Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Arsonist's Love Story

Genre: Drama/Mystery/Procedural/Love Story
Premise: An arsonist begins to fall for a woman while being pursued for an accidental murder he committed during his latest arson.
About: The Arsonist’s Love Story was a lower-half 2010 Black List script. Though I don’t know this for sure, I believe the writer, Lovejoy, wrote it as an undergrad at NYU.  Lovejoy hosted a TV series back in 2007 called “Life After Film School” where she interviewed some pretty big names, including the Farrelly Brothers, Doug Liman, Jason Reitman, Kurtzman and Orci, and others. She was also an assistant on the TV show, Eureka.
Writer: Katherine F. Lovejoy
Details: 118 pages – undated

Every once in awhile, you gotta burn something. Whether it be a piece of paper, a bunch of trash, or a Ford Dealership. I think we can all relate to the feeling of needing to burn down a Ford Dealership, right?

Stop! Don’t go reporting me to Homeland Security just yet. That was sarcasm people. I am not a closet pyromaniac. At least not yet. That might change after this review.

The reason I picked up these 118 sheets of red hot digital paper was because they sounded different. A love story based around arson. That could be out there man. I’d definitely never heard of anything like it before, and its Black List status gave it the cachet it needed to take a chance.

But 72 hours later I’m still not exactly sure what I’ve read. This was an odd duck. An odd flaming duck. And I’m either too stupid to understand it (totally plausible) or this story was as muddied as a jungle stroll after a thunderstorm.

28 year old Aiden Kinsley is mysterious and brooding and handsome. The kind of guy who gets what he wants just by flashing a grin. He’s Robert Pattinson without sunblock. Appropriately, he works in the art world as a dealer, getting museums to sign half million dollar checks for white canvases with red dots in the middle.

But Aiden has a big secret. He moonlights as an arsonist. Oh yeah. Aiden just looooves setting things on fire. We actually see him dump buckets of gasoline all over a local car dealership at 3 in the morning and light that shit up. Boom. Boom! BOOM! Every car on the lot blows up. Hell yeah. I know when I have a choice between the latest episode of Entourage and setting 7 million dollars worth of property on fire, I pick fire every time.

When arson inspector Klein Stephens shows up the next day, he discloses to us the path of destruction this mysterious arsonist has left over the past few years, setting dozens of fires all over the city. But this one is different. That’s because they find a barbecued dead female body in the back. Now Aiden’s no longer just an arsonist. He’s a murderer.

Aiden’s pretty torn up about this, but he’s also got to watch his back. So he takes the initiative, finds out where Klein hangs out in his off-time, and shows up there, using his charm to build a false friendship. His hope is to keep abreast of any developments in the case so he can stave them off.

Also, for reasons which still escape me, Aiden shows up at Klein’s teenage son’s school to befriend him as well. Luckily for the story, his son happens to be a painter, allowing Aiden to befriend him in a legitimate way – key since Klein finds out Aiden is hanging out with his son behind his back. Now if some mysterious dude “accidentally” ran into me at the park and then later I found out he also “accidentally” met and started hanging out with my son, I would probably think something was up. Especially if I was a policeman. Not Klein. He just shrugs it off and rolls with it, inviting Aiden into the family.

But the real meat of the story occurs when Aiden meets Maya, a singer (actress?) at a bar he frequents. She’s beautiful, sensual, and talented, and unlike most of the women Aiden meets, she doesn’t throw herself at him. That challenge forces Aiden to open up in ways he never has before, and before he knows it, he’s actually in love with the chick. But that love will be tested in ways he can never imagine, especially once the shocking ending to The Arsonist’s Love Story reveals itself.

The Arsonist’s Love story has two major problems. The first is that the story is REALLY murky. I was constantly reading pages twice to try and figure out what was going on. This is likely a consequence of the surprise ending. When you have a big twist, you’re forced to fudge a lot of the earlier details to make sure you don’t give that twist away. If you cheat too much though - if you’re forced to hide too many of the details - the story loses its shape. And I’m afraid that’s what happened here.

For example, I couldn’t for the life of me understand why Aiden became friends with Klein’s son. I guess it was an attempt to infuse some conflict into the story. But I mean come on. If you’re the dad, there’s no way you’re not picking up on that coincidence.

Then there was the art dealer job. The art stuff had nothing to do with the story other than giving Aiden a plausible reason for hanging out with Klein’s son. But really, he could have been anything. A computer technician. A carpenter. A pilot. And it wouldn’t have affected the plot at all.

Then there were little things. For example, after the female body is discovered in the early arson attack, we see Aiden combing through the obituaries. In them, he finds Klein’s dead wife. Now I don’t know about you, but if a guy accidentally kills someone in an arson fire, then is looking through the obituaries, then finds a woman – isn’t it natural to assume that the woman he finds is the one he killed in the fire? Of course. But later we find out that Klein’s wife died awhile back, and he was just looking through the obituaries to get some dirt on Klein. This lack of clarity permeated through the screenplay.

The second major problem is the ending. I’m not going to spoil it here but let’s just say that if it made sense, I didn’t understand it. Oftentimes, writers feel that if they give you a general sense of what happened, that that’s enough. You can fill in the rest yourself. But if everything is unclear, how are we supposed to fill the rest in? For example, why did the location of the dead body change from the opening of the screenplay to the end of the screenplay? These details are never explained. And we’re just asked to go with it.

There’s some good to be found here. For example, just before the climax, we were really starting to get into some interesting stuff with Aiden and Maya. Their relationship was finally hitting its stride. The manufactured pasts were stripped away and it was more about two people who have trouble connecting with others finally finding a connection.

I also feel that women are going to enjoy this more than men. I can’t really say why but I feel like Lovejoy is writing to a female demographic here less concerned about the story logic and more focused on the emotion. It’s steamy. It’s passionate. It’s wrapped in this umbrella of heat and fire. In the same way I don’t understand Twilight’s appeal, I don’t think I’m fully able to appreciate Arsonist’s appeal.

But all I have to go on is my own opinion. And there was just too much murkiness here. The story was unclear. The characters were unclear. I could never get a feel for what was going on.

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

What I learned: I would stay away from peanut gallery admirations of your own dialogue. I see this occasionally, and it always pulls me out of the story. Here’s an example. When Aiden and Maya first meet, he tells her that she’s into him, even though she’s pretending not to be. She asks him how he knows that. “Because this city is full of people who bore you,” he says, “and you think I might be interesting.” The next line of description reads: “Whoa. Not the ordinary pick up line.” I don’t think this was Lovejoy’s intent, but this line basically sounds like a writer patting herself on the back. Let your dialogue speak for itself. You don’t have to give yourself a public hug when you come up with something good.