Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Hall Pass

Genre: Comedy
Premise: (from IMDB) A married man is granted the opportunity to have an affair by his wife. Joined in the fun by his best pal, things get a little out of control when both wives start engaging in extramarital activities as well.
About: Sold all the way back in 2005 for a high six-figure sum to Fox, this spec was subsequently put into turnaround and snatched up by New Line. Owen Wilson, Alyssa Milano, Jenna Fischer, and Christina Applegate will star in this new Farrelly Brothers comedy (filming now). Probably the most interesting aspect about this project though, is that it was written by Pete Jones! My fellow Chicagoan is best known as the writer-director on the first season of Affleck and Damon’s “Project Greenlight” reality series – a series where they set out to prove that Hollywood was doing it wrong and, in the process, proved that Hollywood was…umm…not doing it wrong. But kudos to Mr. Jones for staying the course.
Writer: Pete Jones (revisions by Bobby and Peter Farrelly, Kevin Barnett, and Pete Jones)
Details: 123 pages (Sept 18, 2009 draft)

Goofball extraordinaires Bob and Peter Farrelly

Do the Farrelly Brothers still have it?? These guys directed two of my favorite comedies of all time, “Dumb and Dumber” and “There’s Something About Mary.” When they get it right they reallllyyyy get it right. But sometimes I wonder if this duo has lost their drive. I get the feeling that they’re trying, but they’re not putting in the same “our careers depend on it” passion they used to when they were younger. That may change when they take on what potentially could be the most difficult adaptation of the decade – their interpretation of “The Three Stooges.” I know you're probably a lot more interested in that project than this one, but for whatever reason, I can't bring myself to read it. It just sounds so...impossible to turn into a film. So we'll stick with Hall Pass for today.

Hall Pass follows Fred Searing and Rick Miles, two guys in their early 40s who are smack dab in the middle of life. They have kids. They have wives who don’t give a shit how they look anymore. And of course they don’t get nearly as much sex as they want. This results in a daily routine of going out and admiring much younger much sexier women and thinking about how it “used to be.” Oh if they were on the prowl again. What damage they could do.

In the meantime, Grace and Maggie, the wives, aren’t exactly living the high life either. Taking care of the kids and keeping the family above water on a daily basis has taken its toll, and it’s clear that their marriages need something, some spark, to reinvigorate them. And it’s during a therapy session that Maggie gets the answer. Her therapist suggests giving her husband a “hall pass,” a free pass away from the marriage to do anything he wants, cheat, lie, steal, whatever. Maggie’s horrified by the idea but the therapist assures her that what most men realize when they get the opportunity to do whatever they want, is that they never really wanted to do it in the first place. Maggie discusses it with Grace, and the two reluctantly hand their husbands that most coveted of all treasures – FREEDOM!

In the meantime, the two gals will go hang out up at the summer home, allowing the men to have the lay of the land without interference. Fred and Rick can’t believe their luck. And the news spreads like wildfire. Soon, all of their friends are rushing over, wanting to witness the magical event firsthand. How many girls can they have sex with in a week? Ten? Twenty??

Well, as you can imagine, things don’t go exactly as planned. The structure of the script turns into a day by day breakdown of their attempts, superimposing a “Day X” at the beginning of each morning. Rick and Fred realize that, hey wait a minute, picking up women is hard. And now that there’s actually pressure to *do* something instead of just *saying* they’re going to do something, it’s like, really hard. Not to mention they don’t exactly have the stomachs and the hair that they used to. Each day of “picking up women," therefore, ends in pathetic failure, making them feel even worse than if they'd never gotten a hall pass in the first place.

To make matters worse, their wives realize, hey, if the guys aren’t officially married to *them* anymore, then they must not be married either, which means they can experience a little Desperate Housewives action of their own. So they head over to Maggie’s father’s minor league baseball team and start swooning over the hot young baseball studs, which leads to all sorts of temptation. Will they cave? Will the guys cave? Does anyone really want to cheat?

The question with Hall Pass is bigger than the movie itself. Does this concept work? I read essentially the same script in the spec sale “Permission” as well as another similar concept that sold (which I’m blanking on). The main problem is, because it’s a comedy, there’s only so far you can go with the cheating. At the end of the movie, your characters have to get back together. Therefore they can’t have 48 hour monkey orgy sex before casually sliding back into their marriages. So there’s a certain limit to the hijinx one can experience, and as a result, the concept always feels neutered. That said, the characters in Hall Pass went a lot further than I thought they would, which makes this script a little edgier than its counterparts.

One thing I kinda dug about Hall Pass though was the restraint the Farrelly's showed. These guys would cover two people in grape jelly and throw them off the Empire State Building if they thought it would get a laugh. But here they seem to be interested in a more realistic tone. Does that mean, gasp, they're finally growing up? I don't know if I'd go that far, but you can definitely feel that in this particular story, they're drawing more from their own lives than they have any movie they've made before. And that’s always the best way to go as a writer – explore things that personally intrigue you. It always adds a level of authenticity you wouldn't get otherwise. So that was kind of neat to see the Farrelly's do.

Having said that, I wish they would’ve exploited their concept more. The second act becomes a victim of something we're all guilty of at some point or another: redundancy. The guys try to pick up girls and they fail. So they try to pick up more girls and they fail. So they try and pick up MORE girls and they fail. After awhile it just feels like we’re stalling while we wait for the third act. I know the Farrelly's purposefully write their scripts long so they can film as much crazy shit as possible, allowing them to get as many laughs as they can into the flick. But as a read, everything was way too spread out, and the lack of laughs really killed the momentum. It's a great reminder that for our purposes, as spec script writers, we aren’t afforded that luxury, and need to keep our second acts lean, packing as much story and action as we can into the same space.

I’ll wait til the movie comes out before passing final judgment. But the script wasn’t for me.

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

What I learned: Here’s a great screenwriting tip for beginners. If you introduce a bunch of characters all at once, count on us forgetting at least half of them. For example, we’re quickly introduced to four of Rick and Fred’s friends during a poker game. But I couldn't tell you anything about them five pages later. Why? Because it’s hard to remember everyone in a screenplay. Yet beginner writers think they can throw down 20 names in 20 pages and we’ll have everyone sorted out down to their hair color. It doesn’t work like that. Now there are situations (like a poker game for example) where introducing characters in bulk is necessary. But my advice is to not introduce any key characters during these moments. If it’s a recurring or important character, introduce them away from the group if possible. It’ll give us a much better chance of remembering them.