Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Good Luck Anthony Belcher

Genre: ComedyPremise: One of the unluckiest men alive is given seven days of perfect luck.
About: This is the number 1 script on “The Brit List,” which is the UK’s answer to “The Black List.” This appears to be Kay’s big break, as he only has one other property in development, the optioned “All Quiet On The Orient Express.” The director of that film, Jim Field Smith, will also be directing “Good Luck, Anthony Belcher.” Smith’s previous work includes, “She’s Outta My League,” a spec sale which I read last year and thought was pretty damn funny. That movie has not yet hit theaters.
Writer: George Kay

The Brits know how to capitalize on a trend. They saw the Black List and realized, “Hey, we can do one of those.” It took them a couple of years to actually organize the thing but low and behold, two years ago The Brit List was born. I have to admit, the list has its work cut out for it at Scriptshadow. That’s because 2007's number one script was “The Men Who Stare At Goats.” And we all know how I felt about that script (The goal in a screenplay is to push the story forward. If you can’t do that, at least keep it standing in place. Goats somehow manages to pull the story backward). So to say I’m going into this list with a skeptical eye is an obscene understatement. But I will strive to give my brothers across the pond a fair shake. So as I slide my objective glasses up, it’s time to go to work on “Good Luck, Anthony Belcher.”

Anthony Belcher is an air conditioning salesman who’s riddled with bad luck. His sales are anemic. He always misses the bus. He never gets the girl. His parents died when he was young. To give you an idea of just how bad it is for Anthony, he is the only man in the world who’s been shit on by a bird. INDOORS. One day, Anthony’s lured to an old house, goes up a strange elevator (or, I’m sorry, a “lift”) that’s straight out of a Charlie Kaufman movie. Once in the attic, he meets a couple of scraggly old men. They introduce themselves as The Society Of Good Luck and Serendipity – in charge of luck, fate, kismet, karma, what have you. It appears that Anthony’s file was dropped behind a desk and lost for the last 27 years, which means they haven’t been able to balance out his luck.

As an act of good faith, they’ve decided to make up for their mistake by giving Anthony 7 full days of perfect luck. There are a few conditions of course. He can’t play the lottery (the winners have been predetermined for the next 13 years) and he has to go about his life in a somewhat normal fashion (he still has to go to work everyday, etc.) Clearly these are conditions to keep the story from going off the rails, and they stick out as so, but these kind of conventions are acceptable in high concept comedies as long as you don’t go overboard with them. Anyway, great premise right?

With luck on his side, everything starts going right for Anthony. That bus he always missed shows up right on time. Construction that week has actually moved his stop to right in front of his place. Instead of having to fight people on sales calls, they now answer with, “My air conditioner just died.” Contests are won, all his jokes are funny, coworkers fall in love him. Everything in Anthony’s life becomes…perfect.

In case you haven’t figured it out, “Good Luck Anthony Belcher” is unapologetically a straight-forward high concept comedy. But that’s not a bad thing. The execution here is strong, which is the only element that matters in these stories. Of course anybody can come up with a wacky idea. But it’s the writers who know how to build a story around that idea that get their scripts sold. So yes there’s the wacky friend. Yes there’s the unattainable love interest. Yes Anthony begins taking advantage of his luck which results in a bunch of problems. But all of this is done with skill and care, and for that reason, despite its predictability, “Anthony Belcher” manages to be fun.

If there’s a problem with the script, it’s in the second half, where there’s definitely some momentum loss. Here’s what I’ve found with these comedies. Almost all of them run into problems in that second half, and that’s because the story often becomes a victim of its own plot. The writer has to answer questions and move towards concluding the story, and in doing so, loses a lot of comedy along the way. The late Blake Snyder may be responsible for some of this. His emphasis on the “fun and games” section of the 3-Act Structure that occurs at the beginning of the second act is great advice. However it implies there shouldn’t be any fun or any games later on in the script, which is where a lot of these comedies need it (and why so many of them seem to be top-heavy). Whatever the case, Belcher definitely suffers in this area, and I’m sure the rewrites are concentrating on this problem.

Still, the script is fun. I liked Anthony. I liked his roommate (who ends up getting the opposite treatment, and is bestowed a string of bad luck to Anthony’s good). I liked the girl. And the “bad guy” co-worker, while standard, is well-constructed. Maybe my knowledge of the British entertainment world is limited, but this definitely felt like a Ricky Gervais or Simon Pegg vehicle. I was imagining Gervais delivering the lines (even though the character is in his 20s) and couldn’t stop laughing.

My issue with these high-concept comedies is I’m always wishing they were edgier. I want the writers to take more chances, because without an edge, the ideas blend into each other. I’ve only read one other script on The Brit List so I can’t say if this is worthy of garnering the top spot, but it’s definitely a solid effort. And it leaves us with an interesting question: If you knew you’d have perfect luck for a week, what would you do?

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: If you’re going to follow a “template” when writing a script, High Concept Comedy is probably the best genre to do it in. It just lends itself nicely to the 3 act structure and all those other little beats and motivations you have to hit. Straightforward dramas, thrillers, action, horror, westerns…they all have their own little nuances that complicate borrowing from a template. I am by no means suggesting that following a template is the way to go. I try to encourage taking chances and trying something different where it makes sense. But if you do want to follow a template, do it with a High Concept Comedy.