic Pixie Dream Girl,” but her situation with Adam is very much a male fantasy. In other words, what you have here is a male fantasy scenario from the woman’s POV. Who is the audience for that?
One thing I'd like to see conveyed better is how this arrangement has its drawbacks for the characters. They're pretty much in a real relationship; they're just reluctant to codify it as such. Because they're pretty close already when the situation starts, there doesn't seem to be much of a jump to a full relationship. They only half-heartedly date other people, and for the most part, they're there for each other.
The fact is, they’re pretty much dating for most of the screenplay. They have individual lives (Emma at the hospital, Adam at his job), but there’s never a sense of emotional separation in their relationship. It’s simply that they don’t call it “boyfriend and girlfriend.”
That does not exactly make for a compelling conflict.
Neither Emma nor Adam has a potential love interest that suggests competition with their arrangement. Emma has a thing with her boss at the hospital, but the character is only developed over a few scenes, and then disappears from the script. Introducing the idea of this anti-relationship character falling for someone who isn’t Adam is a rich source of potential conflict, but it goes nowhere.
There’s also a serious lack of supporting players. Emma has issues with her mom, and Adam has a comically self-absorbed sitcom-star dad, but those characters only seem to appear when the characters’ issues need to be brought up.
This is a shame, because Emma’s scenes with her mom represent some of the best emotional material in the script – the mom is the only character who seems to have an arc beyond Emma and Adam, and it’s not even much of an arc.
Other characters just feel perfunctory. We don’t learn much about Adam’s friend Eli beyond he likes sex and has two gay dads. That’s it.
The bright side is, as I’ve said, that the lead characters offer decent parts. Natalie Portman could do a good job as Emma; though she mostly does serious roles, her guest-hosting on SNL showed she could be a bad-ass bitch (hell yeah!).
Adam is the more stereotypical “guy who needs confidence,” but there’s some funny potential there. Interesting note on potentital casting: On pages 16 and 36, Adam is referred to as “Jonah.” So the character was clearly named that in a previous draft of the script. Perhaps it was changed to avoid casting issues, but when I see a funny-but-insecure Jewish guy named “Jonah” who wants to be a comedian, I think of…
Wow, now I’ve put the image of him having sex with Natalie Portman in your mind. Sorry about that. Kind of the opposite of the Black Swan review, huh?
The question this script raises, but fails to answer, is “Why should we care about a story where the conflict is whether or not two characters will admit they’re dating?”
The buzz on this script is that it provides a unique insight into the world of twentysomething relationships, but honestly, this just feels like a traditional romantic comedy with some profanely funny dialogue. That’s not a bad thing, but there’s a real gap between what this script wants to be, and what it actually is.
Given that this is an undated draft, revisions might have helped give this the structure and pacing it desperately needs, but overall, I was disappointed.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I Learned: While many screenplays rely on contrived situations to create external conflict, just basing a comic screenplay around an internal, emotional conflict can make the final product seem talky and slow.
Creating a greater sense of stakes or conflict for your characters – while avoiding overly-familiar clichés – heightens the reader/viewer’s sense of involvement in the storyline. And while it’s great to keep the focus on your main characters, giving them few other people to bounce off of can also contribute to a sluggish sense of pacing.
Other characters can be used to reveal aspects of your main characters outside of their romantic entanglement, and deepen both them and your story as a result.
Carson here again. Although I strongly support Zack's opinion, I liked this script quite a bit. I think it's a fair argument to call it one note, but the note is a beautiful, if slightly quirky, one. The dialogue is snappy and enjoyable and man does this thing move. This is one of those scripts that seems to inspire discussion, which is a good thing.