Genre: Indie Drama/Dark ComedyPremise: A woman is forced to help her aging "ladies man" father get his life back together after a drunk-driving arrest.
About: Buttercup will be directed by Niki Caro, the writer-director of one of my favorite movies from 2002, Whale Rider. It is written by newcomer Alice O’Neil, of whom this will be her first produced credit. The project is set to star Jennifer Aniston and indie-film mainstay Alan Arkin.
Writer: Alice O’Neil
Details: 114 pages – 2/12/09 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).
I don’t know why I’m so fascinated with Jennifer Aniston’s career but I am. I think her being hot is part of it. But also the fact that here’s this woman with all the money in the world, who’s beautiful and smart and funny, and yet it is and will always be impossible for her to find a man. Your dating “level” when you’re that high profile includes like 4 guys, and you already lost one of them to Angelina Jolie. Ah yes, Scriptshadow, sponsored in part by Us Weekly. But seriously, they should make a movie about that. An actress who has it all but has no chance at finding a husband because her lifestyle is too big.
Anyway, Aniston will next hop into the role of Rosemary Boyle, a confused 30-something woman still trying to figure out her life. She doesn’t know what she wants to do. She doesn’t know who she wants to be. She has an artist boyfriend who she’s considering moving in with, yet also has phone sex with her boss every evening. It’s not clear what Rosemary gets out of either relationship, but the point is, this woman’s having a hard time getting it together.
However, Buttercup is less about these issues and more about her relationship with her father, 73 year old Mike Boyle. Mike was Axe Body Spray before there was Axe Body Spray, the kind of guy who could get laid off a wink and a smile. So far be it from him to let some silly 30 year marriage get in the way of this Wilt Chamberlin like lifestyle. Mike tallied up more women than some small countries and even now, at 73 years old, he’s still looking for the next big score.
Poor Rosemary was too taken by her father’s charm to notice this when she was younger, but now that her mom’s dead, she’s finally come to terms with the reality of the situation: her dad is a fuck-up. At 73, Mike still hasn’t grown up. And if you ask him, it’s because he never planned on living this long in the first place. Mike is living hand-to-mouth, using the little money he does make to drink and pick up girls at the bar.
So it probably isn’t a surprise that one night, after pulling a Jerry Buss and landing a pair of 21 year olds, Mike crashes into a tree. He and the girls are fine, but the judge, who sees Mike more than her own children, has finally had enough of him. The only way she’s not throwing him in jail is if she takes away his car privileges and Rosemary agrees to take care of him. If he gets in trouble, not only will he be fucked, but Rosemary will as well.
Rosemary uses this as an excuse to avoid her own problems (her boyfriend wanting to move in) and starts hanging out with her father more, who of course doesn’t believe he needs help. And all of this is complicated by the fact that in the end, Rosemary just wants her father’s attention, his love. And how do you ask for that love when you’ve been officially designated to keep your father in line.
I started this review out with way too much estrogen so I’m going to emit some testosterone for a second to even it out. There was a famous Monday Night Football game back in 2006 where the heavily favored Chicago Bears eeked out a win against the sacrificial lamb Arizona Cardinals. Afterwards, the slighted Cardinals coach, who clearly was upset about being picked to lose by 50 points, screamed out, “The Bears are who we thought they were!!!”
The Chrernobyl worthy meltdown led to the team’s self-destruction but that’s a conversation for another day. The point is, Buttercup is exactly what you think it is. It’s a slow slice-of-a-fucked-up-life indie flick that isn’t trying to be remarkable. It just wants to exist. It wants to explore that awkward time in the life cycle when the kids start becoming the parents and all the weirdness that comes along with that.
Does it succeed in making that story entertaining? I’d say for the most part, yes. Mike is definitely a fun character and there are parts of the script that keep the pages turning, such as Rosemary’s inappropriate relationship with a priest.
But the big problem I had with Buttercup is the character of Rosemary herself. I never really understood who she was. There seems to be this great opportunity to explore her father’s “player” lifestyle and how it’s affected the way Rosemary sees relationships. She has a “perfect” boyfriend, yet she has a phone-sex relationship with her boss, yet she starts trying to bang a priest. So the opportunity is there to show how her father's lack of commitment has doomed her to the same fate. Yet all three of these relationships feel incidental, as if they’re simply there to spice things up, ignoring a possible connection with her dad even though that might be more interesting.
One of the hardest things to do in a script is create a complicated character. The way films are designed, there isn't a lot of time to get too in depth with a character. Most of the time, we really only have the opportunity to explore that one "fatal flaw" a character may have and see if we can't resolve it by the end of the film. If you create too many competing characteristics, sure, you've created a complex character, but in the process you may have confused your audience as to who that character is. I felt a little of that going on here. Rosemary has so many different things going on that I was never able to identify her defining traits – the things that locked down who she was as a person. Was she a player like her father who could never settle down? Was she having a mid-life crisis? Was she someone who had a problem making decisions?
One of the things I loved about Everything Must Go is you knew who the main character was right away. He was a recovering alcoholic who lost his job, his wife, and his house. We know exactly where he is and where he needs to go to fix himself. But here, I kept asking, Who is Rosemary? What is it we’re supposed to be getting from her?
I also thought O’Neil could’ve forced the issue to create more conflict. In the solid “Smart People,” when Dennis Quaid’s uptight character becomes immobile, he’s forced to ask his deadbeat brother Thomas Hayden Church to move in and help with the responsibilities. Because Quaid is so dependent, he has no choice but to let Church, whom he’d otherwise never trust, help. That creates a great amount of conflict within the living situation.
Here, we’re told by the judge that Rosemary has to take care of her father, specifically his driving duties. But almost immediately, we realize she doesn’t have to do this. Mike still drives his own car, ignoring the court order. And Mike continues to live his own life, with Rosemary popping in occasionally for an awkward conversation or two. Although the court-appointed order may have a sitcomish feel if it’s executed too literally, I felt that if you’re going to do it, let’s commit all the way. Move Rosemary into the house. Make it so she doesn’t allow Mike to drive, that she doesn’t allow Mike to do the things he’s used to doing. Create that conflict that’s going to force these two characters to address the issues they’ve been ignoring for the past 30 years.
Despite these problems, I thought there was enough here to make it worth the read. There are some funny moments (my favorite is when a drunk Rosemary goes to the seminary at night and starts throwing rocks at the priest’s window), Mike is a solid character, and I think it has some nice things to say about arrested development and making yourself accountable for your actions. I was just looking for more conflict, more of a commitment to the plot.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Use your protagonist’s job to tell us who she/he is. One thing I didn’t dig here was that we’re not really sure what Rosemary’s job is until late in the story, and this contributed to the reason I couldn’t get a feel for her character. Jobs are one of the easiest ways to tell us who a character is. If your character is an accountant, that might tell us they’re analytical and boring. If they’re a producer, that might tell us they’re a Type-A personality. If they’re a tattoo artist, that might tell us they’re rebellious and/or laid back. Create your character’s job with the intent of telling us who your character is.