Tuesday, May 24, 2011

I Want To ______ Your Sister

Genre: Comedy
Premise: When his sister joins him at the New York Stock Exchange as an intern, Drew thinks it’s going to be the best summer ever – until he realizes that every single guy at the company wants to _____ his sister.
About: I Want To ____ Your Sister made huge waves back in 2007 and rode those waves to a top spot on that year’s Black List. While Stack still doesn’t have a produced credit, she’s got a Jennifer Aniston project called “Pumas” in development (about a pair of women who experience some misadventures on a French skiing trip) and has been making a lot of money doing uncredited dialogue polishes around town (due to the impressive dialogue in “Sister.”)
Writer: Melissa Stack
Details: 110 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).

At the very beginning of Scriptshadow, Sister was at the bottom of my Top 25. But I’ve never reviewed it on the site. Also, I’ve read a thousand scripts since then, so I was interested to see how the script held up after all those pages in between. Was it really Top 25 worthy? Or was that awesome title (it really was “Title Of The Year”) a distracting smokescreen for an average screenplay? Let’s find out.

21 year old Mandy, beautiful and blossoming, is heading to New York City for her first big internship. Her overprotective parents are terrified of course, maybe not so much by the city as they are of Mandy living with her successful trader brother, Drew. Drew may be making millions of bucks at the Stock Exchange, but he’s not exactly Mr. Dependable.

Despite Drew’s overt selfishness and self-destructive behavior (which revolves mainly around banging chicks), these two are inseparable, that disgusting brother-sister duo that love each other to death no matter what. Kind of like the Kardashian siblings. Not that I watch any of those stupid shows of course. The fact that a glitch resulted in me following Kim’s Twitter feed just so I could hear her say “I just finished working out” and “Don’t forget to watch Khloe and Lamar tonight" 47 times a week was not something that happened by choice, I assure you.

Totally an accident.

Anyway, Drew is more than excited to introduce Mandy to her new intern job at the stock exchange. This is like a dream come true. He gets to do what he loves every day AND hang out with his baby sister while he does it. That unbridled optimism dissolves, however, about 5 minutes into Mandy’s first day, when a horrifying truth begins to dawn on Drew. Every single guy at the Exchange is looking at Mandy. Every single guy at the Exchange wants to fuck his sister. Err…uh oh.

Drew instantly transforms into warrior mode, using every free second to push guys away from his sister. But when Drew is tasked with landing the new big fish for the company, super-rich Lothario Jameson Winters, he can only dedicate so much of his time to saving his sister’s innocence.

The pressure of handling these two extremes begins to wear on Drew, and soon he’s acting like an overprotective parent, setting rules and talking down to his sis like she’s 14 again. Mandy starts resenting him for this of course, and starts dating the guy Drew hates more than anyone, deli owner Aarjev, to teach him a lesson. But it’s when she starts hanging out with Jameson Winters, the “big fish” he’s supposed to land, that things really spin out of control.

“Sister” starts out strong. Really strong. One thing I’ve begun to realize and something that “Sister” reminded me of, is that you can use your title to enhance your story – specifically to create dramatic irony. Remember, dramatic irony is when the audience knows something bad that’s going to happen to the characters before the characters do, causing anticipation. So here, we know from the title that people are going to want to fuck Drew’s sister. So the entire first act is thick with anticipation as we’re waiting for and expecting that to happen. We can’t wait to see the look on Drew’s face when the reality hits him.

This works especially well due to the irony of Drew’s character. Here’s a guy who wants to fuck everything that walks, who’s had sex with EVERY SINGLE INTERN in the company, who flaunts it, who encourages it. Yet now, his sister is one of those interns, so in an unthinkable turn of events, he has to prevent everyone else from fucking her.

Stack also does a nice job making us like Drew, even though he’s kind of a doucebag. An easy way to make us like “bad” people is to show them loving someone else. The love here is so strong between Drew and his sister, that we forgive him for being the unsavory guy that he is. In fact, Stack doubles up and gives Drew a little “save the cat” “show don’t tell” moment when Mandy can’t afford a dress early on and Drew buys it for her. Awwwwww.

You also have to give credit to Stack for her dialogue. From the people I’ve talked to, the title is the reason they opened the script, but the dialogue is the reason they stayed. Stack joins Headland (Bachelorette) and Diablo Cody as yet one more razor-sharp dialogue feminista. But for me, it wasn’t the sharpness of her dialogue. It was the realness of it. I read so many scripts where people talk to one another like robots. This person’s turn then that person’s turn then this person’s turn then that person’s turn. It’s predictable and boring. When Drew punctuates one of his points with “KARATE CHOP THAT!” and then does a karate chop move, it’s silly and stupid but it reminds me of the kind of shit my own friends do when they’re hanging with each other. It wasn’t about ‘taking turns.’ It was about what people really say, no matter how nonsensical or non-sequitur those things might be.

My problem with “Sister” is that it has a great first act, but an average second and third acts. There’s nothing bad here. The writing is solid all the way through. But it’s almost like Stack was struggling to figure out reasons for the story to keep going. We do have a goal here (land Winters), but I’m not sure how important that goal is. And the fact that we endure an endless barrage of meaningless gatherings before we get to it didn’t help. My feeling is that Stack needed something to surround the main question driving the story with – will someone fuck Drew’s sister? – and came up with just enough to do the job, but nothing more.

I also thought the Aarjev storyline rang false. In any romantic comedy, you make the choice of basing the comedy in reality or basing it in “movie reality.” An example of movie reality is when a man bets a woman he can make her fall in love with him in ten days. It’s obviously something that would never happen in real life. I’m not saying that kind of humor can’t work. It obviously has fans. But where you run into trouble is when you start mixing the two worlds up. So in “Sister,” the tone here, while slightly exaggerated, clearly strives to exist in the real world. For Mandy and her buddy to conceive of this little plan to start dating disgusting deli owner Aarjev just because Drew hates him…I don’t know. It wasn’t realistic and therefore didn’t match up with the tone in the rest of the script.

It’s too bad, because this is a really good idea for a comedy. And if there were a way to breathe some life into the storyline, as opposed to having a storyline that punches the clock, this script could be a classic. Right now it’s just a solid comedy, which is still something to celebrate, since we don’t see many of those anymore.

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

What I learned: I want to bring up “unfilmables” because they’ve been such a hot topic lately. “Unfilmables” is the buzz word for written description in a screenplay that can’t be filmed. So if I write, “Joe walks to the car,” that’s okay cause it can be filmed. But if I write, “Joe loves this car,” that’s “unfilmable,” cause you can’t “film” Joe’s love for the car. Therefore, certain people argue, you should never ever write “Joe loves this car” (or any other unfilmable) into your screenplay. Okay, I’d agree with this line of thinking…IF THE YEAR WERE STILL 1953. However, things have changed. A lot. It started with Shane Black and it continued with the spec market boom. No longer were scripts meant PURELY AS BLUEPRINTS. They now had to read well in order to have a chance at selling. This is why scripts have become less technical over the years – to make them easier reads. What that means is you have a little more leeway in the “unfilmable” department. I’m not saying that you can now write 18 page internal monologues for your characters, but if you want to throw in a “cheat” every now and then to make the reading experience easier, go for it. I’ve literally read hundreds of professional writers who write unfilmables. So Melissa Stack writes of Mandy’s parents, “They’re batshit crazy, but she loves them.” Yeah, that’s an unfilmable. But it helps tell the story. As long as you use your unfilmables judiciously, and don’t litter your scripts with them, you should be fine.