Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Diversification Of Noah Miller

Genre: Comedy
Premise: A liberal New Yorker realizes he isn't as open-minded as he thinks he is and sets out to make a black friend.
About: This finished with 10 votes on the 2009 Black List (same as Balls Out). I don’t know much about these writers but I can tell you this. Adam Cole-Kelley wrote for my brother’s favorite show ever – Cash Cab. It’s a show where a cab picks you up and asks you Jeopardy like questions, allowing you to win money before you get to your destination. While home for Christmas I watched somewhere between 20-30 episodes of it. The writers have another project called “The Misadventures Of Fluffy” which is being produced by Eddie Murphy.
Writers: Adam Cole-Kelly and Sam Pitman
Details: 108 pages (August 6, 2009)

Can’t we all just get along? And joke about each other a little? With our races and cultures and societies being so different, you'd think we'd be able to poke fun at each other every once in awhile. If we get too serious, if we completely lose our sense of humor, don’t we become an automaton society of politically correct robots? Hey, I’m white. I can’t dance. I’m not happy that my white brethren can’t dance either but darnit if I can’t laugh at it. Just to give you an idea of how ridiculous our over-sensitivity has become , I went over this paragraph 23 times to determine if it was in any way offensive. I decided that it was, but I'm still trying to figure out to whom.

The Diversification Of Noah Miller is bringing black and white race relations into the 2010’s. It’s been a while since we tackled this issue in a comedy. I think the last time may have been the critically acclaimed box-office smash hit, “Guess Who,” starring former movie star current Twitter-celeb/camera pitchman Ashton Kutcher. Although we races may have many differences, I think one thing we can all agree on is that Ashton Kutcher’s career is the most perplexing in Hollywood history. Never before has someone with so little talent had so much success. But I’m getting off-track here. Cole-Kelly and Pitman take race comedy into the contemporary world by adding something very 21st century... the bromance.

Poster for the 8-time Oscar winning film

In fact, The Diversification Of Noah Miller is so similar to “I Love You, Man,” that I wasn’t sure if this was a bromance movie about race, or a race-related movie that happened to include a bromance. I suspect that that was the big challenge. The angle of your story warrants you to explore race-related issues, but because those issues are so likely to offend, you can fall back on the easier less divisive comedy of the bromance, even though it's comedy we've kind of already seen before.

Our hero, Noah Miller, is a simple family man – a white middle class liberal food critic. He doesn’t stereotype. He’s open to all types of people and cultures. He’s ecstatic that Obama is our president. But despite Noah’s proclamation that he’s worldly and cultured, the reality is he doesn’t have a single black friend. Every person he hangs out with is white (and Jewish). As his wife waves it off, this single fact begins to weigh on Noah. Is he a big hypocrite? A liberal in name only?

So Noah sets off to try and find a black friend. One day, while flagging down a cab, he meets Rashon, a nicely dressed handsome black man, basically the African-American version of himself. So desperate is Noah to make Rashon his friend, that he later travels to Rashon’s neck of the woods to deliver him the $3 umbrella he left in the cab. Rashon thinks it’s bizarre but the two strike up a meaningful if strange friendship.

The 80s hit. Would this movie be considered racist today?

The script is meant for a slightly older audience, as a lot of the issues and situations the two encounter tend to be family related (they both have wives and are raising small children). So in that respect, “The Diversification Of Noah Miller” is a welcome diversion from the many raunchy dirty comedies that litter the Black List.

As for the comedy itself, there are a couple of moments that do push the boundaries. For instance, Noah comes to where Rashon works but doesn’t know what the exact address is. It comes down to two stores – a coffee shop and a Popeye’s. Watching him mentally battle to overcome any preconceived stereotypes and pick the right store was a pretty ballsy choice. There are also some scenes with his four year old son, who inadvertently makes some choices at pre-school that paint him as a racist. Outside of that though, Cole-Kelly and Pitman play it pretty safe.

I think what disappointed me was that there weren’t enough scenes that took advantage of the premise. This resulted in some comedic scenes that felt like they were straight out of another movie. For example, there’s a scene where Noah invites Rashon to one of the restaurants he’s going to review, but in order for Noah not to be spotted, he must go undercover. He chooses to dress up as a woman, and we get a kind of strange sequence where Rashon appears to be on a date with the female Noah. Rashon is then spotted by a friend of his wife, who gets angry that Rashon may be cheating on her, and all I could think was, “What does this have to do with the premise?” This is supposed to be about a man who, because of his own insecurities, is desperately trying to make a black friend. The dressing up like a woman stuff felt like a cheap laugh that had nothing to do with that.

The original far inferior "Guess Who" (sarcasm implied)

The other problem I found with the script was the lack of a clear goal for the protagonist. What exactly was Noah after here? If the point of the story was for him to become friends with a black person, when do we know he’s accomplished this? They seem to be having a good time as early as page 30. So, in essence, he’s already accomplished his goal. Movie over. If you look at “I Love You, Man,” they did a great job clarifying where the movie was going. The goal was for the main character to find a best man before his wedding. Having that “ticking time bomb” gave the story a purpose and a clear finish line. I was never sure when we were supposed to consider Noah’s journey a success or a failure.

But I do want to commend Cole-Kelly and Pitman for taking on such risky subject matter. Most writers don’t have the balls to go there (including myself). As silly as it sounds, it’s a very relatable situation. Lots of people are open to building friendships with other races but the reality is most cultures tend to stick with the flock. That crossover gets harder as you get older. So I can see an audience responding to this. At the moment though, the comedy feels a little light and the plot unfocused. This particular draft didn’t grab me.

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

What I learned: Don’t have your characters do things because it’s convenient for the story. Characters should always stay in character and act logically. For example, Rashon’s wife, Kim, thinks Noah is sketchy. She doesn’t like him and is constantly telling Rashon he shouldn’t hang out with him. Then, a situation occurs where Rashon gets angry at Noah, and doesn’t want to hang out with him anymore. If Rashon and Noah aren’t hanging out, we don’t have a story. So in the very next scene Kim tells Rashon he should give Noah another chance. It doesn’t make any sense (to me at least) why she changes her mind about him *other* than that it allows the story to keep moving. Readers pick up on these things. Never make a character act irrationally just to move your story along.