Monday, June 6, 2011

I Hate You Dad

Genre: Comedy
Premise: Donny, infamous for impregnating a schoolteacher when he was 13, must reunite with his bitter son 25 years later on the eve of his marriage.
About: David H. Caspe is the co-executive producer of the new sitcom “Happy Endings.” He sold “I Hate You Dad” as a pitch to Columbia back in 2008, for Happy Madison (Adam Sandler’s company) to produce. "Dad" also made the lower third of the 2010 Black List.
Writer: David H. Caspe
Details: 115 pages – 12/04/08, 2nd 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).

Okay, I pretty much hate the Happy Madison banner. I think the whole team has been mailing it in for over a decade. And I say that with the knowledge that they’re not trying to win Oscars. They’re only looking to make people laugh. Still, their concepts and their execution are so garden variety vanilla that they actually suck all other flavors into a vortex. Having said that, you won’t find a more perfect casting/concept pairing than this one. Adam Sandler playing Andy Samberg’s father is one of those pitch perfect “duh” marriages that you put in a trailer and everyone in the world will go see the film. Or at least, everyone in Middle America. So now all that’s left is writing a great script. Easy, huh?

One of the things I liked about “I Hate You Dad” was that it did a few things you didn’t expect it to do. The opening is a good example of that. 13 year old Donny is hot for teacher in that special 80s way where it was pretty hot to be hot for teacher. The difference is that the teacher is hot for Donny back, so much so that when Donny makes his big move, she reciprocates, and has sex with him right there in the classroom!

With comedies so obsessed with playing it safe these days, starting a script off with pedophilia was a bit of surprise. Cut to 25 years later and the offspring of that wonderful day, Todd, is preparing for his wedding. Now Todd hasn’t told his wife that he’s the love child of that scandalous affair, and for good reason. The teacher ended up going to jail, the trial was a media circus, and Donny became an early Z-list celebrity before the Z-list was officially invented (btw, they’re considering adding a new letter to the alphabet to make a list even worse than the Z-list, for the specific purpose of classifying Chyna). Donny actually owns a hot tub business that allows him to cash in on his famous hot-for teacher exploits. This is so disturbing to poor Todd, that he’s gone so far as to change his name so that his father can’t find him.

Here’s the problem though. Donny is in a lot of trouble. Getting his tax advice from Richard Hatch (another candidate for the post-alphabet list), Donny decided not to pay taxes for a decade (hey, sort of like Happy Gilmore’s grandmother…hmmmm), and now, unless he comes up with a lot of dough, he’s going to jail. How convenient then, that his estranged son is a very successful stock broker. I think we know where this is going.

Donny shows up at Todd’s house just as the whole wedding party has arrived, claiming he’s his father, which seems odd, since Todd’s told everyone that his father is dead (he died in a massive explosion). Todd assures them all that Donny is joking and is just passing through, but when Donny refuses to leave, he’s forced to claim that Donny is his best friend. Naturally, um, hilarity ensues.

This one was somewhere between bearable and decent, though not enough of either to get excited about. As you’d expect, all the jokes here are rehashes of jokes we’ve seen in other Sandler films. You have the joke Sandler loves more than anything, which is to have one of the characters repeatedly say, with reckless glee, that another character is dead. You have the ubiquitous D-list celebrity show up (here, it’s Ian Ziering of 90210 fame). You also have something about Todd being really fat when he was younger, which, not surprisingly, has nothing to do with his character or the story whatsoever.

I’m not really sure what to say here since the script, outside a couple exceptions, was so exactly what you expected it to be. My biggest gripe was probably that the wife character was so under-written. She’s basically there so we can use the wedding as a ticking time bomb, but never once did she feel like a real person. I keep telling male writers this: put just as much effort into your female characters as you do your male characters. Your scripts will be a lot better for it. I promise.

Also, the concept was plagued with a near fatal flaw. Obviously, this story works best if nobody in the wedding party knows Donny as the famous “Hot For Teacher” father. But doing that is impossible, since they’ve made Donny a mini-celebrity. So now Todd has to pretend Donny is his best friend, which sort of makes the big secret (that he’s his son) pointless. They’ve already accepted “Hot For Teacher” Donny as Todd’s friend. How much worse is it if they find out he’s his son? The bigger faux-pas, however, is that Todd’s fiance seems to have no opinion on this slimy piece of filth being her fiance’s friend whatsoever. Actually, now that I think about it, I don’t think the two even have a scene together. It’s almost like the writers just didn’t want to deal with it.

Structurally, the script is pretty good. We have the goal (get married), the ticking time bomb (the wedding), and the main source of conflict (the father). I’m getting tired of the wedding angle for comedies but the reason people keep using it is because, admittedly, it’s the easiest template to structure a story around that there is. And you know, the last 20 pages of I Hate You Dad were actually pretty good. In most of these movies, you can predict what’s going to happen down to the individual scene, up to 30 pages in advance. So I was surprised when “I Hate You Dad” did not take the most obvious route, making the final act, at the very least, unexpected.

Combined with the opening, that meant the script had two big surprises. My problem is that everything in between is so blasé. It was like a sandwich made with two slices of freshly baked Tuscan cheese bread, but with bologna and miracle whip slapped in the middle. What the hell is Tuscan Cheese Bread? Not important. I love the poster and trailer for this project, but the script needed a second act kick in the ass.  I wouldn't go as far to say "I Hate You Script," but I would say, "You Have Problems You Need To Work On Script Before We Can Be Friends." 

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: In a comedy, you have an advantage if you can convey the central source of conflict right there in your movie title. “I Want To Fuck Your Sister.” We know the main character will need to fend off (conflict) people from trying to have sex with his sister. “Ghostbusters.” We know our characters will need to defeat (conflict) some ghosts. “I Hate You Dad.” We know a father and a son are going to go at it (conflict) for most of the movie. Even “40 Year Old Virgin,” indicates a man trying (conflict) desperately (and probably unsuccessfully) to get laid. This all seems rather insignificant and obvious once a 70 million dollar marketing campaign is behind your film, and you’re watching trailers and posters that convey all this stuff in excruciating detail, but at the spec stage, your title is often the only marketing tool you have. Use it to your advantage.