Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Your Bridesmaid Is A Bitch

Genre: Comedy
Premise: After agreeing to groomsman duties at his sister's wedding, Noah Palmer realizes he may have made the mistake of his life after finding out that the woman who broke his heart is also part of the bridal party.
About: Your Bridesmaid is a Bitch landed in the middle of this year’s Black List. Duffield must have worked on his craft for a long time before breaking through with “Bridesmaid,” because this is some of the best writing I’ve ever seen from a newcomer.
Writer: Brian Duffield
Details: 94 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).

My sense of humor hasn’t always gelled with the readers of this site so whenever I add a comedy to my Top 25, there’s usually an outcry plus at least a couple of suggestions that I might be mentally handicapped. Several people usually declare they’re never coming back, but luckily only 13% of those keep their promise.

I loved this script. I thought it was great. I would go so far as to say it’s the best comedy I’ve ever read tackling heartbreak. And this, to me, is what separates the pro comedies from the amateur ones, scripts where the emotions and backstory and depth of the main character are just as important as making the audience laugh. I’m happy to say it’s been a long time since I got my heart broken, but this script took me right back to those days and made me feel like I was there again.

Almost-30 Noah Palmer is failing at life. He lives in Hollywood. He doesn’t have a job. He’s still getting over his nine year girlfriend, Anna, who left him a few years ago (after he proposed to her!) for some French Fucker named Felix Trezeguet. So basically he’s miserable.

All Noah wants to do – all he cares about – is creating enough distance between himself and that relationship so he can get on with his life. But it’s unclear when that magical moment is going to arrive because no matter how Noah spins it, he can’t stop thinking about Anna.

When Noah’s sister, Molly (who also happens to be Anna’s best friend) calls to inform him that Anna will be the bridesmaid at her wedding, and “is that okay?” Noah has to suck it up and do the impossible: spend an entire weekend around the girl who destroyed his life. Check that. Spend an entire weekend around the girl who destroyed his life AND her French Fucker boyfriend who stole her from him.

It doesn’t look like Noah’s going to be able to pull it off but he loves his sister more than anything and decides to suck it up.

The genius of this script starts early on. A common mistake with beginner writers is to put two characters in a room with no tension, no external conflict, and no subtext surrounding them – then just have them talk. The dialogue is ALWAYS boring when you do this. There’s simply nothing going on in it. Here, Noah shows up at his sister’s house with 10,000 wedding guests milling about, and is spotted by the cool but slightly clueless husband-to-be, who pulls Noah over to the couch and starts asking him about Los Angeles.

The groom is completely oblivious, of course, to the fact that Anna and the French Fucker are a mere 2 feet away, and can hear everything that Noah says. Because of this, the dialogue is a thousand times more interesting because Noah’s not just answering a simple question, he’s answering questions knowing the girl he’s still madly in love with AND HER BOYFRIEND can hear him. So he of course has to lie, which he’s not very good at. And this gloriously awkward sequence becomes a harbringer for things to come

Anna is the worst kind of ex-girlfriend. No, I don’t mean she’s a bitch. She’s the opposite. She cares about Noah. She’s oblivious to how much she’s destroyed his life. A part of her even still likes him, even though she’d never leave the French Fucker for him. As you probably know if you’ve ever had your heart broken, this is the worst kind of dynamic possible, because it leaves open hope. It keeps the possibility open that someday, somehow, you might just get back together again.  And man does that fuck with your mind.

Luckily, Noah meets the beautiful and Mila Kunis-in-Forgetting-Sarah-Marshall-type-cool Kelli, who’s sympathetic to Noah’s plight and gives him a shoulder to cry on. Their sexually charged weekend friendship is held back only by the fact that Noah is still hopelessly in love with Anna and unless he can talk to her and have some kind of closure, there’s a good chance he will never get over her and never be able to live a normal life again. Everything comes down to how this ends with her (stakes!)

I’ll be the first to admit that the situation here is familiar but holy hell does Duffield nail the execution. I mean this guy is a really good writer. Not only is the structure here flawless, but the dialogue is really great and he’s just a really fun writer to read.

I’m not the biggest fan of “aside” writers – writers that write little asides in their scripts - because I think it’s cheesy. It took this script for me to realize that I only didn’t like it because the writers weren’t good at it. All of Duffield’s little asides were funny. Like this one when Noah is renting a car: “Noah waits in the rent-a-car-wait-for-fucking-ever-eventhough-it’s-Harrisburg-and-you-pre-ordered-line.” Or this to set up a montage: “BEFORE-NOAH-WAS-A-WHINY-BITCH MONTAGE.”

Just the way he described characters told me he was a writer with a real voice. Here he is describing Noah’s blind date in the first act: “She looks like a girl that was homeschooled, then lost her fucking mind during college, and now is a mix of the two. She wears a church-friendly sleeveless dress. Braided hair. Very cute.” I’ve never read a description like that before.

Or when Noah and Anna would talk around other people, they would converse in this annoying morse code tapping. It was completely original but more importantly, it suggested a real relationship. It suggested that these two had really been together and weren’t just two paper-thin character names thought up by a writer. You could feel the history here.

But the main reason this worked for me was that I felt Noah’s pain. This might be one of the best scripts I’ve ever read at getting inside the mind of a heartbroken man. I was just talking about this with a wonderful young writer who’s pissed at me for saying he still has some work to do. You haven’t mastered writing until you make the reader feel what your main character is feeling. That takes time. That takes a lot of practice. And when you read Bridesmaid, you *will* feel Noah’s pain. I promise you that.

And that’s why I related to this so much. That’s why I cared whether Noah found peace at the end.

The only reason this script doesn’t finish higher on the Top 25 is that sometimes it thinks it’s more hip than it is. After the huge big final talk (mini-spoiler) between Anna and Noah…they fist bump? I don’t know. That’s a little too trendy “trying to be hip’ish” to me. There were a few moments scattered about like this that briefly took me out of the story.

But man, I didn’t even get into half the stuff that worked here. This is a really really well-written script, easily one of the best comedies I’ve read in awhile, and it achieves that honor because it’s about character first. Of course, that probably means you’re all going to hate it, which of course makes you all dead wrong. :)

Top 25’er!

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[x] impressive (TOP 25!)
[ ] genius

What I learned: When you’re writing a comedy, don’t try and manufacture comedy out of thin air. In other words, don’t hang your characters out in random locations that have little to do with the movie and try to think up funny things for them to say. Put your main character in the toughest situation possible and watch them try to get out of it. That’s where you’re going to find a lot of your comedy. So in the example I used above, Noah is put in a situation where he has to talk about his loser life to a guy who only wants to hear about how awesome living in Los Angeles is, with his ex-girlfriend within earshot. Meet The Parents (the original) was the king of this. Ben Stiller was constantly put in tough situations that he would have to dig himself out of.