Genre: Drama/Love Story
Premise: (from IMDB) A penniless girl in the 1930's is taken in by a circus freak, and even as he falls in love with her, she begins to launch a career in the circus herself.
About: Flora Plum has been in development for many years and almost went into production with Jodie Foster directing, and Russell Crowe and Claire Danes starring. The project then fell apart because Russell Crowe fucked up his shoulder. That one unfortunate ill-timed accident sent everyone racing off to other projects and Flora Plum was abandoned like a discarded peanut shell under the rafters. Steven Rogers has been around for quite some time, penning a lot of love stories such as “P.S. I Love You,” “Hope Floats,” and “Stepmom.”
Writer: Steven Rogers
Details: 103 pages – 1999 draft (This is an early draft of the script. The situations, characters, and plot may change significantly by the time the film is released. 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).
Man, it has not been a good week for screenplays here at Scriptshadow. Well, I guess Fright Night got some good reactions, but this is the third script this week that I wasn’t into. I guess it’s only fair as we had to balance out last week. But I did hold out some hope for Flora Plum. It’s been around for awhile and I’ve heard good things about it. But the problem here is that once you read that other circus script (of course I’m talking about “Water For Elephants”) this feels like the JV version. In fact, you could tell where this script went wrong in a lot of places just by comparing it to Elephants.
I’ll give this to Flora Plum: it's different. Set in the 1930s, we begin with documentary interviews of various circus members recalling Flora Plum, who, from their various recollections, we conclude to now be America’s sweetheart. But that doesn’t stop most of them, such as Opal, a flirty dwarf, from recalling her as somewhat of an annoying bitch. In fact, there seems to be an almost disdain for this woman from everyone interviewed, and of course this builds our anticipation to meet the girl ourselves.
Indeed we meet Flora Plum just as she arrives in town. She’s fresh-faced and naturally beautiful but lacks any definable talent and may be a little on the clutzy side. Luckily she’s the hardest worker you’ll ever find and dangerously determined. More than anything, she just wants to be a part of something, and in her eyes, the circus is her calling. Of course, throw a gorgeous knockout into a sea of freaks and you’re going to see some jealousy. Which leaves us to wonder if those earlier interviews were the truth or simply a bunch of frekazoids with an axe to grind. I mean, could this sweet girl really turn into something as hideous as they say?
After Flora gets settled in, she meets and takes a liking to Jake, otherwise known as “The Beast.” Jake is covered in hair from head to toe, to the point where he makes Robin Williams look like he has alopecia. Jake is clearly talented, but has chosen a very esoteric long-winded routine for his act. This man is Jean-Luc Goddard to everyone else’s Michael Bay. The owner of the circus, Herbert Little, eventually gets fed up with the bizarre act and cancels it, relegating Jake to the humiliating position of “sideshow.”
This part of the screenplay was the strongest, as it not only pushed the story forward, but gave us a glimpse into the politics and cut-throat world of the circus. On the outside, they all seem cute and cuddly, but underneath the dome, everyone’s trying to one-up each other. Greed, jealousy, and the bottom line dictate who gets onstage and poor becomes a victim of this ideology.
But Jake’s downfall is cushioned by the burgeoning support of Flora. She’s the one person who loves Jake’s strange act and probably the only one who believes in him. This leads to an intense friendship and before long Flora comes up with a plan. They’ll create an act together – a sort of “Beauty and the Beast” – and work their way back into the main lineup. As the circus moves from city to city, the two train day in and day out, which of course brings them even closer. However, expert acrobat Patrice, the stud of the show, starts making moves on Flora, going so far as to invite her into his act. Flora is then torn between the beastly Jake and the handsome Patrice. Does she stick with the long shot, or go for the sure thing?
In order to keep the story moving, Rogers wisely throws Blade Devin into the mix. Devin has the best circus in the region and he’s actively searching for a new act. Word has it that he’ll be at their New York show and whoever shines the brightest, that’s who he’ll pick. It isn’t just Flora, Jake, or Patrice who are gunning for the spot, but everyone in the circus. But the bigger question is, who will Flora choose to perform her act with? Jake or Patrice?
Flora Plum wasn’t a bad script. I think if I never read Water For Elephants, I might have liked it more. But comparing the two you can see this script’s faults a lot more easily. Let’s start with the most important element – the love story. Flora Plum has the beauty and the beast thing going as well as the love triangle. But Water For Elephants had forbidden love going for it. Our hero didn’t just fall in love with a random act. He fell in love with the CIRCUS OWNER’S WIFE, someone he couldn’t have. Not only that, but that owner is a raging terrifying psychopath. We genuinely feel like if he finds out that his wife is with this guy, he’ll kill him. So the stakes are through the roof. Here, Flora and Jake’s relationship is pretty much in the open. The only thing at stake is feelings, which can work if we really love the characters, but still, it didn’t come close to the tension and undercurrent present in the Water For Elephants relationship.
Another problem is that the love triangle here doesn’t work. It’s never clear to me if Flora even likes Patrice. And most of the time, she’s overtly uninterested in him. Incidentally, Patrice is no different. One second he seems content with trying to steal Flora from Jake, the next he doesn’t know who she is. And not in a “stuck up” way. He literally doesn’t seem to know who she is. The whole storyline was just way too inconsistent. And since it was never clear where all the characters stood, it was hard to get a handle on what was going on.
What really set Elephants apart, however, was that even though there were a million interesting characters to choose from, it always focused on the right ones. Flora Plum, unfortunately, drops us into storylines we have no interest in watching, and so the narrative keeps getting chopped up by insignificant secondary scenes. For example there’s an “aging star” character who’s watching her limelight fade who I could care less about. After awhile, I began to treat these moments like commercials. I’d watch them begrudgingly hoping for the main show to start back up again.
I think the script does some things right. It has some charm. There are places where the relationship between Jake and Flora really shines. I could imagine Russell Crowe, full on make-up with the wolfman hair and everything, staring into Flora’s eyes, sad and desperately in love, and really see it working. The script had one of my favorite lines I’ve read in a script in a long time. Jake is asked, after his performance, how his act went. He replies. “The act was a success. The audience was a failure.” There’s also a late story twist which caught me off-guard and worked quite well. I feel like the elements are here for something special.
But in the end, this just doesn’t pack the firepower Water For Elephants did, and no matter how hard I tried to judge it on its own merit, I couldn’t get past that.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: This is a rehash “what I learned.” I was trying to figure out why this wasn’t pulling me in the same way Water For Elephants did. There were a lot of reasons, but the main one? No villain. There’s no true villain here to root against. In Water For Elephants, you have a ruthless terrifying villain that with every fiber of your being you want to see our hero destroy. You’d be surprised at how much better a villain – any villain – can make your story. So if you choose not to have one, make sure it’s for a good reason. The lack of one here really hurt the story.