Monday, June 27, 2011

The F Word

Genre: Romantic Comedy
Premise: A guy begins hanging out with a girl under the pretense that she’s single, only to later find out she has a boyfriend.
About: The F Word has been in my Top 25 since the beginning of my blog! And I’m finally getting around to reviewing it. Don’t worry all you lonely screenplays out there. With a little patience, you too will get your shot. This script made the 2008 Black List with 10 mentions (just below Everything Must Go and with the same amount of votes as Up In The Air). The script seems to have impressed big-time writer Alan Ball so much that he’s working with Elan (the writer) on his next directing project.
Writer: Elan Mastai (based on the play “Toothpaste and Cigars” by T.J. Dawe and Michael Rinaldi)
Details: November 28, 2007 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).

I have a bad habit of avoiding scripts I read and loved from a long time ago, only because I’m afraid they won’t live up to their original awesomeness. That’s why I STILL haven’t seen Everything Must Go. And an experience I had this weekend seeing another one of my favorite scripts turned into a movie did not help (Tune in Thursday for the full scoop on that debacle – yuck squared).

So anyway, that’s why I’ve been avoiding reviewing The F Word, a script that’s been in my Top 25 since the beginning, but a script I don’t remember a whole lot about to be honest. I’ve read over 2000 scripts since then and am much harder to please these days. Would it still hold up? Or would the unthinkable happen? Would I need to take The F Word out of my Top 25??? I can tell that the suspense is killing you so let’s get to the review, shall we?

Wallace and Chantry are a couple of 20-somethings doing what 20-somethings do on a Saturday night. Hanging out at a party that they don’t really want to be at. Wallace is conservative, nice, a little quirky. And Chantry is fun, intriguing, a little sarcastic. The two find themselves meeting in the kitchen and putting together goofy sentence combinations with those refrigerator letter magnets (“THIS TURKEY SANDWICH SAT IN MY HAT ALL WINTER”)

The two clearly have a connection, but later that night after walking home, right when it seems like they’re about to have the kiss to end all kisses, Chantry mentions that she has a boyfriend. Oops.

Wallace goes home and confesses to his best friend Allan (who also happens to be Chantry’s cousin) that he can’t stop thinking about the girl, which eventually leads to them beginning a friendship. They go to movies, talk on the phone, eat at fine establishments. For all intents and purpose they act like a couple. But they’re not a couple. Because Chantry has a boyfriend.

Complications arise when Chantry’s boyfriend goes off to Paris for his job, and the two are allowed to spend even MORE time together, resulting in them getting even closer. They go shopping together, camping together, skinny dipping together. And yet, Chantry is steadfast on keeping the line drawn. They’re just friends. And Wallace completely respects that.

The F Word asks that question that has been debated since the caveman era. Can men and women JUST be friends?

So how did The F Word hold up after all this time? Would it be meeting up with another word, the 26th word, if you know what I mean? (I mean placing it outside the top 25). The answer, thankfully, is no. But I’ll tell you this. I was worried there for a little while. The F Word starts out slow. The alphabet refrigerator letter scene, while cute, goes on for way too long (it feels like a holdover from the play) and it makes you wonder if this is going to be one of those talky indie relationship movies that make you hate hipsters.

This is followed by a second rough patch, before the relationship actually begins. Chantry hangs out at work. Wallace tries to forget the other night. Very little seems to be happening. I kept thinking to myself, “Hmmm, this isn’t nearly as good as I remember.”

But once we hit Wallace and Chantry’s friendship, the quality of everything, from the story to the characters to the dialogue, jumps up a few notches. Mastai does a great job of building this relationship, nailing the “trifecta rule” of romantic comedies: We like the guy. We like the girl. We want to see them get together. If you’ve achieved this, you’re 70% of the way there in your Rom Com spec.

The next rule is having a legitimate reason why your couple can’t be together. The F Word may have gone with the most basic solution to this problem, but it works. Chantry has a boyfriend. It’s clean, it’s identifiable. We do not question why Chantry and Wallace don’t just get together. Now while I admit to not believeing Chantry truly liked her boyfriend, Mastai made up for it by selling Chantry as a loyal woman with strong morals. I believed that Chantry didn’t want to cheat, and that sold everything that came afterwards.

In fact, my favorite thing about The F Word was how Mastai constantly puts his leads in situations that test their resolve, such as throwing them in a changing room together or having them go skinny dipping together. We’re constantly wondering as an audience, “Are they going to break here?” “Are they going to break here?” And if your audience is excitedly asking those sorts of questions, you’re in good shape, particularly because the majority of the time, readers are asking questions like, “Good God, when does this end???” “How come it’s page 80 and I still don’t know who the main character is?” “For the love of all that is Holy, end this now!” (yes, that last one is considered a question by readers).

The key here is making things TOUGH on your characters. That’s what creates drama and that’s what keeps things interesting. These two going on a group date to the Opera and sitting five seats away from each other isn’t a difficult situation for either of them. Swimming in the moonlit water naked less than a foot away from each other? Now THAT’S testing your characters.

There are a lot of things this script has to be proud of actually. Once you get past the opening, where I felt the dialogue was a little forced, it gets really good. And Mastai threw in all these little touches to take the script away from the stage (where it was born as a play). We have Chantry’s animated robots having conversations with her. We have Wallace imagining jump cuts of what Chantry’s boyfriend looks like. We have an “asking questions about each other” montage that takes us through 20 locations, cleverly selling the evolution of their relationship. It isn’t 500 Days of Summer inventive. But it has that same sort of vibe.

The negatives are few. Chantry’s boyfriend could’ve been a little better developed. I never got a sense of him. But in a strange way, that almost helped (I imagined this is how Wallace saw him too – as this vague entity). The script needs to start faster or have more going on early. Technically, things are “happening” in the opening ten pages, but you get the feeling that it’s not as good as it should be. I’d like to see Mastai get into that party more, have Wallace and Chantry dance around each other a bit, as opposed to just standing in front of a refrigerator for 12 pages. The Allan-Chantry connection (being cousins) felt a little convenient. But these are minor quibbles in an otherwise excellent script.

The F Word is that rare bird. It’s a clichéd “been there, done that” idea that is so well executed that you don’t realize how “been there, done that” it is. It’s a reminder that the key to any screenplay, in the end, is simply creating characters that we care about. If you do that, we’ll be willing to go anywhere with them, even to places we’ve been before. After last week’s crop of duds, it was nice to remember what a great screenplay looks like.

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

What I learned: If you have two romantic leads who aren’t allowed to be together, you better be tempting them CONSTANTLY. This is what the audience came to see – your leads being tempted. So create as many of these scenarios as possible. Put them in a dressing room half-naked together. Put them in a lake completely naked. Make them sleep in the same sleeping bag. Tempt tempt tempt!