Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Adjustment Bureau

No link (in case you were curious - :)

Genre: Sci-Fi
Premise: A hotshot politician meets a beautiful ballet dancer only to experience unseen forces fighting to keep them apart.
About: Adapted from a Philip K. Dick story, Universal and Media Rights Capital (Bruno) will be producing. Matt Damon and Emily Blunt to star. George Nolfi, who wrote Timeline, Ocean's 12, and The Sentinal, adapted and will make The Adjustment Bureau his directorial debut. Nolfi is also producing along with Chris Moore, Michael Hackett and Bill Carraro. Damon will be getting a 20% first-dollar-gross backend. Yikes.
Writer: George Nolfi

Damon is hoping to get a slightly higher backend return than he did on Gerry.

If you were following me on Twitter yesterday, you'd know that I was super excited about a particular script I was reading. Up until page 32, I thought I had a "genius" on my hands. I purposefully went into it blind and as the story unfolded, I found myself inching closer and closer to the screen. I was actually on the edge of my seat...for a screenplay. As the setup came to a close however, I began to realize this wasn't going to be the script I wanted it to be. The sci-fi element that made the story so unique and interesting, faded into the background in favor of a heavy love story. Had I prepped myself for that, I would've been more tolerant. But I couldn't help thinking of the potential this kind squandered.

Congressman David Norris, 33, is running for Senate. He's kind of like the white version of Obama. He's good-looking. He inspires young people. He gives great speeches. His only fault is that he's a little *too* honest when discussing issues. And on the eve of what should've been a blowout victory, he himself gets blown out. Looking like Andy Roddick after this year's Wimbledon (but come on - did anyone really think he was going to win?), David must find solace in the second place trophy. How did this happen? Where did he go wrong?

As David preps for his "loser" speech, he meets a beautiful rambunctious woman named Elise. She and David gravitate towards each other like sugar and cinnamon, immediately lost in one another's eyes. Words, smiles, and laughs are exchanged. It's as if some unknown entity has put the rest of the world on hold so that these two can experience a perfect moment in time. To say these two are soul mates would be the understatement of the millennium.

As of this second, I am the world's biggest Emily Blunt fan.

David then gives an amazing consolation speech inspired by Elise. It's the kind of speech that gets played over and over again on CNN and makes him not only the frontrunner for a Senate seat in three years, but many people's pick as our future president of the United States. But all this is insignificant to David. All he cares about is finding Elise again. He must find Elise.

As it would happen, the very next day (as David is preparing for his first day of work at his new hedge fund job) David drops into Starbucks to pick up a coffee. But we push up above and meet a mysterious group of men on a rooftop, overlooking the city. The men speak in hushed tones. Something about preparing for a coffee spill. One of the men, Harry, is assigned to the "case". We cut to David, coming out of the coffee shop, and then over to Harry, who's supposed to do...something. But he's drifted off and missed his cue. Which means David catches a bus. And when he catches that bus, he can't believe his luck. Cause sitting there right in the middle is the world's most perfect vision. Elise. The two share a shocked smile. But Harry's not smiling. Neither are the rest of the mysterious men. Apparently, David's just done something terrible.

The mysterious men are thumbing through something called the "Handbook". Not to be confused with Facebook. It's full of extremely complicated diagrams inside, lines twisting and turning in every which direction. And then, to our utter shock, the lines start moving. They disconnect, slide and extend, reconnecting with other lines. It's this movement that seems to have the mysterious group of men concerned. Something is happening that shouldn't be. And David appears to be the cause of it.

Elise gives David her number and he's holding onto that thing for dear life. Off to his new job he goes, a skip in his step and an "I'm in love" smile on his face. When David steps into the building, we notice an immediate emptiness. There's a security guard there but he doesn't pay much notice to David. David heads upstairs and passes by his secretary. But when he says hi, she doesn't say anything back. She just sits there. That's when David takes a closer look at her. Her face appears to be...frozen. David understandably freaks out and runs into his partner's office only to find...that his partner is frozen too! Three men (the mysterious men) surround him, adjusting some sort of metal contraption on the side of his head. They turn and spot David, and David turns and runs.

But when the world's frozen and people are inserting metal contraptions into other people's heads, do you really think running's going to help? The men have an ability to leap from door to door, covering large distances in split-seconds and before David knows it, he's cornered, caught and drugged. When he wakes up, the men are standing over him in a warehouse. After some debate, the decide to tell him the truth.

Behind our world are planners, fate-spinners who guide and encourage us with lost keys, spilled coffee, phone calls and texts - anything to keep us on "the Plan." The Plan is our preordained destiny in this world. It must be adhered to. If too many people stray from The Plan, the foundation of humanity itself will crumble. So these men are here to help keep things on point. Harry was supposed to be there to enforce a coffee spill with David so he missed that bus. But David got on the bus. And because he got on the bus, something very terrible happened.

Mr. Philip K. Dick

David was never supposed to see Elise again. Apparently if her and David were to get together, a rift in The Plan so huge would occur, it would make that stuff they talk about in Ghostbusters seem like a bad night of drinking. They tell David that whatever he does, he cannot speak to this girl again. To drive home their point, they take out her number from David's wallet and burn it! They then inform him if he speaks about this puppeteering backworld to anyone, they will be forced to erase his memory. Which will essentially make him a vegetable.


David is once again on the verge of becoming Senator. But all the life has been seeped out of him. His happiness is tied inexorably to his inability to find Elise. He still takes the same bus every day in hopes of seeing her again. But the Planners have been behind the scenes, manipulating everything to make sure they stay apart. David knows this but keeps trying. And then, impossibly, he sees her again. This time, he will not leave her. This time, he will not let her out of his sight. But The Bureau has other plans.

And there you have The Adjustment Bureau. David tries desperately to be with Elise. The Bureau tries desperately to keep them apart. Is it any good? Well, that depends on if you want David and Elise to be together. If you do, you'll root for Mr. Damon to break through walls to be with her. If not, you'll likely close this puppy by page 40. It's always difficult to create a storyline where two people fall desperately in love. You basically have to have them fawning over each other within seconds of meeting, and the slim timeframe makes it hard to develop any real conflict in their relationship. Which leaves us with pure love. And what movie have you seen where two people dote over each other for 120 minutes that's actually any good? Romeo And Juliet? Even The Notebook had the two fighting just as much as they proclaimed their love for each other.

I think I have a problem with adapted Philip K. Dick material in general. It always feels like 3/4 of a good idea. The setup is usually solid, but the idea can rarely support an entire screenplay. In "Bureau" there were times when it all felt a little too silly. David and Elise share a lovely lunch together while The Bureau stands 100 feet away and flings little pieces of fate at them to try and keep them apart. Kind of like less-menacing versions of Final Destination. A text message to Elise telling her her ballet recital has been moved up. Sending David's campaign manager over to encourage David to get his speech ready. I'm trying to figure out if that would actually be compelling onscreen or just really really stupid. It's a tough call.

Luckily there's nothing out there quite like The Adjustment Bureau. Of course it borrows from other movies (more than a few times I thought of The Matrix) but overall the feeling is a unique one, which no doubt is why this project has caught the attention of such a big star like Damon. The themes of fate and choice are prevalent, and it's hard not to find those interesting even in a conventional story.

If only the 129 page screenplay were a good 19 pages shorter, this could've played out more urgently - always advantageous when you're dealing with sci-fi. And like I said, the innovation in the first act doesn't extend into the rest of the story. One good idea is never enough for these flicks. You need two or three. There's a final act chase that has David teleporting from doorway to doorway throughout New York just like The Bureau does, but it feels safe as opposed to innovative. I felt like a father consoling a kid after he lost a nailbiter of a soccer game. "Almost," I wanted to say, as I patted him on the back.

But there's no denying that there's something about The Adjustment Bureau. I'm sure they've already engaged in rewrites that will render some of these issues moot. And Emily Blunt being super-hot doesn't hurt things. The Adjustment Bureau wasn't bad.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest

[x] worth the read

[ ] impressive

[ ] genius

What I learned: When you have two people falling in love, you want to avoid having them spout back and forth how much they love each other for 120 minutes. For an example of *why* you don't want to do this, please watch "Star Wars Attack Of The Clones." In The Adjustment Bureau, Rolfi makes use of a writer's best friend in this circumstance: sarcasm. Not only does sarcasm keep the conversations light and funny, but it feels a lot more like real life. Who out there is constantly blathering, "You're the most beautiful person I've ever met in my life. I love you like air." Why not instead, "Nice shoes. Where'd you find those? Wal-Mart?" We know it's a joke. We know Elise really likes David. So the line ends up being cute and interesting. That's not to say there won't be moments in your screenplay where your characters say what they feel ("I love you") but you want to make those moments the exception and not the rule. -- Sarcasm is just one of many tools you can use to stave off those dreaded cringe-worthy lovey-dovey moments. Use it judiciously.