Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Insane Laws

Genre: Comedy
Premise: A couple of lifelong friends, now in their 40s, are shocked to find out that their kids have been secretly dating and are now getting married. Hilarity ensues when the parents try to hijack the wedding.
About: This will be screenwriter Jeremy Garelick’s first directing effort. He’s the writer of The Break-Up and has a ton of projects working their way through development around town. Garelick has been trying to make it into the directing chair for a while but no one would give him a chance. It wasn't until he spent 25,000 dollars of his own money to shoot a 6 minute scene from one of his scripts (titled "The Pretender") that studios started taking him seriously. Yay for creating your own opportunities.  The Insane Laws will star Vince Vaughn and Jason Bateman.
Writer: Jeremy Garelick
Details: 107 pages (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 thought The Breakup was a solid entry into the romantic comedy genre. What I liked about it was that it never did what a typical romantic comedy would do. Every choice, in fact, seemed to be the opposite of what you’d get in a standard rom com. It was also one of the last times I remember Vince Vaughn playing a real character. Vaughn has been a victim of his own success, playing variations of giant goofballs who spend more time riffing on things like different types of female nipples than they do actually inhabiting the story they're in.

Since Garelick was the writer of that film, I figured this script had a shot at being decent. Maybe instead of another series of standup comedy bits, Vaughn would actually play a real person.

Jeff Tucker and Monte Mays have been best friends forever. Monte is the crazy guy who will call you up in the middle of the night pretending to be a mob boss who's putting a hit out on you. Jeff is the more conservative one - the smart practical guy with the smart practical job who's so caught up in his own life that he actually falls for calls like that.

The two are now in their 40s and both doing well in their own respective ways. Monte owns a flourishing retro videogame company and Jeff ended up marrying a super-rich maybe-a-little-too-uptight-woman who’s thrown him into a higher tax bracket.

Taking inspiration from the Chinese, the friends also each have one child. Jeff has Noah, a smart cultured 19-year-old. And Monte has Eve, his slightly reserved but talented pride and joy - the kind of girl who can be anything she wants to be.

Unfortunately, lately, it's been hard for the two friends to get together. Family life and the real world have made each of them super busy. So they decide to have a big double family gathering to make up for lost time. After establishing that Monty and Jeff have about 1600 annoying inside jokes with each other, their son and daughter request to make an announcement. Eve is pregnant. They're having the baby. And, oh, they're getting married.

Now you have to understand that Jeff and Monty had no idea their kids were even dating, so this is shocking to them. Monte, in particular, doesn't handle it well. In fact, he wants to cut Noah up into a bunch of little pieces and feed him to the local zoo animals. But after everybody calms down, they realize this is going to be a great thing (They can be one giant family!), and the real work begins - prepping for the wedding.

Adding a little bit of a ticking time bomb, neither family wants the embarrassment of people knowing Eve is pregnant, so they decide to schedule the wedding before she starts showing. A short prep time means a mad dash to get everything done. And this, of course, is where all the comedy comes from (assuming you share the same definition of comedy as the film's collaborators). The problem is that Jeff and his wife want a tasteful wedding and Monte and his wife want a fun wedding. Since that means a disagreement on just about every decision, hilarity ensues.

I’ll probably forget about The Insane Laws by this time next week. There's nothing here to get that excited about. That said, it isn't bad. I mean, it's better than The Dilemma and Couples Retreat. And I think it's a nice update to Father Of The Bride. I like how they added a new spin by focusing on two neurotic families as opposed to one. And Garelick’s a pretty funny guy. The jokes here are way sharper than the jokes in those other Vaughn catastrophes (I laughed my ass off at “Dos Beckys” - the supposed mythical woman with two vaginas - and the stuff about the Samoan porn, which I realize sounds dumb without context).

But I did have some story problems. I thought it was curious, for example, that we never got to know the kids. I mean, at all. They have a quick intro at the beginning of the story then become as hard to find as the chupacabra. On top of that, they're just extremely boring. This wasn't a huge problem because the movie is more about the parents. But since the wedding is the driving source of all of the drama and conflict, it seems strange that we know nothing about the two people actually getting married. It reminds me of a good tip you always want to keep in mind. Pretend like you have to sell every single role in your movie to an actor. Would an actor want to play this role? Taking money and opportunity out of the equation, I don't think you'd find a single actor or actress who would want to play Noah or Eve. That’s a problem.

Another thing that bothered me - and that bothers me in general - is when writers give their characters really trendy weird jobs that have absolutely nothing to do with reality - the kind of job that nobody on the planet could relate to. So Monte, for example, sells vintage video game units - like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. I mean, yeah, it's kind of cool, but it's such a weird job and has so little to do with the story, that it just feels like it's there because it's quirky and different.

I'll continue to subscribe to the theory that you give your character a job that tells us something about them. Bill Murray in Groundhog Day is vain and full of himself, so of course he works in front of the camera as a news personality. Hugh Grant in Notting Hill is a plain guy who's never been anywhere, so his job is managing a tiny travel bookstore (throwing some irony in there to make it even more relevant). The best high concept comedy of all time, Liar Liar, places its character in an environment where he's forced to lie every day, a law firm. I admit I harp on this because it's a pet peeve of mine but I really think it makes a character better.

Sadly, The Insane Laws descends into the same kind of wacky directionless humor that has become the standard for Vince Vaughn films. The humor stems more from the situation than, say, Dodgeball, but it still feels like a bunch of wacky gags and set pieces stitched together by a weak story. And it doesn't help that the wedding angle has been done six cagillion times. So there's nothing really new to get excited about. I really wanted to like this but it's just too messy to recommend. Hopefully, they find a way to make it work in production.

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

What I learned: You may not have time to extensively develop every character in your story, but that doesn't mean you should abandon them. The most important characters to get right are your main characters. Those are the characters that are going to bring in the stars and get your movie made. Clearly, that's what Garelick did here. But in the process, he completely ignored developing Noah and Eve. This happens a lot actually. You realize certain characters only have five or six scenes in the movie and you figure, I don't have time to make them memorable. But good writers can make anybody memorable - even with a single scene if need be. It only takes a few minutes, for example, to show that Steve Carrell collects childhood action figures and rides to work on his bike every day in The 40 Year Old Virgin. We have a good feel for that character’s life and what he needs to change within those 3 minutes. So never give up on your characters. Always ask yourself, would an actor wanna play this part? And if the answer is no, keep working on them until the answer is yes.