Monday, April 30, 2012

Screenplay Review - The Last Drop

Today's Black List screenplay explores two people falling in love, with one huge problem standing in the way.

Genre: Romantic Dramedy (is that a genre?)
Premise: An alcoholic falls in love with a woman who doesn’t drink. As their relationship intensifies, he must work harder and harder to keep his secret from her.
About: Finished in the middle of last year’s Black List.
Writer: Brandon and Phillip Murphy
Details: Sep 29, 2010 – 111 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).

One of the stranger things about last year’s Black List was that there was not one but TWO scripts about alcoholics. But that’s not the freakiest part. They were both placed RIGHT NEXT TO EACH OTHER on the list. Dew-dew-dew-dew Dew-dew-dew-dew (Twilight Zone score). Is that not bizarre or WHAT??

Okay, it’s not that bizarre at all but just go with it. It’s hard coming up with new angles for every review. Alcoholic cloning cousin scripts felt fresh when I thought of it.

So The Last Drop’s principle cast member is a guy named Clay, a good-looking dude in his 30s. Quite charming. Funny. Can have you laughing for 5 straight hours on the phone if need be. Not only that, but he’s fearless. He can walk up to any woman in a bar and have an 80% conversion rate. But that’s part of the problem. Clay spends nearly every free moment of his life IN bars.

In fact, he works at The New Yorker, one of the most prestigious magazines in the country, and rarely shows up for work. The thing is, he’s such an awesome writer that they let him slide. In fact, they kind of know he’s an alcoholic. But as long as he delivers the goods, they don’t care.

So one day, while casually slurping down a drink that’s probably straight alcohol, he notices a beautiful woman sitting alone at a table. This is the kind of girl that makes a boy forget about all the other girls out there. There’s something behind those eyes that he has to know everything about.

So he downs his drink and approaches this girl we’ll come to know as Holly. Just by the way they’re looking at each other, we know they’ve already fallen. They may not have said it yet, but we know. When love grabs hold of you, it beams off of every skin cell on your body.

Before Clay can reach the second act of his play though, Holly’s lunch date shows up – her father. Talk about the mother of all cockblocks! Luckily, Holly slips him her card before he goes. He’s got her number. SWEEEEET!

Clay celebrates, of course, by getting unabashedly wasted. But as all of us guys know, getting wasted with a new girl’s phone number is a cocktail recipe for disaster. That night, Clay calls and leaves Holly FOURTEEN DRUNK-DIAL VOICEMAILS. I don’t care how much a girl liked your first meeting. 14 drunk-dial voicemails puts you squarely in the category of PSYCHO. Poor Clay realizes that he blew his shot. Ain’t no coming back from that one.

Or is there? When you’re in love, you don’t give up. Even when the odds aren’t in your favor. It turns out Holly runs a bakery – something he finds via a little stalking. Never underestimate a person with too much time on their hands and Google. So Clay decides to write a glowing review of her place in the New Yorker, and it turns her languishing business into the star of New York City. After that, Holly has no choice but to give Clay a second chance.

The two start hanging out, and it’s then when Clay realizes Holly doesn’t drink. And since Clay doesn’t NOT drink, every time they’re together, Clay has to sneak into the bathroom or some other private location to get WASTED. It’s sad but it’s the only way he can operate.

At a certain point, however, Holly begins to suspect something’s up. Clay isn’t always acting…balanced. Naturally, this all ends up in a huge train-wreck of a finale that you just knew was coming. This is the kind of stuff that happens in a whirlwind romance. Feelings and circumstances are so intense that they eventually come to a fiery head. However, it’s what you do after that collision that determines where the relationship goes. Will Clay manage to save his chance at true love?

This was a different kind of script. I'm not sure I've ever read a romantic comedy about alcoholism before. That alone makes it unique. But it also makes it a bit of a struggle tonally. Are you supposed to be laughing about the situations Clay finds himself in or are you supposed to be sad? I'm not sure. Because a guy passing out on his front sidewalk after an endless night of drinking is giggle-worthy at 19. Not so much when you're 30.

There seemed to be something off about the structure as well. When you write a love story, you need that middle section where you sell the two characters falling in love. It's essential for the rest of the screenplay to work because we have to feel that love in order to care that they get back together in the end.

So what’s weird about this script is that the main character loses the girl right away - immediately after they first meet. This requires the story to focus on Clay trying to get a girl back that he never really had in the first place. And since that takes some time, by the time he does convince her to be with him, the writers are forced to scrunch that “falling in love” section into a tiny portion late in the second act. In fact, I think the extent of their falling in love happens in a montage.

For that reason, the final act, when Clay goes to Holly's parents, feels a little sudden. We haven't experienced these two together long enough to mine the most out of this sequence. And it's too bad, because it has all the makings of a great sequence. A guy meeting a girl's parents for the first time when he's absolutely obliterated, yet trying to hide it from them.

The Last Drop was a unique script in more ways than one. One thing that really stuck out to me about it was its montages. I've never really liked montages because the idea of a script is to transport the reader into a world where he’s not thinking about the words on the page. Montages are so mechanical (they’re often numbered or listed) that they kill that suspension of disbelief. And yet they're a necessary evil because sometimes in a screenplay, you need to bridge time.

The Murphys have a very non-invasive way of writing montages. They sort of write these mini-scenes one on top of another so it doesn’t actually feel like you’re reading a montage. It definitely takes up more space but I loved how the events blended into each other as opposed to a feeling like a grocery list. It read more…organic I guess. And organic is a good thing!

In the end, I genuinely wanted to see if Clay was going to get better. I think that's the reason you keep reading a screenplay like this. Remember that this is a story about characters – specifically a relationship - so it’s not as GSU applicable. Goals are replaced by questions. Such as, will Clay get better? Will Clay and Holly end up together? That's why we keep reading. We want to know the answers to those questions.

So did I like The Last Drop? Yeah, um-hm. I did. Not only did I like it for the reasons I listed above, but I liked it because it was different. I've just never seen this subject matter tackled quite the way it was here. If you're a reader, you're always looking for that slightly different fresh angle. This had that.

Check this one out if the subject matter interests you. Oh, and don’t give up on it. It gets better as it goes along. Patience will reward you.

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

What I learned: This script is a great reminder of why structure is so important. If you play with structure too much, you can be stuck trying to do big important things in very small spaces. In this case, because it takes so long to get our characters together, the screenplay has less space to sell their relationship. That's not to say it can't be done. It just becomes more difficult because it's always more difficult to sell important pieces of the story in a small amount of time. So feel free to play around with structure. You never want the structure of your script to feel *too* predictable. But know that if you bend too much, you can put yourself in a position that’s difficult to recover from.