Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Labor Of Love

Many of you know sweet, caring, cute and insightful Kristy over at MSP. Although she's in the thick of a college semester, she's found enough time to give a female perspective on a lot of the latest scripts in town. Also, she has a library of scripts on her blog where you just may be able to find some of the script links I'm not able to post. Kristy and I agreed she should do a guest review and it was up to me to decide what script to give her. I thought long and hard and finally settled on M. Night's first sale script, "Labor Of Love." Why? Well because what film geek doesn't like discussing M. Night? It's like Yankee fans reading an article about A-Rod. Everybody's got an opinion.

I'm one of those people who thinks that each of Night's films has been worse than the previous. The Sixth Sense, in my eyes, is pretty much the bar for spec scripts. It would fall into the genius category without question. Unbreakable didn't cater to my sensibilities. Signs showed his first huge miscalculation on an ending. The Village insulted my intelligence. Lady In The Water felt like I'd been transported to an apocalyptic Candyland after being injected with a week's supply of LSD. And then of course there was The Happening. Maybe my favorite theater moment this decade was when Marky Mark and his group tried to outrun the wind. My entire theater couldn't stop laughing. Then a dozen people got up and left, then someone in the back yelled out, "You can't outrun no wind!" and then a few more people left, one of them declaring, "This is bulllll-shit." During the rest of the movie, an old lady sitting next to me had a running commentary with her friend about how she didn't understand what was going on. It was way more entertaining than if I had just seen the movie.

But see here's the weird thing. I went to see *all* of these movies. And I will go to see the next M. Night movie. And the next one after that. Despite everything, in some weird way, I still care about what M. Night makes. So he's gotta be doing something right, right?
Whatever the case, I'd always heard about this script but never knew anything about it. 750k is quite a sale, even back at that time, so the script had to be special, right? Right Kristy?

Genre: Drama
Premise: After his wife’s death, a man sets out on a 3,200 mile journey across country on foot to show his love for her.
About: This was M. Night Shyamalan’s third script, and the first he sold to Fox back in 1993, for 750k. The project failed to get off the ground reportedly because they were unwilling to put M. Night in the director’s chair (I have other theories why it didn’t get made). The script sale led to work on the film "Stuart Little," which was then followed by his masterpiece, "The Sixth Sense."
Writer: M. Night Shyamalan
Details: 119 pages

So I told Carson I wanted to do a blog entry for Script Shadow…he was letting everybody else do one and we go way back so it was only fair that I get a shot. My demands were met with a script by a writer who I wouldn’t care a thing about if he didn’t come up with The Sixth Sense and a script written and sold when I was the ripe age of 5. The night before, I was actually discussing to a friend how much we really didn’t care for M Night. That’s karma I guess. To my surprise this has no elements that I’ve seen from MNS in the past. No dead people, no people lying down in front of lawn mowers for no reason, no mermaids, no contained villages. It was just a regular character driven drama.

Labor of Love is about Maurice Parker and his wife Ellen. The script opens up in a way we’ve seen many times before. It uses a shocking flash-forward scene and then skips back so that we have to read and find out how we ended up there. We fade in on Ellen’s fatal car wreck, but we skip back a few weeks earlier to her and Maurice’s seventeen year marriage. Maurice is very much a man settled into his marriage, it’s the same routine day in and day out. Ellen wakes up, walks ¼ one way to get a loaf of raisin bread for Maurice every morning while Maurice fails to tell Ellen how much she means to him. Ellen is basically STARVING for some affection. Sure Maurice says he loves her, but as a female, I know words can only go so far before we start doubting them. Is it too much to ask for someone to show their love every now and then? Apparently it was for Maurice. He got by on the words “I love you” for seventeen odd years to the point where it was just background noise. She wanted flowers, chocolates, anything tangible to represent his love. She asked him once if he would walk across the country for her and Maurice of course says, sure. But how do we know he would? We wouldn’t unless he physically did it.

Maurice decides to have a celebration one night, he just bought a bigger space to move his classic book store into. Just friends, family, Ellen, for a nice relaxed evening. That’s until he gets the news that Ellen was killed in a car accident by a drunk driver, which we already knew. Maurice’s world instantly falls apart. This story very much reminded me of the Garth Brooks song, If Tomorrow Never Comes. The lyrics go a little something like:

If tomorrow never comes
Will she know how much I loved her
Did I try in every way to show her every day
That shes my only one
And if my time on earth were through
And she must face the world without me
Is the love I gave her in the past
Gonna be enough to last
If tomorrow never comes

Well Ellen won’t ever know how much Maurice loved her. He didn’t do his best everyday to show her. This eats at Maurice from the inside out. She begged for his love and he couldn’t give her an ounce of tangible evidence…until now. Here is a scene between him and an old lady in the park that pretty much confirms his future decision:

Where did he go?

He's getting my sweater from the car. I said there was a breeze.
(shaking her head)
I told him not to go.


May I ask you a question that might sound strange?



How do you know he loves you?

The old woman looks at him oddly.

I mean besides... time -- how did you know ten years ago -- twenty years ago?

She thinks hard... tough question. No answer for a moment

then –

The old woman sees something out of the corner of her eye -- her husband is walking up the path with her white lace sweater over his arm...

She smiles as the answer comes to her.

Because he shows me... he's not much for words, but he shows me.

It’s like that scene in The Break Up where Jennifer Aniston tells Vince Vaughn she wants him to want to do the dishes. In other words we shouldn’t have to beg for love, or ask you to do the dishes, you should want to do them because you know it will make us happy. I’m not being gender specific when I say you…but yeah men…you J.

So after 22 pages of me not sure where this story was going, Maurice decides he’s going to walk across the country to show Ellen how much he loved and would do anything for her (umm now that she is no longer in existence). This journey starts in Philadelphia and will end in Pacifica, California, that’s over 3000 miles. It doesn’t say at the beginning why Pacifica, CA, but we find out at the very end through a flashback that Ellen once told Maurice that Pacifica was her “heaven.”

Maurice closes up shop. He gets his stuff together and just leaves, heads out west. He’s in his late forties, not technically physically fit, so you can imagine how this is going to go. So it’s a basic struggle itself just to make the trek across the country. Maurice does make some encounters along the way. Nothing strong enough, not for me anyways. He walks by this liquor store and sees these drunks getting into their trucks to drive. Maurice politely asks them not to drive drunk. This pisses the guys off. Not a page later guess who’s coming up behind him? They beat the pulp out of Maurice but luckily a police “happens” to be nearby and stop them. He runs Maurice’s name to find out his niece is looking for him. She is a psychologist and thinks Maurice is a danger to himself and needs to be in better condition before attempting this crazy adventure. She uses her frequent flyer miles to drive all the way to Indiana and pick him up. Well she stops at a gas station, when she gets back in her car she tries talking to Maurice but he’s silent. She figures he's sleeping (long journey and all). But when she gets back to PA, she realizes she's been duped. There's a homeless man in her backseat in place of Maurice.

This journey is mostly about him walking. At one point Maurice does save a woman and her daughter after a car wreck in a snowstorm. This makes him feel a little better about Ellen’s wreck, as he saved someone. It’s not long before words gets out all over the country. Maurice’s friend used to be a newspaper writer and starts writing little columns about Maurice’s story. Maurice isn't even aware how big a celebrity he's becoming. In the final stretch he falls off a ledge in Nevada, breaks his ribs, has a minor stroke, ruptures his spleen, and has some bleeding of the brain. He is hospitalized but glad to find out he is still in California. Doctors tell him that if he doesn’t have surgery he will die. Well of course Maurice is determined to finish the last 60 miles. He HAS to feel that California water on his skin or nothing that he did before matters. He sneaks out of the hospital and keeps on truckin’. He’s on his deathbed as he walks. His side is bleeding through his shirt, he can barely walk. It’s a bit sad and strung out. And the ending? Well…let’s just say if it didn’t end this way I’d be mad because the ending was the only real thing in my mind that had an emotional impact. And I don’t mean the fact of whether he makes it or not. I guess you’ll have to read to find out how it ends.

So like I said I got almost 20 pages in and was wondering where in the heck this was going. I thought Ellen’s death would be something that was strung out the entire story and we would find out why at the end, much like Famous Last Words did. By the way, in my mind it is kind of a short cut, some say cheat, by putting a shocking scene in the first few pages to grab the reader then skip back and reveal the events leading up to it. This hooks the reader in for a bit so they keep reading to find out. The problem is with L.O.L , after that wreck scene it takes 15-20 pages to materialize into the rest of the story. My ADD mind starts to wander by then.

So I was for sure getting a MNS script it would be along the lines of what he does now…but a drama? Where did you pull this one out of MNS? In reports it said this didn’t get made because MNS wanted to direct but they wouldn’t let him. I suspect it didn’t get made because the story is boring and uneventful. That’ just my honest opinion. No offense but I don’t want to watch a man walk across the country and every 15 pages something “comes up” putting doubt in our minds that he will make it. The events used were weak and didn’t have the emotional impact that I think MNS was going for. I knew they’d pass the instant they came up. I’m not sure what others would say about this script…maybe the fact that it is 16 plus years old says something. Maybe this was original back then. Now we got people who walk across country, ride their lawnmowers, horses, etc. So maybe that has something to do with the story.

I had a hard time buying Maurice’s journey. Sure his wife’s death was sad, death always is, but I couldn’t latch on to him. I was never in it when she was alive. I didn’t feel any connection with either character or their relationship. The scenes with them together, including the flashbacks, were very OTN and expositional. It’s like they were saying what they needed to say to go along with the story. Maybe it’s me but I don’t know anyone who talks like that. It was almost as if I didn’t care he was walking across country. In my mind, the way their relationship was presented it was more of a, well you had your chance to show her but you didn’t. I know that sounds bad but that’s how I felt. It was hard to buy Maurice’s sudden revelation and arc.

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

What I Learned: If you are going to do a character driven story then make sure we are on board with the actual character. If we have to sit through their journey for an hour and a half, make sure we care enough to want to listen to them and not because we are forced to. If we don’t feel their needs, wants, emotions then you basically have nothing for us.