Premise: (from IMDB) A father's life unravels while he deals with a marital crisis and tries to manage his relationship with his children.
About: Helping keep that big spec sale dream alive, Fogelman’s comedy sold for a 2010 best 2 million dollars! What is this? The nineties?? Fogelman’s name may sound familiar as I just reviewed his Black List script, “My Mother’s Curse,” last week. The film stars Steve Carell (who was attached for the sale), Ryan Gosling, Kevin Bacon, Emma Stone, Marisa Tomei, and Julianne Moore. So live it up people, cause we don’t see these big sellers too often.
Writer: Dan Fogelman
Details: 121 pages – Feb 19, 2010 draft (This is an early draft of the script. The situations, characters, and plot may change significantly by the time of the film's release. This is not a definitive statement about the project, but rather an analysis of this unique draft as it pertains to the craft of screenwriting).
I have a lot of good things to say about this script. Plot, character, and execution come together in this tale like a concoction of Coldstone’s ice cream. And while I know some of you will pan it for its feathery light subject matter, make no mistake, there is some serious skill on display here. In fact, I’d go so far as to say this is the best executed comedy I’ve read since The F Word.
But before we get into it, let’s acknowledge the rhinoceros in the room. If you or I had written this script, there’s no way anyone would’ve read it. The premise is too simple: A man is thrust back into the single life after his wife asks for a divorce. That ain’t going to win Pitch Fest at the Expo, sunshine. But this is one of the realities of the business: Professional writers don’t need a flashy logline to get their stuff read. Their NAME is the flashly logline. And that’s a good thing. Cause when you sell your script, your name will be the flashy logline as well.
42 year old out-of-touch out-of-style out-of-sync Cal thinks he has the perfect life. He fell in love with his high school sweetheart, Tracy, when he was 17, and the two have been married ever since. They have two beautiful children, 13 year old Robbie and 8 year old Mollie, a wonderful house, and an unlimited supply of happiness.
Or at least, that’s Cal’s view of things. It’s been a while since he’s seen things through his wife’s eyes, and that’s going to cost poor Cal in the form of a blindside. Usually, you have a 'feeling' when the old relationship is about to implode. But Cal is clueless when his wife breaks it to him that she’s been having an affair with David Jacobowitz and that she wants a divorce.
After getting over that shocker, Cal’s inadvertently thrown into the world of dating. Now for anyone who’s been off the market for a significant period of time and then come back, you’ll recall that dating changes QUICKLY. Five years ago is nothing like today. And five years before that was nothing like five years later. But here’s the thing with Cal. HE’S NEVER DATED. EVER. Tracy was his first and only. This is a world completely alien to him.
Jacob Palmer doesn’t date either. But that’s because he’s perfected a pick-up technique that requires less than a minute of conversation. Palmer can get you from A (the bar) to Z (his place) in less time than it takes most guys to order a drink. The problem with Jacob is that that’s all he does. He sits at a bar booth every night with his perfect hair, his perfect scent, and his perfect outfit and just picks up woman after woman. He doesn't know the meaning of love.
It just so happens that Cal starts hanging out at Jacob’s bar every night and tells anyone who will listen his sad sack story about asshole David Jacobowitz fucking his wife. Jacob is horrified by this man he deems to be one step above mentally retarded. Just so he doesn't have to witness this pathetic display anymore, Jacob offers to teach Cal how to pick up women.
Cal’s not even sure he wants to pick up women but anything that takes his mind off David Jacobowitz's naked body is a good thing, so he agrees. Jacob gets Cal a new haircut, new clothes, and a new attitude, and after a few conversation-related tips (namely: “don’t talk. Ever.”), Cal starts picking up women left and right.
Now at this point you’re probably saying, “What so great about that? It sounds pretty boring.” And I’ll admit, the first half of this screenplay is pretty average. But where Crazy, Stupid, Love excels is in its second half, where all the characters and the intricate relationships that have been built up between them start smashing into each other like pinballs.
See what we realize, is that the first 60 pages were all one big setup, and the last sixty pages are a continuous ESPN ticker feed of payoffs. Tracy is being stalked by the man she had an affair with. Cal realizes all these one-night stands are meaningless and tries to get Tracy back. Cal and Tracy’s babysitter, Jessica, is in love with Cal. Cal’s son Robbie, is in love with Jessica. Just when it looks like Cal and Tracy are going to get back together, she learns that one of his conquests was Mrs. Thompson, Robbie’s teacher! Cal and Jacob end up becoming best friends. But then Jacob ends up falling in love with a girl, who ends up being the worst possible girl he could fall in love with. Even little Mollie is in love, with Zac Efron and High School Musical. And the further all these relationships go, the more “crazy,” the more “stupid” they get.
Blake Snyder said in his book “Save The Cat!” that there needs to be one scene in every screenplay that a producer can point to and say “That’s a movie.” In “Stop Or My Mom Will Shoot,” Snyder’s one produced credit, he said that that scene was a chase scene where, instead of two cars screaming through the streets of downtown, Stallone’s mom is driving 10 miles an hour, pulling up short at stop signs, and holding Stallone back with her arm whenever they came to a stop. That, the producer said, is what convinced me this was a movie.
Here, not only do we get that scene, but we get the reason why this script sold for 2 million dollars. It’s the climax of the story, a huge sequence where all of these relationships finally collide with one another in this glorious wacky explosion. It’s executed so perfectly and with such skill that for a brief moment, you sit up and think, “This is what screenwriting is all about.” And it really is. It’s that moment where all of the variables in your story come together in that perfect harmonic climax. It’s really good stuff.
This script also supports my belief that every character should have something going on. They shouldn’t just be an ear for the main character to disclose information to (like so many amateur scripts I read). Cal’s trying to get his wife back. Jacob’s trying to get laid. Bobbie’s trying to get Jessica. Jessica’s trying to get Cal. David’s trying to get Tracy. Even Molly, the daughter, is obsessed with High School Musical. Nobody’s left out to dry here, so we’re never bored, even though we’re jumping around to a lot of different stories.
And finally, this script does what so many comedy scripts fail to do - it packs the story with heart! And I think heart leads to big bucks. I really do. When you make a reader FEEL something at the end of a screenplay, it stays with them. It makes them want to recommend it to others. All comedies should have some heart dammit! This is proof-positive why.
Really really dug this script. Only didn't make the Top 25 because the first half was a little predictable. Oh and hey, is this not the single most perfect role for Steve Carell that could've been written??
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] genius
What I learned: I don’t think you should write a low-concept comedy if you don’t have some connections in the industry. Had an amateur writer tried to get reads from this, they probably would’ve been ignored, as the premise is too generic. As an unknown, you need more flash in your pitch to get noticed, so I’d stick to higher-concept fare if you can.