Monday, April 11, 2011

Fun Size

Genre: Comedy
Premise: A high school girl getting ready for the biggest party of the year is tasked with taking her young brother on a quick trick or treating run. But when he goes missing, the entire night is thrown into disarray.
About: Fun Size made the bottom half of the 2010 Black List and is being produced and directed by Josh Schwartz, the O.C. creator and writer of a high school script I reviewed awhile back called “Providence” that wasn’t too shabby. This is Max Werner’s first feature sale. He got his break writing on The Colbert Report, on which he won an Emmy. Victoria Justice will be playing the lead character, Wren. No, not Victoria Jackson. Victoria Justice.
Writer: Max Werner
Details: 105 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).

Within the “collective things that happen to a bunch of people on a single day” mini-genre, I’d have to say that Dazed and Confused is the crème-de-la-crème. That film just has an energy to it that very few films have. I think a lot of that had to do with the casting at the time.  Now all anyone wants to do is cast spray-tanned glossy Hollywood actors in these roles.  Linklater wasn’t afraid to cast people that actually looked like real people (okay, except for Ben Affleck).

I guess my first thought when someone created a Dazed and Confused for Halloween was, “Hey, why didn’t I think of that?” Halloween is a great night to center a movie around because…well because it’s inherently theatrical. Everyone’s dressed up and they’re all acting like somebody they’re not. The problem with this bite sized script (besides the title – for which I suggest an immediate change), is I’m not sure what it wants to be. Does it want to be a family film? Does it want to be a raunchy teen movie? Or does it want to be Dazed and Confused meets Sixteen Candles? I’m not sure I’ll be able to answer that by the end of the review. But I’ll try.

Wren is pale and pretty and awkward and the kind of teenager who would rather crush on her really intelligent History teacher than one of the immature douchebags she shares hall space with on a daily basis. April, her best friend, is pretty much the opposite. Described as a “future girl gone wild,” (great description!) she’d rather crush on *every* douchebag she shares hall space with. If it’s cute, chances are April wants to fuck it.

Naturally, the too-mature-for-her-age Wren can’t wait to ditch this prison and head off to her dream school, NYU. Problem is she has these dreaded loans to take care of, and can’t do anything without her mother’s support. And right now, her mother’s making a very unfair demand – to take her plump annoying little brother Albert (aka, the devil), out for Halloween trick-or-treating while she goes out to her own Halloween party with her newly minted uncomfortably younger boyfriend.

Wren’s obviously furious, particularly because super-cute emo Aaron, the only boy her age who’s actually worth the effort, just invited her to his party for the evening. And taking Albert out means missing a prime time last-minute High School make-out (or more) opportunity that, if missed, she’ll end up regretting for the rest of her life.

So Wren and April formulate a plan where they’ll loop Albert around the block once, get him back home so he can gorge himself into a diabetic coma, then run over to Aaron’s party so the macking can begin. Sweet plan, except Albert, decked out in a spider-man costume, takes all of five minutes to wander off during the trick-or-treating, and DISAPPEAR. Just like that, Albert is el-gone-o.

Luckily, Wren and April run into ultra-nerd duo Roosevelt and Peng. Roosevelt plays the flute for fun and has two moms who force him to speak Latin. Peng is from Korea and immediately makes you think of Long Duck Dong (oh the days of 80s movie stereotypes). Never in a million years would April and Wren be caught with these two, but they have a car, and a car means finding her brother faster, which means hooking up with Aaron sooner, so they join forces and away we go.

Fun Size starts off really strong. If there’s one thing that Werner has going for him, it’s dialogue. I loved lines like this, when Aaron (the guy Wren likes) says in all earnestness, “I’m writing a power ballad about you. It’s called Mystery Meat.” Or when Wren, who’s always heard Roosevelt talk about his “moms,” realizes when she finally meets them that he really has 2 MOMS. Shocked, she observes, “I thought he was just talking like Ludacris.”

But sometimes the dialogue feels too clever. Wren creates these weird lists in her spare time which allow her to do these funky play on words such as: “Bullet Points on a Fluffer’s Resume: Team player, stick-to-it-ive-ness, conceive and implement strategies for sustaining growth during periods of inactivity.” I knew all the while that someone out there was laughing at this, but it was all too heady for me.

What’s strange is that the humor seems to move further down the evolutionary chain as the script goes on. Whereas we start out with a lot of clever witty dialogue – a sort of sister script to the well-loved “Easy A,” – things become considerably more low brow after we hit the mid-point. We have bully humor, car chases, my boyfriend is still in college stuff (for the mom). It’s not that I didn’t like it. It just seemed to shift in tone, and that contributed to me struggling to find out exactly what tone Fun Size was going for.

On the structural side, it passes inspection. I love the one night thing. Keeps the narrative nice and clean. We’re not questioning when it’s all supposed to end. The stakes are laid out clearly. Wren’s mom lets her know she needs to start acting more mature if she’s going to spend 40,000 a year on her. So if Wren comes home without her brother, chances are her NYU dream is kaput. Again, not mind-blowing, but that’s what you have to remember with structure. It just has to fit with the story you're telling and be believable. It doesn’t have to be the most original thing in the world. As long as it shapes the story and doesn’t draw attention to itself, you’re in good shape.

Where I think the script falls short is in the emotional department. Near the end, we find out Wren’s father died. And it doesn’t feel natural at all, particularly because we’ve just spent the previous 60 pages drowning ourselves in wacky 80s teen humor. But as I read on, I thought, this is exactly what the script needed, only a lot sooner. We needed something to ground the craziness, and her father’s death and how that’s affected this family – had that been instituted from the get-go, I think it would’ve given this script a whole nother much-needed layer.

Dazed and Confused did this masterfully, where it had a lot of wacky moments (stealing beer and then being shot at in the car) but the story was so well grounded that instead of those moments feeling like Date Night 2, they felt like something that could’ve really happened. The trick was in how much importance Linklater placed on theme. Dazed and Confused was about “moving on,” or “moving to that next stage of your life.” Every scene was dripping with that theme, so when characters did things that they’d never normally do, it made sense, because that’s the way you act when it's the last day before the next stage of your life. Here in Fun Size, when the car chase scene happened, it felt more like a writer trying to come up with a funny scene for a movie. Had they explored the theme of the father’s death (or – ironically – “not being able to move on”) early and often, it would’ve grounded the narrative and given Fun Size the earnestness I think it was looking for.

I like the concept here. Follow a bunch of connected people around during the craziness of one Halloween night. I’d just like more emotion and theme woven into the story, as right now it’s a little too broad and messy.

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

What I learned: Someone mentioned this in the comments of Bass Champion and I thought it was a great point. Make your stakes strong by giving your hero something to gain AND something to lose. So in Bass Champion, Tate had something to gain – the audition with Nolan – but he didn’t have a lot to lose. If he lost the championships, he just went back to his show, putting him right back where he started. Here, Wren GAINS something by finding her brother (she gets to go to the party and be with Aaron) and loses something by losing her brother (she doesn’t get to go to her dream school). Stakes can work with only something gained or only something lost, but tend to work best when there’s something to both gain and lose.