Tuesday, May 31, 2011

What Would Kenny Do?

Genre: Comedy
Premise: A recently dumped high school senior gets a visit from a hologramed version of his 37 year old self, who helps him put his life back together.
About: What Would Kenny Do made the bottom quarter of the 2008 Black List. The writer, Christopher Baldi, has been busting his ass writing, directing, producing, and editing shorts and small indie projects over the past half-decade. This was his breakthrough screenplay. Recently, Justin Bieber and Ashton Kutcher signed on to star in the film, however the producers (of which Ashton is one) want a major rewrite before going forward.
Writer: Christopher Baldi
Details: 107 pages – April 1, 2008 draft (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).

Justin Bieber.

Ashton Kutcher.

Is there anything more that needs to be said?

Okay maybe there’s a lot of things that need to be said. And I’m sure you’re saying them right now. But before you, you know, do anything drastic, let’s dial down your “all pop culture” sucks attitude and look at this script purely on potential. Even though Kutcher is seriously lacking in the acting department, the one type of role he does well is the one where he’s making fun of himself, where he’s winking at the audience.

In that sense, What Would Kenny Do is a genius career move, for both him and Bieber. Bieber’s poking fun at himself. Ashton’s poking fun at himself. Ashton’s poking fun at Bieber. Bieber’s poking Selena Gomez. I mean, come on, I would rent that movie. Or one of those movies.

Now that doesn’t mean the script gets power of attorney to vomit out a lackluster story. This is a mistake I see a lot writers make actually - they believe that since the subject matter is light and fluffy, the effort can be light and fluffy. BIG mistake. If there’s one thing I’ve realized about screenwriting, it’s that every script is a challenge. Every script requires the same amount of dedication and effort to pull off. If you half-ass any script, I guarantee it will show.

17 year old Kenny Bellmore is devastated by the recent dumping he received by his long time girlfriend, Holly. High school is tough. You can put two long years into a relationship, slowly chipping away at that magical end goal known as losing your virginity, only to have your gf break up with you weeks before it’s supposed to happen, which is what happens to poor little Kenny.

Needless to say, he’s kinda devastated.

Luckily, Kenny is BFFs with Jared, his burnout buddy who’s not only a genius, but also secretly works for NASA. Bummed about his best friend’s quickly deteriorating life, he offers Kenny up an opportunity to salvage his high school career. What if, he asks him, he could meet his grown up self, who could then steer him in the right direction and fix all his problems via the power of hindsight? Kind of like a really advanced science-fiction version of MTV’s “Made.”

Kenny’s a little weirded out about meeting his grown-up self but, because this is a movie, he goes along with it and soon an eerily similar looking 37 year old version of himself is standing in front of him. Old Kenny has one simple rule. Do what he says and everything will turn out dandy.

The goal for the Kennys is three-fold. Make his ex-girlfriend jealous for leaving him, find a date for the prom, and lose his virginity. Not exactly a trifecta of depth, but let’s remember that this is high school, where sex took precedence over world hunger.

Over the next couple of days, Old Kenny orchestrates situations where his ex sees him talking to other women, hanging out at parties, and courting the school slut. Though he doesn’t always agree with him, Young Kenny has to admit that everything Old Kenny tells him to do is working. Which makes Young Kenny one happy little terrier. Although I’d advise anyone to “never say never” (if you get that reference, shame on you), it looks like all of Young Kenny’s problems are going to dissolve away.

I thought “What Would Kenny Do?” started off well. It was clearly going for a “Weird Science” vibe and did a great job pulling it off. However, I’m afraid there are a couple of script-crippling issues here that are going to have to be addressed if they want this film to reach any higher than 30% on Rotten Tomatoes.

The first is the same problem I had with yesterday’s script – but here it’s even worse. Our main character is cripplingly passive. And that’s because of the way the main characters – Young Kenny and Old Kenny - are constructed. You see, usually, in these types of movies (older self mentors younger self), we tell the story from the older self’s point of view. So in 17 Again, we’re with the 40 year old adult version of Zac Efron first.

The reason for this is because the central issue at the heart of these movies – wishing you would’ve done things differently – can only be realized from the perspective of the person who’s already screwed them up. They’re the ones who know what happens later on, and therefore the ones who can offer advice for change. You see this in 17 Again, where Zac Efron (who’s really 40 year old Matthew Perry) tries to guide his high school daughter through the right decisions.

Here, since the movie is told from the perspective of Young Kenny, you have this really weird dynamic whereby our main character doesn’t make *any* decisions. He just follows orders from his older self. Obviously, if you’re doing what somebody else tells you to do for the entire film, that’s the very definition of passive.

This could’ve been salvaged had Older Kenny been a more complex character, but since we’re telling the story from Young Kenny’s point of view, we never get an opportunity to explore Older Kenny. I know I know. I just said not to give Ashton Kutcher any complex parts, but just from a screenplay perspective, we needed some depth here.

Actually, there was a late attempt to add some complexity to Old Kenny’s character, when he finally gets a chance to see his father alive again, but it was so thin, so barely realized (I didn’t even know his father was dead in the future) that it didn’t work.

Another major issue is that in all these “wish fulfillment” films, there comes a point where things need to start falling apart. At first, it should be puppy dogs and ice cream for your hero. But then, after the initial shine begins to fade, our hero’s situation needs to gradually deteriorate into something worse than had they never made the “wish” in the first place. This usually ends up teaching our hero a lesson, which allows them to change and become a better person.

Big is a great example of this. Initially, Hanks’ character reaped all the benefits of being an adult, but eventually learned that with that came an overwhelming amount of responsibility and “adult problems,” that he wasn’t yet prepared to handle. “What Would Kenny Do” has a “blink and you miss it” troubling sex scene with a slut late in the third act, and that’s it, that’s the extent of his “deterioration.” As a result, the script lacks any real conflict for the main character and therefore any drama. It feels one-note and way too easy of a journey.

When it’s all said and done, there’s barely any story to speak of in “Kenny.” Things move along, but do so without the necessary emotional peaks and valleys, and without a character who’s deciding his own fate or learning anything. I’m not saying you need to tell “Kenny” from the point of view of his older self, cause then you just have 17 Again Part 2, 17 Again: Text Patrol. But something needs to be figured out so that the main character in this script is more active. I hope they figure it out, cause Bieber and Ashton on the big screen together is comedic gold! (even if that comedy is more of the “laugh at” than “laugh with” variety)

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

What I learned: Usually, the last 15-20 pages of Act 2 should be reserved for your hero slowly descending until they reach their lowest point (which is the end of Act 2). If that descension is shortchanged (only given a scene or two), or worse, not addressed at all, your script won’t feel like it has a third act, but instead, one long second act, which will throw off the script’s rhythm and confuse the reader.