Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Why Can't I Be Audrey Hepburn? (the "GLEEK OUT" edition)

Genre: Rom-Com
Premise: A news anchor who idolizes Audrey Hepburn gets left at the altar, then starts a friendship with her ex-fiancé’s best friend.
About: Ryan Murphy is one of the biggest names in the business right now. The public at large first came to know his work as the series creator of the trashy but yummy Nip/Tuck. He went on to direct the sorta critically acclaimed “Running With Scissors,” and more recently shot to superstardom as the series creator of Glee (he also wrote and directed Julia Roberts in Eat Pray Love). What you don’t know about Ryan is that he toiled away for a long time as a writer before he got his break. None other than Steven Spielberg saw Murphy’s talents and ended up buying this script as a result. Murphy recalls the experience: “Well I wrote the script based on a breakup I was going through at the time called Why Can’t I Be Audrey Hepburn? It’s this great soufflé of romantic comedy and it was close to her death, and he bought the script and we worked on it. It never got made. It had every female star in Hollywood attached to it—right before they became big stars. Renee Zellwegger, Jennifer Aniston wanted to do it … Halle Berry wanted to do it. It was thrilling to sit in a room with him and basically have him talk about movies.”
Writer: Ryan Murphy
Details: 113 pages - undated (This is an early draft of the script. The situations, characters, and plot may change significantly by the time the film is released. This is not a definitive statement about the project, but rather an analysis of this unique draft as it pertains to the craft of screenwriting).

I know this is going to be hard for some of you to accept, but I’m not a Gleek. I know Gleeks. I’ve interacted with Gleeks. I’ve just come to the conclusion that we speak a different language. I’m not saying I wouldn’t use song and dance to express reviews here on Scriptshadow if I could. But I am saying that any show that celebrates Britney Spears and Justin Bieber with a badge of pride is not a show for me.

That said I have nothing against Gleekdom. Feel free to Gleek your way through the comments you Gleeks. If you want to tell me to Gleek Off or Gleek a life, I’m all for it. Express your Gleek with pride as I am not a Gleek-a-phobe. Okay, I’m going to stop saying ‘Gleek’ now and start this review.

Oh boy.

Here we go.

Let me get this straight. We have a rom-com where a girl gets left at the altar (barf!). She befriends a “bad boy” player who she hates more than anyone (double barf!). But they end up falling in love (triple barf!) But the original groom realizes he made a mistake and wants her back! (Barftopia!)

Could a romantic comedy be any more formulaic?

No, I’m sorry. It cannot. It is mathematically impossible.

So then explain to me this: Why the hell did I like it?

Why Can’t I Be Audrey Hepburn is, indeed, a mini-tribute to the silver screen goddess who gave us so many memorable performances. The movie starts out with our stylishly attractive female lead, Perry Forman, grabbing her gay best friend Duncan (yes, the token gay best friend – you have to remember though, this was written like 10 years ago – when token gay best friends weren’t token yet) and role-playing the famous scene in Breakfast At Tiffany’s where Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard go inside and buy the cheapest item that Tiffany’s sells, a sterling silver telephone dialer.

They are shocked to find out, unfortunately, that Tiffany’s stopped making the sterling silver telephone dialer over 3 decades ago. Whaaaat???

Anyway, Perry is getting ready for her big wedding with “owlishly handsome” Ross Miller, the seemingly perfect guy. But it turns out Ross isn’t so perfect, because he decides AT THE WEDDING that he wants no part of this “til death do you part” tomfoolery and leaves poor Perry at the altar.

Perry – who’s had her whole life planned out since she was five – has no idea how to process this turn of events, so she does the unthinkable and contacts brash badboy Sam, Ross’s best friend who Perry hates more than anything (the feeling is mutual: he doesn’t like her either) to get some insight on what happened.

While Sam isn’t exactly a Perry fan, he is an Audrey Hepburn fan, and the two’s mutual appreciation for the screen icon bridges an initial gap that would have otherwise remained gaping. The next thing you know, the idiots sleep with each other, and it gets all weird in that When Harry Met Sally way.

Sam is particularly shaken up because he’s screwed over his own best friend, a friend who happens to call him soonafter to tell him that he made a mistake and wants to get back together with Perry! He even lets Sam know what a good friend he’s been by helping Perry through this tough time. Yeah right. Friend now. Maury Pauvich guest tomorrow.

Naturally, things end with a second wedding, and Perry will have to decide who she really loves.

Okay, so I know how cliché and obvious this script sounds, but the thing is, it’s really well-written. Yesterday I made note of the fact that The Ark got boring because I always knew what was going to happen next. Well I pretty much knew what was going to happen here as well, but I was still into it. Why? Simple answer, the characters.

Whereas the characters in The Ark were one-dimensional, Murphy obviously put a lot of work into the people populating his universe. There are lots of ways to make your characters “three-dimensional,” yet strangely many writers avoid them. Start with a job for your hero. Make it a real job. Not something with a suit and an office where the only thing we see your character doing is answering a phone but rather something specific, preferably a job that helps define your character. Perry is an on-air news personality. Then take that a step further. Give them a goal at work, so it seems like there’s something going on in their life. Perry is up for a job at network.

Dig in to your character. Find out that thing that’s holding them back. Perry depends too much on planning. She doesn’t “go with the flow” enough. Then give your hero fears (she’s afraid to be alone) and obsessions (she loves Audrey Hepburn). There are lots of other things you can do (and should do) to flesh out your character but this is where to start and I can tell you this. If you don’t do any of these things? Your hero is going to come off thinner than a coat of paint. You gotta work on them so they feel like real flesh and blood human beings.

I also liked how the dynamics between the characters were maximized to create the most amount of conflict. This is an absolute necessity in rom-coms. Perry and Sam don’t like each other. That’s one source of conflict. Sam is Ross’s best friend. That’s another source of conflict. Perry and Sam have completely different philosophies on life. That’s another source of conflict. All these layers of conflict make Sam and Perry’s interactions interesting. Too many writers worry about making their dialogue “pop.” If you establish layers of conflict, the dialogue will write itself. It will “pop” without you having to try.

If there’s something I didn’t like, it’s that Perry’s flaw is told mainly through dialogue as opposed to action. Again, her flaw is that she’s a planner to a fault. But the only time we see this is when she *says* it. And she says it a lot. This is a lazy way to convey a character’s problem and should always be substituted by action if possible. For example, you might show Perry going to work with her blackberry, studiously checking away every little minor task she finishes – then have someone really important show up to her work unexpected for a meeting, and she’s simply unable to fit him in because it’s unexpected, not part of the “plan.” That’s off the top of my head but you get the idea. Show don’t tell. ESPECIALLY WHEN IT COMES TO YOUR HERO’S CHARACTER FLAW.

This script is good. I probably would’ve rated it even higher if it were just a little more original. But the execution is great. With Ryan Murphy’s heat right now, I don’t understand why this can’t get made. I mean it’s better than 90% of the romantic comedies they’re dumping on us right now. Slap his name on it and you have a hit. What’s the hold up?

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

What I learned: Asked what the best advice he’s ever been given was, Murphy answered: “Two things. One, you know, the people who are successful, particularly in Hollywood are the people who don't give up. And I think that is really true. And the thing that I know, someone once told me this great thing... it only takes one yes to change your life. And I think that's been really true for me. The power of one yes. You work for years, and you get all these no's and one person believes in you and your whole life can turn around. People need to wait for that one yes. And I think this can apply to anybody. My Yes was Steven Spielberg, so it was a big fucking yes. And you get No, you've got no talent, and your tone is so weird, and the way you see the world is so weird. And he was like, I like how you see the world, yes. And I have not stopped working since. I think our careers are like that. We do very unusual things that are very specific, but they are so specific that they become universal. A lot of people do things really broad, and I never think that anything I am going to do is going to be successful because it’s so specific but it becomes a success.”