Premise: (Original Twit-Pitch Logline) A lifelong bachelor accidentally proposes to his clingy girlfriend then tries to trick her into dumping him, but the tables soon turn.
About: For those recently joining Scriptshadow, I held a contest a few months back called "Twit-Pitch," where anyone could pitch me their screenplay on Twitter, as long as it was contained within a single tweet. I picked my 100 favorite loglines and read the first 10 pages of each (which I live-reviewed on Twitter), and then from those, picked the Top 20, which I've been reading the entire screenplays for. Today is the final Twit-Pitch review.
Writers: Graeme McPhail & Kristoffer McKeown
Details: 105 pages
James Franco for Jeff?
A month back, Twit-Pitch came to me and was like, "I need a vacation." I was like, "Vacation? But you only have one script review left!" "It's hard doing what I do," she told me. "Putting up my pages in front of the world, week in and week out. I need a break." So after much deliberation, I paid for Twit-Pitch to spend a month in Honalulu. She was able to relax, get some sun, and let loose a little. I figured, with that kind of rest, she'd be primed for a big return. And so here we are, with the final Twit-Pitch entry. There's an old saying that goes, "saving the best for last." Does Ring Of Liar give us Twit-Pitch's best? Or should she have stayed in Hawaii and left us alone forever?
Jeff Bloom is almost 30 and LOVING LIFE. He's got a cushy advertising job. He's got lots of friends. And he's got a longtime girlfriend who he hasn't had to make the big commitment to. Well, that's about to change. Sam (the aforementioned girlfriend) is ready to take that next step. She wants the house, the kids, the whole ball of wax.
Except Jeff's just fine with the wax he picks out of his ears. So he makes a tough decision. In order to avoid those dreadful wedding bells, he's going to break-up with Sam! However, he doesn't want to go out on bad terms so, before the break-up, he buys her a friendship ring (huh???). That night while Jeff is sleeping, Sam stumbles across the ring and thinks Jeff is proposing to her. Before he's even fully awake, she's calling her friends and family. "Oh my god. We're getting married!"
Jeff considers telling Sam the truth, until Sam's big scary Irish step-brother, SHAY, shows up ready to pummel anything that so much as glances at Sam. Which means, now, if Jeff breaks up with Sam, I.R.A. over here is going to give him a taste of his brass knuckles. So Jeff moves to Plan B. He'll just be the worst boyfriend ever and make Sam break up with him.
His first order of business is buying a dog to terrorize Sam's kitty. But it backfires when the dog and cat become best friends. He then pretends to like really kinky sex, hoping it will scare Sam away. But it doesn't. It turns her on. He even goes so far as to become a Rastafarian, something he knows Sam hates.
It's then that Sam realizes something is up. After a little investigating, she becomes keen to his plan. But instead of calling him on it, she decides to play right back. She starts tempting him with a bunch of marriage bait such as promises of 3-ways, and even pretending to win the lottery. The plan is to get him to the altar, call him out, and then leave him there, a total humiliation smackdown.
This leads to Jeff finding out that Sam is going to screw him over which leads to Sam finding out that Jeff knows she's going to screw him over, which leads to one whacked-out crazy wedding.
I remembered the first ten pages of Ring Of Liar immediately. You had this amusing guy, dribbling a basketball around his agency, trying to figure out how to market it. It was fun and promised a light-hearted marketable comedy. Unfortunately, the script didn't keep that up, and I believe it's because writers McPhail and McKeown fell into a lot of romantic comedy traps.
First, it's hard to make this kind of set-up work. You're telling the audience to root for a guy who's screwing over a girl we like. It's by no means impossible to pull this off, but I can assure you it's really hard. Why would we want to root for that to happen?
But if you are going to go with that premise, you have to commit to it 100%, and I was disappointed by how safe the writers played things. Jeff's first attempt to get Sam to break up with him involves buying a dog to mess with her cat?? I don't know. That's pretty tame. And even when Jeff tries to use sex to get out of the relationship, it's tame (he threatens to wear women's boots when they have sex?). Seinfeld had an episode with a similar premise once, and in order for Jerry to get out of the relationship, he told his girlfriend he wanted to have a 3-way with her roommate. Things backfire when both women are into it and Jerry gets cold feet. If a sit-com is pushing the boundaries of comedy further than your feature, that worries me.
The writing was also lazy in key places. For example, we go through this elaborate yet nonsensical set-up whereby to break up with Sam, Jeff decides to buy her a "friendship" ring to soften the blow. There's no way in a million years anyone would do this, so it looks super-lazy when we realize it was only so Sam could mistake the ring later on for an engagement ring. Why not have Jeff holding an engagement ring for a friend and that's the one she finds? It would've been so much smoother. You never want to be lazy around your plot-points, because that's when your storytelling has to be the most invisible. If you try to force anything during a plot point, the reader will always spot it.
When I really gave up, though, was when Sam decided to dual with Jeff. Not only was it not in her character to do so, but it was so far removed from what would really happen that it was impossible to go along with. I know romantic comedies are not real life - that the rom-com world is a more exaggerated world. But you have to play within the boundaries of believability. You'll find that in most great Rom-Coms, characters make logical decisions. They don't start acting wacky because it's a rom-com and in rom-coms, characters act wacky.
The character with the most potential here was Shay, the Irish step-brother. I liked how McPhail and McKeown used him to raise the stakes. If Jeff tried to get out of this relationship, he'd pay a steep price. He was easily the funniest character (his issue with horses was my favorite part of the script). I also liked the attempt by the writers to dig into Shay's character, making him afraid of girls. My problem was that it had nothing to do with the rest of the story. It was like this subplot occurring off on Subplot Island that didn't affect anything or anyone. Why not give Sam a female co-worker (or heck, male!) that Shay likes, and Shay needs Jeff to help him talk to her. That way, his character arc is happening within the main plot as opposed to off in the middle of nowhere.
This is another analysis I hate doing because Ring Of Liar does have a relaxed, fun feel to it. I was certainly smiling a lot. But for these types of scripts to sell, the reader has to be laughing a lot, and that only happened a few times. The reason for that is the underpinnings of this screenplay aren't where they need to be. You're asking us to root for someone to screw over a character we like. Your plot points are way too forced and obvious to the reader. Neither character is acting logically most of the time. Cleaning these things up is going to bolster the believability of your script so that we start caring about what's happening. With that said, comedy is the most subjective of the genres. And I have seen scripts like this sell before. So maybe I'm totally wrong on this one. Ya never know. What did you guys think?
(As for the "winner" of Twit-Pitch, I'll name both him and the runner-up this weekend! :)
Script link: Ring Of Liar
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn't for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: When the big problem in your comedy is set up, it's important that your characters consider the most logical solutions first. So if your character is a 10 year old boy who wakes up in the body of a 30 year old man, you have to ask, "If this happened to me, what's the first thing I would do?" You'd probably go to your mom, scared, and ask what's happening. Then you might go back to the machine where you made the wish to be "big" last night. See if it could turn you back. I think once you establish that your character tried all the logical avenues, you can start playing with the more ridiculous ones. So if you want your girlfriend to break up with you, is the first thing you do really going to be to buy a dog to scare her cat? Come on. I would probably leave messes all over the apartment, leave the bathroom seat up, play video games all day, pretend I got fired from my job, make a list of everything that pushed my girlfriend's buttons and do all of them. It just didn't feel like the writers treated this situation logically so I never bought into it.