Premise: Three friends with the worst bosses imaginable decide to solve their problem…by killing them.
About: Michael Markowitz sold this script to Rat Entertainment and New Line back in 2005. After busy scribes John Goldstein and John Francis Daley gave it a rewrite, it was able to land Aniston and Colin Farrell in two of the juicier boss roles. Markowitz, the original writer, has been working in Hollywood as early as the eighties, where he acted in a couple of small movies. He’s worked as a producer and writer on TV since, most notably on the Ted Danson starrer, Becker. Markowitz recently worked on another script that sounds funny, titled Tapped Out. It’s about an unemployed man whose life is turned upside down when he accidentally knocks out the Ultimate Fighting Champ at a bar. Shooting right now, Horrible Bosses stars Jennifer Aniston, Jason Bateman, Colin Farrell, Jamie Foxx, Jason Sudeikis, and Charlie Day. New Line seems high on Sudeikis and Day, both of whom teamed up in New Line’s Going The Distance.
Writer: Michael Markowitz (current revisions by Jonathan Goldstein & John Francis Daley)
Details: 120 pages - April 14, 2010 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).
He’s Just Not That Into You.
Common factor between all these movies? I’ll give you a hint: It ain't that they're good! Give up? The scripts were terrible! The other common factor? Jennifer Aniston chose to star in all of them. I don’t know why I’ve never seen it before but my brother pointed it out a few weeks ago. Jennifer Aniston is terrible at choosing roles.
So when I opened Horrible Bosses, knowing only that Aniston had chosen to play a part in it, I felt a little like a guy diving head first into an active volcano. But the good news is, Aniston does not play one of the leads here. More like a large cameo. Which meant that the script had a chance. What I wasn’t expecting was that Horrible Bosses took this chance and ran with it like hell.
Nick Waters works a nondescript office job and has been busting his ass for 17 hours a day in hopes of getting that big promotion his slick boss, Dave, keeps telling him he’s the frontrunner for. Nick’s eliminated any chance of having a girlfriend or a life with this schedule, but it’s all going to be worth it when he gets that new cushy office! Oh, except that Dave decides to give the job to…himself! He then readily admits to Nick that he lied in order to get him to work harder. It’s called ‘good managing,’ he says. Furious, Nick threatens to quit, but his boss tells him that if he does he will make it his mission to make sure he never gets a job anywhere else ever again.
Ladies man Kurt Gamble works at a chemical company. His grandfatherly boss, Jack, is one of the nicest men you could imagine. He and Kurt see eye to eye on everything. Jack even promises to write Kurt into his will that night. Except ten minutes later Jack has a heart attack and dies, leaving the company to his 20-something coke-fiend mega-dickhead son who hates Kurt more than anything.
Dale Stevens is a dental hygienist, high on his recent engagement. In fact, Dale’s got a lot of good things going for him. Except, that is, for his boss. Dr. Julia is hotter than June in Mexico City. The problem is she's just as dirty. Julia spends the majority of her work day sexually harassing Dale, to the point where you might even call it her real job. From commenting on the potential size of his dick, to explaining how horny she is, and even insisting, every time they put a patient under anesthesia, that they make him/her an unwilling participant in a sexual three-way. The conservative monogamous Dale struggles minutely to perform his job.
The three of these guys are best friends and after discussing just how miserable these bosses make their lives, they wonder what it would be like if they could just…be erased. The thought is funny and euphoric but the once the alcohol takes over, they take it to the next level. What if they actually killed their bosses?
After some initial hesitation, they go marbles in and hire a “killing consultant” to help them plan the kills. As you can expect, nothing goes according to plan after that.
Horrible Bosses roped me in from the very first page. Above all other things, it’s just a funny script. I was laughing throughout the entire first act, especially at all the scenes with Dr. Julia (Aniston’s character), When she invites Dale’s fiancé in for free dental work, puts her under with anesthesia, and suggests they have sex on top of her sleeping body, I mean, I both couldn’t believe what I was reading and couldn’t stop laughing. This character will be one of the funniest characters you’ll watch all year. Mark my words.
The script also makes good on my “what I learned” section from Friday’s script, Flora Plum. Nearly every story improves when you add a villain! And Horrible Bosses has three! Let’s go back even further to my review of Shawshank Redemption. As I pointed out, one of the big reasons for that film’s success is just how much we hated the villains and wanted to see them go down. Horrible Bosses may be flying through different genre airspace, but boy do we want to see all these villainous bosses pay.
One of the things I noticed early on about Bosses is that despite liking it so much, the writers made the strange decision to end their first act on page 37. That’s the moment when the trio comes up with the idea to kill their bosses (the end of the first act is usually determined by when the central plot of the movie is initiated). I usually HATE when scripts wait this long to get to Act 2. Not because I care about some arbitrary page number, but waiting 37 pages to get to the point of your movie is usually going to bore your reader to death (a better place to end your act is somewhere in the 23-28 page range). So I was wondering why this didn’t bother me. Then I realized we were setting up three separate storylines (Dale’s, Kurt’s, Nick’s) instead of one, which requires more time. And the fact that we have multiple storylines and characters to jump back and forth between is what kept everything fresh and moving.
The script also handles its problems well. One mistake I see a lot of amateur comedy scriptwriters make is they never care about believability. They think, “Ehh, it’s a comedy. Who cares if it makes sense?” Now it’s true you get a little more leniency with comedies, but it doesn’t mean you can make up your own logic. One of the challenges in Horrible Bosses is you have to convince the audience that killing their bosses is the only option for these guys, because if it isn't, then you don't have a movie. So as a writer you need to ask yourself questions like, "Why can’t they just quit and get jobs somewhere else?" So the writers added a scene where an old friend of our trio pops in. He’s a guy who finished at the top of their class and graduated from Yale. Looking barely presentable, the friend tells them how he’s been out of a job for a year, that the economy has made it impossible to find work, and that he actually needs to borrow money from them. It’s a funny scene but it also slyly takes care of that problem. We know that leaving their jobs isn’t an option.
The only thing that didn’t work for me – and I was bummed to see that they had already cast the part cause I was hoping they’d get rid of it – was Cocksucker. Cocksucker is a guy they hire to help consult on the killings for them. True this script is pretty broad, but Cocksucker just moves it into Super-Silly territory, to the point where he feels like a different movie. Even worse, they hire him off Craig's List. If I had a dime for every time someone hired somebody from Craig's List in a comedy I read, I'd be able to buy Craig's List. This script is about 10-15 pages too long, and it’s all because of Cocksocker, who disrupts the flow worse than Kanye West in the middle of an acceptance speech.
But this is a minor misstep in an otherwards very funny comedy.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Always look to go against type with your characters. What’s the first image in your head if I say, “I hate my fucking boss.” Chances are you’re picturing a bloated white male in his early 40s who looks like an asshole, right? Well guess what? The runaway scene-stealer in Horrible Bosses is Dr. Julia, and the reason she’s the runaway scene-stealer is because you’ve never seen a sexually harassing female dentist boss before. It’s a totally unique character. So push yourself and steer away from cliche. Give us a character that surprises us.