Thursday, March 5, 2009

Sequels, Remakes, and Adaptations

Genre: Indy Dramedy
Synopsis: A lovestruck nerd learns you have 500,000 chances to live a fulfilled life or you go to hell. He's only got 2 chances left.
About: Blacklist 08.
Writer: Sam Esmail

"Sequels" wants you to know that it's different. No, I mean it really wants you to know that it's different. The writer/main character (as it's implied they're one and the same) tells you right off the bat that he plans to be different. He is about to write something the likes of which you have never experienced before. And I think he succeeds. But Sequels is not as daring and different as it tries to be. As it happens, it's just different enough.

I have a certain admiration for Sam Esmail. He starts off with these huge chunks of narration and while I've seen that before, Esmail never lets up. He just keeps on going. And going and going. The writer of Amelie is disgusted by how much voice over is in this script. In fact, I'd venture that over 65% of his script is narration. As most people pursuing screenwriting know, voice over is considered the butchered technique of a hack and is to be avoided at all costs. For Esmail to so blantlantly use the technique is a big fuck you to the industry, and a big fuck you to writing itself. Anybody writing an anti-love letter to the industry is fine by my standards. I couldn't help but be immediately intrigued.

The script starts off showing us what a miserable life JR has. He's desperately in love with Robyn, a girl who will never love him back. She entertains his company more out of pity than interest, gets high with him, and somehow the effects of the weed never die off on JR. He is high for the rest of his life (weird, I know. And no, he doesn't play this up for cheap pot humor either. In fact, it has little to no effect on the rest of the story) So after 30 years of a miserable life (and always being high), he steps in front of a truck and kills himself. He is then transported to heaven - or at least what he thinks is heaven. It's actually just a holding point. The 13th president of the United States (now an angel/agent) informs him that you have 500,000 chances to live a complete and fulfilled life (known as "vim") and that JR has killed himself 499,998 times. He's got two chances left to achieve vim. Therefore (in his mind), if he doesn't find a way to get Robyn, he'll never be happy, kill himself 2 more times, and be sent to hell. (as a side note, I would highly suggest Mr. Esmail watch the Albert Brooks film "Defending Your Life" as this whole portion of the story is an almost beat for beat remake of that film.)

The script doesn't cop out. It doesn't spin around and give you a big happy smiley ending. He does get Robyn and they do get married. But just like JR will always be JR, Robyn will always be Robyn. She doesn't love him. And when she starts banging every cable guy, pool cleaner, tennis pro in sight, JR realizes he's more miserable now than when he never got Robyn at all. Man, I'm getting depressed just typing this stuff.

What I couldn't get over is that Sequels doesn't just wear its desire to be different on its sleeve. It wears it on its whole damn wardrobe. It wants so bad to be unique, defy convention, poke fun at itself, create something that's never been seen before, that you're focusing more on these attempts than the actual story itself. Esmail seems to want to create a modern day Citizen Kane here (a film that also notoriously defied convention). But let's be honest. This ain't no Citizen Kane.

I give credit to Sequels for trying though. It stands out in a sea of scripts that don't have an inkling of originality to them and that was enough to put it ahead of the pack (and on the 2008 Black List). I think Sam Esmail is an interesting writer and could potentially create something great. But for that, we may have to wait for the sequel. :)

[ ] trash
[ ] barely readable
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned from Sequels, Remakes and Adaptations: This one reminds me of 500 Days Of Summer. Be original. Find a new way to tell the same story. Sequels is essentially a tragic love story. But Esmail approaches it from a completely different angle.