Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Dirty Grandpa

Genre: Comedy
Premise: A young man about to get married to the wrong girl gets stuck down in Florida for a week, babysitting his newly widowed grandfather.
About: Hip hip hooray, the spec sale lives! This script just sold a couple of weeks ago to Universal for mid six figures. The writer, John Phillips, is a New York based comedian who was a part of the Upright Citizens Brigade.This is his first spec sale. 
Writer: John Phillips
Details: 112 pages (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 feel like this is my fault – that I’ve clamored so loudly for a ticking time bomb in every script, that every writer is making damn well sure they have one. Which is good. The problem, however, is the blatant lack of ticking time bomb diversity, particularly in comedies. Just about everyone uses the same one – the hero is getting married in a week. I know it’s the easiest. I know it works. I know it’s the ideal frame for the story. But just keep in mind, everybody else is using it, so if you can find a different one? Please use it instead, as it will set your screenplay apart. Okay, now on to the script.

Our affable but uptight hero, Jason Kelly, is about to get married to Meredith in a week. Meredith is kind of like Ed Helms’ girlfriend in The Hangover, only slightly less mean. Unfortunately, throwing a little wrench into his plans is that Jason’s grandmother just died. And they have to fly out to the funeral a week before the big day.

Even worse, it turns out that his grandmother used to drive his grandfather around. Now that she’s, you know, DEAD, she can’t do that anymore. So Jason’s parents ask him if he can stay in town for a few days to take care of Grandpa’s driving duties until they can hire someone new. Jason reluctantly agrees while a pissed off Meredith heads back to Atlanta and, voila, that’s how our adventure begins.

Dick Kelly, Jason’s grandfather, might as well be 30 years younger he’s such a specimen of handsome macho manliness. He has a way with the ladies but hasn’t been able to use it for the past 50 years because he was, you know, married. But now that the wife is fertilizing the dirt at the local cemetery, he can finally concentrate on what he was born to do – score women!

That’s the REAL reason he asked Jason to stay behind, so he can have a wingman. Unfortunately Jason’s the worst wingman ever. He does everything by the rules and because he’s getting married, has no interest in hooking up with anyone.

But then they meet a couple of girls in town for Spring Break and in order to give Dick a shot with one of them, Jason has no other choice but to entertain the other one, a sarcastic witty unpredictable exotic girl (read: “the complete opposite of Meredith”) named Shadia.

The group finds themselves getting caught up in Spring Break activities, frat house parties, go-kart races, a fight or two. And in the process of loosening up, Jason begins to realize that maybe Meredith isn’t the girl he’s supposed to spend the rest of his life with after all. Maybe it’s Shadia. Of course, before he can figure it all out, he’ll first have to make sure his insane grandfather lives through the week.

Let me start this analysis off by asking a question. It seems to me that there’s a portion of the moviegoing public who hates the “weak” 20-something male protagonist who doesn’t have his shit together. Michael Cera. Seth Rogan. Paul Rudd. Skewing slightly older, Steve Carrell. The kind of roles that those characters play. Which is the same role that’s presented here in Dirty Grandpa.

Now here’s my question. A character needs to start from a place of weakness in order to get to a place of strength. I mean, if they’re already strong, and they already have their shit together, then why do we need to watch their story? If Jason already knows that Meredith is an overbearing bitch that controls his life, then he can get rid of her on the first page and the movie is over.

So I’m curious if you guys just hate these characters in general or if there’s a version of these characters that you like? And if so, who would that version be? Can you give me a specific movie example? Cause again, while I don’t exactly like wimpy characters who don’t stick up for themselves, such as Jason, I realize that the journey is about their growth. And they can’t grow if they’ve already learned and corrected their weaknesses. So I’m curious what the Rogan/Cera/Rudd/Segal haters have to say about this.

Okay, enough of that. What about the script? I thought Dirty Grandpa was actually pretty good. I mean, we’re not breaking any new ground here. It’s another “buddy” movie, however the pairing is unique in that it’s a guy and his grandpa, something we haven’t seen before, which gives it a fresh feel. I also thought the comedy was pretty sharp, especially the early stuff. Meredith’s dog barking like crazy during the funeral and being completely oblivious to it not only had me laughing, but set up her character perfectly as well.

Unfortunately, the humor in the rest of the script never quite lives up to those first 20 pages and now that I think about it, this happens in a LOT of the comedies I read these days. And I don’t know why that is. Maybe it’s because when you first conceive of an idea, the easiest scenes to think of are the ones that happen right around the story’s hook (which always comes early), or maybe it’s because writers obsess over those first 20 pages way more than they do the last 80. But I’ve been seeing this in a TON of comedies lately so please comedy writers, make sure to keep the jokes going the whole way through, not just in the beginning!

I also thought the comedy could’ve been pushed more. We’re warned that Grandpa is unpredictable and racist, yet I don’t remember one racist joke in the movie. Actually, the script plays it pretty “P.C.” with Grandpa coming to the rescue of a gay character at a key moment in the movie that might as well have been a P.S.A for GLADD.

I will say this though. I thought Dirty Grandpa was better than El Presidente. That script was pure shenanigans with zero story. This at least tries to have a structure, albeit one that ends with the dreaded “run to the airport” scene – noooooo!

I actually had an idea after reading this ending. If Jason had to instead chase his GRANDFATHER to the airport and not a girl – like every other romantic comedy in existence – I think it could’ve worked, because it would’ve been a new spin on an old idea. But chasing the girl to the plane terminal just CANNOT BE DONE anymore. You can’t do it. And no, it’s not okay if you’re self-referencing it either (“This is so cliché! Us ending up at the airport!”). That’s becoming almost as cliché as the run to the airport in the first place (I say as Phillips is padding his pocket with a 500,000 dollar check).

As it stands, Dirty Grandpa isn't bad. And not bad is pretty solid for a comedy these days.

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

What I learned: Always give your characters goals in scenes. Remember, scenes are just mini-movies. They, like movies, should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. And the beginning starts with a character who needs something (a goal). So in the middle of Dirty Grandpa, there’s a scene where they go go-karting. Now even though the temptation is to just have a wacky wily shenanigan-filled go-kart scene, you need a reason for the scene to exist. The character goal here becomes Grandpa wanting to take out the two muscle-bound stooges that are cock-blocking them from getting the girls. It’s thin and in the grand scheme of things, kinda silly, but at least it gives the scene a purpose. So make sure there’s always a character goal in every scene you write.