Monday, September 17, 2012

Screenplay Review - Rehab

Genre: Comedy
Premise: A school guidance counselor who dated pop sensation Lake James back in high school, follows her into rehab in hopes of rekindling their romance.
About: Writer Sam Laybourne is a producer on the cult comedy hit, Cougar Town (which I admit is actually kind of funny, even if all the characters are written in the exact same voice).  He's also written an episode of another cult fave, Arrested Development.  On top of that, he has an in-development future TV project set up with Michael J. Fox.  Rehab sold early last year I believe.
Writer: Sam Laybourne
Details: May 11, 2009 draft (Writer's Draft)

Jennifer Lawrence for Lake James?

It seems like every time I read a comedy these days, I go in thinking it will suck. And that sucks. Because I don't want it to suck.  Honestly.  But the kind of writers who write comedies are sort of flippant by nature.  They're willing to do the easy stuff, the setting up and paying off of jokes, but refuse to do the "hard time" work.  The structure.  The story.  The characters.  That's where you separate the "writers" from the writers - As long as you're willing to get your hands dirty, you can write a great comedy.

Laybourne's someone who's willing to do the dirty work.  How do I know?  Well, because he actually gave a secondary character a goal/dream (the main character's friend, Touchdown, wants to play in the Arena Football League).  I know if a writer's focusing on the desires of his secondary characters, that he's a real writer.  So once we established that, I knew that at the very least, this writer was giving it his all.  How did it work out in the end?  Was Rehab successful?  Or did it fall off the wagon? Read on....

23 year old Abe Yarbow is the cool guidance counselor at his high school, a high school he used to attend himself with none other than Lake James.  Who is Lake James, you ask?  Well, she's basically the reincarnation of Courtney Love.  She gets drunk.  She gets high.  She parties.  She vomits.  This woman is like a one-person partying crew.  To the point where it *almost* overshadows her amazing career, which consists of one hit single after another.

Anyway, Abe actually went out with Lake James in high school.  For three years!  And he's kinda maybe partially still infatuated with her.  You see, Lake was discovered right out of a high school play, whisked off to Hollywood, became a megastar, and in the process never officially broke up with Abe.  So in Abe's mind, they're still together, and all he needs to do is get in touch with her to restart their romance.

However, this has proven to be harder than you'd think.  He's gone down every single communication avenue, even going so far as to contact the Lake James Fan Club hotline.  Yes, he is as pathetic as that sounds.  Luckily, there's one person in his life, the self-nicknamed "Touchdown" (a gym teacher who's convinced he'll play professional football someday) who constantly reminds him how pathetic he is for obsessing over this worthless bitch, and is desperate to get him to move on.

But Abe can't move on.  He's too in love.  And that's when a situation arises that will finally allow him to rekindle his romance with Lake.  It turns out the Taco Bell sponsored James drunk-drove right into rival Del Taco in a desperate attempt to fill her belly with some late night Del Taco snacks.  This adventure has dictated that she finally go to rehab, where the straight-laced Abe plans to sneak into and jumpstart their relationship again.

Once inside, Abe tries everything in his power to get Lake to notice him, but she's not biting on any front.  In the meantime, Abe finds comfort from one of the assistants at the center, someone he'd probably fall in love with if he wasn't so infatuated with Lake.  So will Abe finally wake up from his whipped life?  Or will he continue down this pathetic path of trying to rekindle something that was never kindling in the first place?

First off, I liked the humor in Rehab.  I was laughing a lot.  Abe's over the top infatuation with Lake was pitch perfect (I loved how he'd answer every phone call with a hopeful, "Lake?") and Abe and Touchdown had a nice little back-and-forth banter going on.

Speaking of Touchdown, Laybourne had an interesting naming scheme going on in Rehab.  He'd basically give every other character a nickname.  When I see this in comedy scripts, I almost always recognize a former reader.  Only readers understand how difficult it is to remember all the characters in the script so when they write their own scripts, they're very conscious of making sure every character is memorable  You can't really pull off the nickname thing in dramas or thrillers.  But they're perfect for comedies.

The script was also really well structured.  I liked how Laybourne divided his story into sequences (what's known as the "Sequence Approach") and how that approach kept the script moving.  For example, Abe got into rehab, and for about 12 pages, tried to be really nice to Lake to get her back.  That didn't work.  So he shifts for the next 12 pages into the "bad boy," and tries to pretend like he doesn't care.  That approach eventually works and the next 12 pages are about Lake warming up to him.  And then the 12 pages after that are about Lake falling for Abe and pulling him into her twisted dangerous world.

Because each sequence changes up the story just a little bit, it continued to be fresh.  Amateur scripts tend to drop the ball in this area.  There's never any real change of direction in the screenplay.  It's just one long string of the same.

I don't think this script is going to win any awards.  I don't think it's going to light the world on fire.  But it's a nice little twist on a romantic comedy and isn't that what we're looking for?  Something the same but different?  In my opinion, this is just different enough to be worthy of hitting the big screen. It's certainly better than most of the comedies out there now.

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

What I learned: Like I said above - every 12-15 pages, change up the angle of the script to keep it fresh. One of the easier ways to do this is to have your main character shift his goal or shift his approach.  So Abe goes from playing the good guy to playing the bad boy.  Now when he and Lake are together, the expectation of the scenes play out differently because the dynamic is different.  Before he acted desperate.  Now he's nonchalant.  That's going to create different situations and different jokes.