Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Bel Ami

Genre: Period Romance
Premise: Set (I think) in early 20th Century Paris, a penniless journalist worms his way into the city's upper crust, seducing all the ladies in his path.
About: Robert Pattinson is in it. What more do you need to know?
Writer: Rachel Bennette (based off the short story by Guy de Maupassant)

Would you trust this man with your wife?

Oh R_Patz. Where art thou R_Patz? What the *hell* are you doing R_Patz?? Did you even read the script you signed up for? No you didn't, did you. You so did not read it. But you were interested in making this movie R_Patz weren't you? Yes you were. You were interested in making this movie because the coverage said you'd be spending the majority of the 120 minutes banging three of the hottest actresses in Hollywood. Yes you were R_Patz. Don't you lie to me Mr. Sharp Fangs. We both know the truth. Because here you were Mr. Twilight Vampire Man thinking you would get the pick of the litter. Three sultry celebrities you could take back to your coffin every night after filming. Real sex after fake sex. Menage et quatro. Be honest with me R_Patz. That's why you signed up for this movie, isn't it?

Well because you didn't read the script, let me break it down for you. Your character, Georges, is a bit of a low life. He's slumming it up in Paris circa sometime-a-long-time ago (the author chose not to disclose the actual year because she hates me). Apparently Georges used to be a soldier, but the only thing he fights now are the gargantuan cockroaches that try to share a blanket with him in his tiny attic apartment.

Low and behold though, wouldn't it be Georges Porgies luck that he runs into an old friend while trying to spend his last two shillings on a low-class whore. The friend, Charles, has since become very rich, running his own newspaper, The Parisian. Charles offers George a job at the paper, despite the fact that Georges has never written anything in his entire life.

The job and Charles' friendship allow him a tiny opening into Paris' upper crust, which he exploits to the nth degree. You see Charles' and his two best buddies just happen to be married to the three most beautiful women in France. There's Madeline, Charles' impeccably smart and beautiful wife. There's Clotilde, the slutty one. And then there's Luc Rousset, the innocent Redhead. I think we all know where this is going, right?

Yes, Georges begins to seduce the women one-by-one with varying degrees of success. He starts off with Madeline, who he has the strongest connection to, but she thwarts his advances and claims, "I will never be your lover." So he moves on to the easiest target, Clotilde, who is so slutified that she actually buys the two a bang bungalow, a special place exclusively for their daily bang. But this is not enough for Georges. He craves excess. And when Charles succumbs to some distant cousin of the Bubonic Plauge (an early version of swine flu maybe?) Georges swoops in and marries his true love, Madeline.

Oh but if it were that easy. After marrying Madeline, he learns that she just isn't that interested in him. In fact, she pulls out the virtual chastity belt and basically tells him "You do your thing, I'll do mine." So what does Georges do in return? What do you think he does! He makes a move on Luc Rousset (who's a woman - I know, it's confusing) and starts a dangerous fling in the bang bungalow that Clotilde bought specifically for them. If there was a Renaissance version of Cheaters, this shit would be ripe for the season finale.

Because Georges is a moron, he doesn't realize that you never cheat on anyone with a girl with red hair! Because when a red hair shows up in your bed, you can't explain it away. "Uhh, maybe your hair is turning red?" Doesn't work. I've tried it. So Clotilde leaves him. He leaves Luc Rousset. And Madeline won't even return any of his texts. Is this Bel Ami or The Real Housewives of Atlanta?

Anyway, Georges ends up just as poor and helpless as where he started in the movie, before making a last-second power play and marrying Luc Rousset's daughter of all people (who up til this point hadn't even spoken a line). It was such a bizarre turn of events I sent my life size poster of Robert Pattinson to the closet for a time out. Luc Rousset plays the least important role of the three ladies, so what they were trying to say by having Georges marry her daughter is a complete mystery to me.

There were some good moments tucked into Bel Ami. The relationship between R_Patz and Madeline was interesting, as she tended to treat him like he treated everyone else. But outside of that, this felt like a salacious excuse for a bunch of smelly French sex.

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

[ ] worth the read

[ ] impressive

[ ] genius

What I learned: All joking aside, if you have an unmarketable screenplay, try to target actors who like taking chances. Very few A-list actors would take on a role like this and therefore Bel Ami was destined to wither in screenplay obscurity. But Pattinson seems interested in trying new things (he's also playing a Cherokee Indian in Unbound Captives) so a script like Bel Ami is something he might actually read. The owners of the material took a chance and it paid off. As writers, you're always looking to add to the "package" of your screenplay with actors and directors. Even if you have a slow non-mainstream piece, if you've done your homework and know a few actors who might be interested in your offbeat independent film (Dicaprio with The Low Dweller, Pattinson with Unbound Captives, Nicolas Cage with Leaving Las Vegas), you might find your script going from unwanted to the hottest screenplay in town. Now getting to those actors is another thing altogether. But it's another avenue to pursue.

p.s. If you'd like to read about a much better Robert Pattinson project, go here.

EDIT - FURTHER THOUGHTS ON BEL AMI: So I'm kind of getting deluged with e-mails from Twilight fans saying I didn't give the script a fair chance and that I was snooty in my review. They also want more details. So let me say a couple more things.

The thing I liked best about the script was the character of Madeline. She informs Georges from the beginning of their marriage that he can never question her, and cannot be jealous. She is her own woman and expects to be treated as such. Within weeks Georges begins coming home to suspicious visits by an older man named The Comte. It doesn't take George long to start suspecting that something's going on between The Comte and his wife. But a healthy dose of denial convinces him his wife can't possibly be interested in this old bag of bone. Madeline's icy response to his desperate attempts at closeness finally level the playing field of a man who's been playing by his own rules without consequences. As they're both pretty despicable people, watching their marriage deteriorate is quite fun.

The character of Luc Rousset is also quite funny, as she clings desperately to Georges after even a whisper of an interest from him. As he has sex with her the first time, she screams out, "I love you! I love you! I love you!" over and over again. Man, and I thought my ex was clingy. When his world starts crumbling around him, he literally kicks Luc Rousset to the curb, telling her she makes him sick and that he never even had the slightest interest in her. To add insult to injury, he ends up marrying her daughter.

There's also an uninteresting sub-plot about the men at The Parisian taking advantage of France's invasion of Morocco - buying up a lot of businesses so that when the country officially becomes theirs, they'll all be rich. They purposefully exclude Georges from the club, ensuring that he'll end up with nothing, which he becomes extremely angry about - despite the fact that he's been fucking all their wives behind their backs.

A few people have asked me about the dialogue. I have a very simple philosophy about dialogue. Unless we're talking comedy, the more invisible the dialogue, the better. The only time I notice dialogue is when it's really atrocious or really over-the-top. I dislike both. When dialogue flows with the story organically, it should feel like real people talking, and in that sense, Bel Ami does a good job. The dialogue was smooth and realistic, even with the extravagances the script sometimes took.

If you have questions, please ask in the comments section instead of e-mailing me as that way, future readers can have their questions answered as well.