Thursday, January 7, 2010

Anything But Ordinary

Hmm, some complications resulted in me having to take the "Hungry Rabbit Jumps" (Nicolas Cage and January Jones to star - 5 votes on this year's black list) review down. In short, I liked it. I'll work on seeing if I can get it back up. In the meantime, here's everyone's favorite incredibly modest but painfully beautiful reviewer , Erica (she reviewed an earlier draft of Black List script "Swingles" here), coming to rescue me. She's reviewing a tiny script aimed at the "A Walk To Remember" crowd.

Genre: Drama
Premise: After a diving accident, a 16-year-old girl enters a coma for five years. When she comes out of her extended stupor, she finds a crumbling family, but is armed with wisdom and knowledge.
About: Emma Roberts was set to star and Anna Sophia Robb to co-star in this film but the project is not listed anywhere so I'm wondering if it's fallen apart. Someone will have to revive it if we are to ever see Julia Roberts' neice in the role.
Writers: Charlie Craig with revisions by Liz W. Garcia and Lisa Barrett.

Emma Roberts looks freakishly like Julia Roberts

I had the urge to stop and check my twitter feed every few pages of this because it's a story about a wholesome teen girl, presumably aimed at The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants set, a demo I would not fall into at this stage of my life. Or ever. I was never the peppy teen who would, like, try out for stuff. I was the girl who turned down offers to go to the prom three years in a row because I thought the concept of prom was bogus. My favorite teen movie? Carrie.

But that is why I was happy to do this review. It forced me to adjust my cynical lens (or at least try to) to examine how something like this is done. And I felt like I learned (a small technical) something on the first page of this script, literally first scene.

The setting is early morning Nashville at Hennessy Lake. The main character, Bryce Graham, a 16 year old athlete in her prime, appears out of the fog but I wasn’t sure at first if she was ... rowing or swimming? Her father is standing on the “prow of a Boston whaler” so I’m picturing her swimming and Dad in a boat, right? Or is she rowing and they’re both in the boat? Only after googling “Boston whaler” (which I only did because I knew I was reviewing this) did I realize that was not the type of boat in which you could row. I vaguely understood that the “prow” was either the front or back but didn't know which (it’s the front), so my visual on this whole opening scenario was very poor. By the last paragraph it says her arms are "slicing through the water” but throwing a “swim” in there somewhere, or calling her a swimmer instead of athlete, would have made life much easier. Especially since this is the first I'm meeting this chick, I haven't acclimated myself to this world and in the very next scene, she IS on a rowing machine indoors.

The reason this really struck me is because I’m a novelist and a lot of my script edits are of the "arms slicing through water swims" variety. It's like a bad habit I'm always trying to kick. I also notice that sometimes a character or scene can be so clear in my mind’s eye that I don’t put some very basic information on the page that the person who knows nothing about the script needs to read. And that’s what I felt happened here. In trying to be evocative, they didn't lose me at hello but they had me wondering if I had missed my exit. (Or if I was a total idiot, not a good feeling going into this.)

But this same evocative writing drew me in as Bryce rushes off to her high school swim meet, with her proud parents and smart alecky kid sister in tow, then winds up banging her head on the diving board and sinking to the bottom of the pool, blood swirling around her. Bummer.

By page 8, she's unconscious in the hospital, getting an emergency head shaving, and since we know she's the star of this show, it's clear that she's going to survive but first she's in for a really, really long nap.

Aaaaaand five years later...

Kid sister, Sydney, is a blue-haired, boundary-testing 17 yr. old, Dad is sleeping in the barn where he used to train his athletically-gifted daughter and Mom is still trying to remain upbeat though shit is clearly not right up in the Graham house. On one of Mom and Dad's regular visits to the hospital we meet Carter Lynch, a 20-something resident who has the time and the inclination to entertain the comatose patients by playing music or reading Danielle Steele to them. Yes, he really does this. His too saintly-to-not-be-annoying behavior and one-way banter (those comatose patients, not great conversationalists) had me rolling my eyes but I was only on page 17 (OMG, there's 100 more pages of this?) so I kept rolling with it.

Maybe I'm too hardened by life to connect with "heart monitors beeping softly" or maybe I'm just too impatient to let a story unfold in due course but I was actually hoping a madman would break into the hospital, take Carter hostage and shoot up the place. That didn't happen.

What did happen: Bryce suddenly wakes up. To the shock and jubilation of the medical staff, her parents and kid sister who is the recipient of Bryce's first words in half a decade: "You're...old?"

I liked how they describe her first moments of consciousness after she asks to be alone in her hospital room: the sound of a plane flying overhead makes her duck, a woman scolding her child in a park across the street sounds like screaming in her ears, the sun burning through her retinas. This is where I started to develop a mild interest in knowing what was going to happen next though I was still hoping Carter would have a freak diving accident and spend the next five years in her old bed, listening to an endless loop of Lil Weezy like I had to do when my boyfriend drove me to a book signing in Connecticut last week.

Soon Bryce is up and about, walking tentatively in the physical therapy room, a fascination to the doctors and a ray of hope for the visitors whose loved ones are still unconscious. And now she...knows things she can't possibly know.

Even though the doctors want to keep her in the hospital for observation, she demands to go home where she mostly hangs with her sister, a bug freak whose cicadas literally accompany her everyfuckingwhere. Though the Graham house doesn't feel like the homey home Bryce remembers since the stressed-out family has allowed it to fall into disrepair, Mom and Dad are basically living separate lives (Bug Freak suspect Mom may be cheating) and, most tragically, the shimmer of the pool doesn't reflect on Bryce's bedroom ceiling anymore because the pool is now empty and filled with leaves. (Maybe she should've stayed in the hospital, I thought. They waited on her hand and foot there and the singing doc was always roaming around, taking requests.)

Back at that hospital where she doesn't want to be, we find out that one of the comatose patients, Sam, is actually Carter's brother and their father, a depressed unemployed grouch that Carter lives with, won't even visit the kid anymore. At which point, I started to feel a bit of sympathy for the guitar-strumming resident. A bit.

And it turns out that Bryce doesn't just know things about her family and friends, she knows every answer on Jeopardy, shit like that. Which is quite upsetting for her though I was wondering why she didn't just roll to Vegas, Rain-Man style. I mean, it's been 5 years. She's 21 now. It's legal.

But it seems she only knows things that happened in the last 5 years because Carter read all this stuff to her while she was "asleep". And she's pretty pissed at him because why does she need to know who won the pennant for the last five years when she doesn't even like baseball? I know Carter meant well but I sorta felt her on that one. Of course the two are bonded now and their little spat is like adolescent foreplay. In no time she's swimming again in the lake, with him, and Dr. Do Good seems to have no qualms at all about fooling around with his Sleeping Beauty though this is obviously a MAJOR breach of protocol.

Neither does her family seem to mind that the young doc is now dating Bryce because he's all up in the family mix like he couldn't be brought up on charges at any second. I guess they're all just heady with joy now that they have their daughter back and everyone seems to be figuring out their own problems, thanks to Bryce's newfound and readily dispensed wisdom.

There are plenty of clues, i.e. the giant tumor spotted on her X-ray, that this good life won't last. Bryce, inevitably, ends up back in the hospital and once they all know she's going to die, Carter busts her out and then grants her last wish by popping her cherry by the lake! Don't expect any of you will be reading this so no need to announce a spoiler alert before I say ---> I actually liked that it ended with her diving into the lake, never to be seen again. So long, Mystical Mermaid.

Okay, I'm being very snarky about this script because I thought that would be more amusing for the Script Shadow crowd than simply saying this is movie that will probably kill (oops!) with teen girls, esp. if Carter is played by a cute boy (which we know he will be). I could have done with a few less cicada shout-outs but the cicadas turned out to have some symbolic meaning related to Bryce's brief awakening, a payoff I felt I was due after enduring them for so long. In terms of telling the story and delivering on the premise, this script did that quite well, IMO. Nothing too interesting or unexpected happened but thirteen year-olds dreaming of their first kiss will probably go see this multiple times. Especially those thirteen year-olds who have already given blow jobs at rainbow parties which probably makes them romanticize that first real kiss from a cute boy that actually cares about them even more. Even the title "Anything but Ordinary" which sounds like it was cranked out of The Generic Generator, therefore making it a kind of titular oxymoron, will probably make teen girls swoon.

No one over the age of 19 would want to see this or should but I have to say I wound up feeling something for Carter once I found out his mother was killed by the drunk driver who put his brother in the hospital and he has fantasies about murdering the guy. Alright Doogie!

And you know what? I could see this being useful for an adult purpose. If your guy had done something that really pissed you off, you could say, "I heard about this really good supernatural thriller called Anything but Ordinary. Got amazing reviews. Friday night, let's go see that, honey."

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

What I learned: Set up your premise quickly and efficiently and give yourself room to tell your story. They had this chick in a coma by page 8 and I already had a feel for most of the major characters and relationships.

Know your audience. None of the cynicism or sarcasm that I would want to stick in this script belonged there. Of course, that's why I wouldn't write something like this because I know I could never maintain this level of wholesomeness. But good on Charlie Craig for being able to dive into (stupid pun intended - you see I can't rein in my sarcasm for one last line!) this sappy teen girl world and emerge with something that will have a valued demo texting "OMG, u gotta go c ABO!"