Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Wonderful Tonight

Don't forget - Black List coverage coming Friday. So excited. Pacing around my place, muttering to my appliances, "Black List." Favoring anything with a black surface. I don't know if there will be a review on Friday. Depends on when I get the list. This is too much. Can't take it. Need to go bite something.

Genre: Romantic Comedy
Premise: A successful owner of a technology business learns he has a child from a one night stand. He drops everything to temporarily move to the mother’s town, where he attempts to become a part of his daughter’s life.
About: This script sold earlier this year and is being made by "Sunshine Cleaning" and "Sylvia" director Christine Jeffs. J Mills Goodloe, the writer, has an interesting career behind him. He worked for Richard Donner for a long time, associate producing or co-producing the Lethal Weapon films. He also did producing work on Conspiracy Theory, Assassins, and Maverick. He segued into writing, which he slowly found success at through assignment work. Wonderful Tonight is his first sale.
Writer: J Mills Goodloe
Details: 121 pages (9/18/09 draft)

Can Jeffs get her Sunshine Cleaning star to come back and play Claire?

One of my favorite movies of 2009 was Sunshine Cleaning, about a couple of sisters who start a crime-scene cleanup service. Part of my love for that film may have to do with the faint-worthy tandem of Amy Adams and Emily Blunt, but it's mostly because the smart writing and unique choices the writer and director made kept the story continually engaging. It was one of those old school independent films that truly felt independent, not like this newer crop that are obviously studio films in indie clothing.

For this reason, I was excited to see what Jeffs was doing next, and was surprised to find that it was a romantic comedy. The curiously titled “Wonderful Tonight” (curious because it’s not the title I think of when I read the premise) is sort of a throwback to romantic comedies of the past infused with some contemporary flavor, sort of an equal parts Breakfast at Tiffanies and Jerry Maguire. Now I’m not going to claim this is a successor to those films, but it has some qualities that reminded me of them.

Bob Street is like a younger better looking Steve Jobs. He’s recently invented a revolutionary phone that will do everything short of paint your house, and it’s a year away from hitting the market, where everyone assumes it will clean up. Strangely, Bob approaches his business like one approaches a rerun of Friends – you’ll keep it on but you're never really paying attention. What we come to learn is that this is the way Bob approaches all aspects of his life: always there but casually detached. There’s clearly something missing from his life.

One night while grabbing dinner, Bob runs into 21 year old Claire. She’s young, pretty, a free spirit you might say, and when her and Bob begin talking, she’s intrigued, as most girls are, by the fact that he doesn't seem to give a shit about anything. He extends her an invitation to hang out, completely indifferent to whether she’ll say yes or no. It works on her better than Axe Body Spray. The two head over to Bob’s multi-million dollar pad, which is when Claire realizes this dude's a little more than your average drifter.

Conversation and wine lead to that place conversation and wine usually lead to, and the next morning Bob, who’s polite and thankful for Claire’s company, tells her he has to go. He doesn’t really, but this isn’t the first girl Bob’s bedded and he’s just used to the routine. The two leave on good terms, with Bob promising to call. However, he never does.

It’s around a year later when Bob, now fully consumed with the launch of his phone, finds out that that little random soiree of his, kind of resulted in the birth of his daughter. And by kind of I mean it did. Knowing he has a daughter triggers something in Bob, and in the throes of the most important moment of his life, he drops everything to temporarily move to Pennsylvania where Claire and the child live. Although Bob’s not quite sure how to approach this, he does know he wants to be a part of his daughter’s life. The problem is that Claire has written him off and, well, let's face it, she hates him (wouldn't you). Bob persists though, looking for any angle to get in, all while trying to salvage some relationship with the woman he abandoned.

I have to admit, one thing I don’t respond to in scripts is when the story seems to be going one way, then all of a sudden goes a completely different way. Reading Wonderful Tonight (knowing nothing about it mind you), I thought this was going to be a simple story about a successful man who meets a “common” girl and a relationship ensues. So when that aspect ends, and we segue into the business, the discovery of the pregnancy, and the resulting move by Bob to Claire’s town so he can be with the kid, it took me awhile to realign my bearings - to say, “Oh, okay, this is what the movie is about.” Luckily, Goodloe understands his craft, and was able to make this transition easier for me than it usually would've been. As a result, I was able to focus on the story, which ends up being great fun.

The best aspect of the script is in making a complicated relationship believable. In any romantic comedy, you look for unique ways to create conflict between the characters, ways to keep them apart. Most of the time, those devices are well-worn (one of the characters is married), or worse, not believable. Claire scorning Bob because he ditched her after having his child feels fresh and truthful, creating an intriguing conflict and tension between the couple that I never doubted for a moment.

If I’m going to make a complaint, I’d probably single out the ending. I won’t get into spoilers. I’ll simply say it felt slightly bigger than the movie and a little forced. There was an honesty to this relationship that caught me by surprise. So to take me out of that world in order to give me a more true "Romantic Comedy" ending momentarily reminded me that I was watching a film, and not something that was really happening. It’s by no means a deal-breaker. But I guess I was looking for something more "real."

Definitely a solid script though. Crack this open and feel good for a couple of hours. We all need it. :)

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn't for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: The writers that stick out are the ones that spin a scene or a moment in a unique way, who ignore the obvious route and give us something more clever. I’m reminded of a scene in The Sixth Sense, where Bruce Willis wants to learn about his child patient, Cole, but Cole refuses to talk. So Willis plays a “game” whereby he tells Cole to step forward if the answer is yes, and backwards if the answer is no. He then proceeds to ask him about his life, and we get answers by Cole stepping forward or backward. It was an effective way to give us some key exposition about Cole’s life. Here in Wonderful Tonight, there’s a quick but memorable scene where Bob is trying to figure out Claire’s age. He moves to his wine cabinet and says, “Let’s make this easy: We’ll open any bottle that’s not older than you are.” He then proceeds to point to a number of bottles (1979, 1981, 1984) as Claire continues to indicate, “higher.” He settles on an 88, and that’s how we learn her age. It reminded me how easy it is to go the other way. To just have your character ask, “How old are you?” “21.” Which is, unfortunately, what a lot of writers do. I mean, it takes about 1/100 the amount of time right? So always remember to take the extra time to discover the perfect way to craft your scene - a way that makes it slightly different from everything we've seen before.