Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Lucky Dog

Genre: Indie Comedy
Premise: A couple of Canadian losers drive down to New York to try and sell Christmas Trees. Dumb and Dumber meets Sideways.
About: Melissa James Gibson is a well-known Canadian playwright. As far as I can tell, this is her first screenplay sale. Paul Giamatti and his wife are producing the film. Giamatti and Paul Rudd will be playing the lead characters. Phil Morrison is directing. Morrison is best known for the well-received 2005 film, Junebug. Strangely, he hasn’t made a film since.
Writer: Melissa James Gibson
Details: 115 pages – 3/11/11 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).

The only thing I knew about this one when I started reading it was that Paul Giamatti was involved. He usually makes interesting choices so I was in. Later I discovered Paul Rudd had been cast and started wondering what the tone of the script was. Afterwards, I’m still searching for that tone. This is a weird script, starting with the premise.

Guy is a 42 year-old Quebecian who just got out of a 5 year jail stint for burglary. Guy is a thief. A lifer in the trade. Except he’s ready to end that life. Guy wants to go on the straight and narrow. So after being released, he heads home to reunite with his wife and eight year old daughter. But there’s a problem. Actually, there’s a couple of problems. His wife went ahead and told their daughter Guy had died. It was apparently too hard to tell her the truth. So Guy can’t even come into the house. He can’t meet and talk to his daughter. Which makes absolutely no sense of course. If I have a daughter who thinks I’m dead, I’m walking in and telling her I’m not. I’m sure she’ll get over it.

Anyway, that’s just the beginning. Guy tasked his old partner in crime, Rene (the one I believe got away on the job that put Guy in jail) with taking care of his wife while he was gone. Well Rene takes care of her all right. If by “taking care” you mean “has lots of sex with.” Now his wife loves Rene, and his daughter thinks of him as her father. In two words: Not good.

Well at least Rene still has all the money from their last job, right? Umm, not really. When Guy goes to collect his half of the loot that he’s been waiting 5 years for, he finds out Rene has spent it all. Nice! That leaves both of them broke. Guy wants to know how they’re going to make money – legally, but Rene isn’t being very helpful. He says he’s going down to New York to sell Christmas trees with a friend. Guy says, “Ditch the friend. You’re going with me. And we’re splitting the money.” Rene reluctantly agrees and off the two go to New York.

Once there, Guy realizes that Rene doesn’t have any of this planned out. He doesn’t even have a Lot to sell the trees on! So they start selling trees out of the back of their truck. It becomes clear that Rene is a total moron and Guy gets more impatient with him every minute because of it. Eventually, the duo start poaching on an empty lot, and things pick up. So how does this all end? Why they decide to steal a piano of course! “Huh?” You ask. “What does that have to do with a movie about selling Christmas Trees?” Beats me. Welcome to Lucky Dog.

Where to begin with Lucky Dog. Let’s start with the title, which has absolutely nothing to do with the story. That’s usually a bad sign and a harbinger of things to come. That’s followed by a nonsensical “you can’t talk to your daughter because she thinks you’re dead” sub-plot. Then, out of nowhere, the script becomes about selling Christmas trees (What does selling Christmas trees have to do with a movie about a couple of thieves?). By the midpoint I had no idea what the script was about or what was going on.

I wasn’t even sure what they were doing this for. To make money? Okay, fine. But for what? What was the ultimate goal? To make money so they could have… money? That’s not a goal. Making money for the sake of making money is never going to entertain an audience. They need a point – a REASON for wanting to make money. Somewhere near the end we learn that Rene’s going to use the money to provide for Guy’s wife and kid. Which didn’t make any sense because the whole time in New York, all Rene wanted to do was fuck other women. And I guess the reason Guy wanted the money was to buy his daughter a piano? Except we didn’t find this out until 15 pages before the ending. Strange.

Then there’s the baffling relationship between the two main characters. Rene is fucking Guy’s wife. But this isn’t a secret. Guy knows about it. Yet he never raises a stink about it. He gets annoyed every once in awhile, but all in all doesn’t seem to mind much. Here’s a scenario for you. Before you go to jail for five years, you task your best friend with watching your wife. You come back to find out he’s fucking her. Do you say anything to him or just continue your friendship like nothing happened? Apparently in this universe, you opt for the latter. That’s what was so damn strange about this script. There were so many illogical aspects about it that it was impossible to take any of it seriously.

Luckily, once they get to New York and settle in, the script FINALLY starts to find its groove. Once it became solely about selling Christmas trees, I at least understood the story. There is some funny stuff in there, such as the two believing they can sell Christmas trees on a lot that isn’t theirs.

Also, thank God for Olga, the woman who befriends Gary after buying a tree. She was the only character in the entire script who was exciting – who jumped off the page. There was an honesty and a vibrancy to her that none of the other characters had. I wondered why she was so head and shoulders above the other characters and I later found out that the script was written by a woman (I just assumed it was a man because it was a script about two guys on a road trip). Naturally, I wondered if she simply understood the female voice better, being a woman. That may sound sexist but I can’t think of any other reason why all the guy characters were muddled and she was so well defined. I actually would’ve LOVED a lot more of Olga. When she first appeared, I thought, “Thank God!” This script needed a woman – a love story. But then she disappears for the majority of the script until the strange piano theft finale.

I don’t know how to conclude this. Lucky Dog was just all over the place. The story was weird. The characters were odd. Nobody’s actions made much sense. The goal was vague. I felt like I was on a backwards merry-go-round being juggled by Godzilla. I never knew which direction was up.

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

What I learned: Maybe you guys can help me here. I’m all for a writer being “different.” I’m all for a script making unconventional choices and constantly surprising you. In fact, I often advocate for that kind of thing. I love not knowing what’s coming next. But there seems to be a line where once you cross it, “different” becomes “confusing/frustrating.” Sure, the script is giving us something we’ve never quite seen before. Plot points are unique. Characters don’t act like we expect them to. But the combination is so off-kilter that we can’t identify with anything – we can’t find our “bearings” so to speak. And that “unique” script ends up being confusing and weird. I don’t know where that line is, I just know when it’s crossed. And here it was crossed. No matter what I did, I could never get a feel for what this script was or what it wanted to be. It was simply all over the place.