Monday, March 19, 2012

Screenplay Review - The Wedding

Wait a minute. A 2011 Black List comedy that's actually funny? Can it be? Or has Carson once again misjudged the definition of "comedy?"

Genre: Comedy
Premise: Taking place over one day, a group of couples deal with a myriad of issues while attending a wedding together.
About: This was originally sold as a pitch to CBS films in August of last year. The subsequent script finished at the bottom of the 2011 Black List with six votes.
Writer: Andrew Goldberg
Details: 104 pages, September 14, 2011 (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'm ready for the claws to come out. It's another big comedy script which also happens to be a comedy script that Carson likes. And we all know how those go. Despite some of these scripts being loved by everybody in Hollywood, they seem to be hated by you guys! Which means you’re all wrong! But I do have a streak going with Winter’s Discontent here. Granted it's a streak of one. But that's better than the streak I usually have going, which is zero.

Here's the thing with today’s script though - the idea behind it is pretty genius. An entire movie based around a wedding? I'm not sure that's ever been done before in a comedy. We've seen plenty of movies leading up to weddings. But I'm not sure we’ve had a comedy that's *just about* the day of the wedding itself. It’s one of those ideas that’s so simple, you wonder why you didn’t come up with it yourself.

Anyway, we start out with Tim and Beth, a married couple in their 30s. Tim is madly in love with his wife but his wife doesn't seem nearly as enthusiastic. In fact, once at the wedding, when the bride and groom finally say, “I do,” Beth tells Tim, “I don’t,” informing him she's filing for divorce. A baffled Tim will now spend the rest of the wedding trying to figure out where his marriage went wrong – and why his wife seems to be having so much fun with this mysterious guy he’s never seen before.

Roger and Kate are an interesting ex-couple. They used to go out until Kate found out Roger was having sex with half of America. She subsequently jumped ship and has spent the better part of a year trying to get over him. She's finally succeeded, finding a guy she really likes, who she’s brought to the wedding. When Roger finds out Kate has officially moved on, he of course ditches his date and focuses exclusively on getting Kate back.

Danny is the class clown/best man. He's the overweight jokester who’s great for a laugh but not very good with the ladies. He's shown up here by himself – the way he always rolls – and plans on getting wasted and having a great time with the guys. But when he makes a connection with the wedding singer, a hottie named Larissa, he has to find out if she's just being nice because this is a wedding or if she really likes him.

Ryan and Caroline have been together for three years and it’s just hit Caroline that he's never going to propose. When’s the last time you want to go to a wedding? When you learn the guy you're with never wants to get married. So as she sees all of this love swirling around her, she becomes more and more frustrated, and resolves to do something about it, to Ryan’s horror.

There are plenty of other wedding favorites, like the weirdo uncle who’s constantly saying inappropriate things and staring at young girls. There's the girl who showed up without a date and has to deal with the all the questions about her ex-boyfriend. And there's the 17-year-old who’s looking to get deflowered.

I don't really know what to say about this script other than it's really good! It’s sort of like “Can’t Hardly Wait” but in wedding form. I love the contained time frame idea. It makes the story so immediate. Everything needs to happen RIGHT NOW so you know all of these unresolved relationships need to get resolved TONIGHT. And that keeps each relationship moving along at a brisk clip. Whenever we cut to someone, they’re usually in the throes of an important moment – something you don’t always get when the time frame for the story is spread out over weeks or months.

And that’s really the key to making these movies work. When you don't have an overriding concept - in other words, a main character with a goal (find the Ark, prove the one-armed man killed my wife, get to Paradise Falls), the focus shifts over to the unresolved relationships. These will be the engines that carry the story forward.

It's so important that you understand this because a lot of beginners don't realize without a big character goal, the story can go south quickly. But if you create a bunch of interesting characters who have big problems, then every time we cut back to them, there’s going to be something interesting going on. We want to know how that conflict is going to get resolved. And that's another key word here - conflict. Because these relationships are unresolved, there’s always conflict. And conflict is the heart of drama and drama is the key to entertaining.

In other words, if all of these people are happy, you don't have a movie. So when we cut back to Kate and Roger, we’re wondering, is he going to convince her to be with him again? Or with Tim - Is he going to get his wife back? Or with Caroline – Is she finally going to confront Ryan about their relationship? Or with Jeremy, the 17-year-old - Is he finally going to get laid?!

I’ve read versions of these stories where the writers have no unresolved issues to play with. They then try to fill that void with “funny” dialogue – observations about people at the wedding, or crass sex jokes. The scenes feel desperate, though, because they’re just filling time. When you’ve built real problems and issues that need to be resolved, you don’t need to worry about writing funny dialogue. The dialogue ends up writing itself.

And then there are just a bunch of nice touches to the story. I love this idea that we never see the bride and groom. We only see their backs or flashes of them – never their faces. For once, this is about the people *at* the wedding as opposed to the people getting married. That was really clever.

And easily my favorite character was the creepy uncle. We've all seen this guy at our own weddings and boy he is on fire here. He wears sunglasses the whole night so nobody can see his eyes. He laughs at the most inappropriate moments. He calls Danny “Rashad” for some reason and thinks he's a cop. He’s hilarious.

And the relationships were all well-handled. I particularly liked the Danny and Larissa storyline. I loved how he was built up as the underdog – the loner. And when the wedding singer starts flirting with him, he (and the rest of the guys) have to figure out if she’s just doing it because that’s her job or if she’s doing it because she really likes him. We love Danny so much that we’re on the edge of our seats trying to find out the answer to this question ourselves!

You know, this script came REALLY close to getting an impressive, simply because I couldn’t find anything wrong with it. But much like “Can’t Hardly Wait,” there was just something indefinable missing – an x-factor to really take it over the top. Maybe it was the lack of that big unforgettable character (although the uncle comes close – he was more of a sideshow). Maybe it was the lack of surprises. I’m not sure. But there’s *something* missing here. Still, this was a really good script.

[ ] Wait for the rewrite
[ ] wasn’t for me
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: A goal and a ticking time bomb aren’t as important in stories which take place over a short period of time. The whole point of the character goal is to push the story along. But if the timeframe is contained (24 or 48 hours), the story tends to push itself along. You saw the same thing in movies like “Dazed and Confused” and “Can’t Hardly Wait,” which take place over one day. Likewise, a ticking time bomb doesn’t need to be a dominant part of the plot because the point of a ticking time bomb is to create urgency. If your story takes place inside of a day, the urgency is inherent. That’s not to say you *shouldn’t* use these tools in these situations. Just that they’re not as big of a factor in the story’s success.