Monday, October 22, 2012

Guest Review - Borrowing Girls

Hey guys.  I am currently being held captive in Cambodia by a group of hardcore screenwriting enthusiasts, one of whom wants me to teach him how to write the next "The Adventures Of Pluto Nash." This is why I'm unable to write today's review.  Assuming that my village cleaning duties are limited to today, I should be back tomorrow.  In the meantime, guest reviewer and elusive Canadian-born writer/reader "Rich," who's had the privilege of studying at both NYU AND AFI, is going to be taking over reviewing duties.  Pray for me Scriptshadow Nation.  Pray for me to make it back to the states alive.  

Genre: Erotic Thriller
Premise: After a sexually adventuresome couple moves into an upscale neighborhood, the woman accidentally murders her new neighbor while defending herself against rape. When the couple chooses to dump the body instead of confessing to the police, things take a turn for the worse.
About: According to Variety (June 2011), the script sold to Sidney Kimmel Entertainment. David
Writer: David Schickler
Details: 90 pages, Mar. 10, 2011 draft

James Franco for Daryl?

In full disclosure, I knew nothing about this script before I’d read it, other than that it was “Hitchcock-ian.” But for me, the word has always been something of an invitation, so with a touch more curiosity than “nothing” should warrant, I dove right into this baby, this script called “Borrowing Girls.” Gee, I wonder what I’m supposed to be thinking about this title...

It all starts with a young couple moving into an idyllic neighborhood called the Pinnacle Estates. Gretchen and Daryl Gift are that perfect unit that maybe we’d all like to be. She’s 27 and gorgeous, a former actress now selling makeup at an upscale department store. He’s 30-something and confident, having recently scored a major contract as an architect. Daryl and Gretchen’s new home isn’t the biggest on the block, but still, in Daryl’s words, “they made it.”

Oh, and they share a very healthy sex life, too. (More on this later.)

They soon befriend their neighbors Samantha and Todd. Samantha, as one local puts it, is the queen bee of “the Pin,” while Todd, it turns out, is persona non grata for having lost a ton of money for people in the town with business deals that all went south – paying for it in the bedroom, even, being routinely rejected for sex.

One night, Gretchen and Daryl have them over for dinner and afterwards, the guys split off from the girls into the basement (where a lot of the fun of this movie takes place). Drunk and bonding, Todd presses Daryl for his “secret,” how he gets Gretchen to be so hot for him all the time -- code for, “I noticed your wife is quite hot and I would very much like to boink her.” But whether Daryl gets the subtext or not, his answer to Todd’s question will prove to be most consequential. Be warned, the next little bit is going to get complicated, so just bear with me. For a movie like this, it kinda goes with the territory...

The thing about Gretchen and Daryl’s sex life is that it’s wrapped around a pretty unique fetish (or maybe it isn’t unique? And I’m just too tame?). They do this thing where Gretchen dresses up like various women in their lives, people like the realtor, the nanny, the Denny’s waitress, etc., and then has sex with Daryl – in character.

Schickler, a novelist and screenwriter, previously adapted his own novel "Sweet and Vicious."

They videotape these sessions and keep a whole library of DVD’s, one for every woman, or character, I should say, played by Gretchen.

To answer Todd’s question, Daryl decides to SHOW him these DVD’s (which they keep in the basement) of Gretchen getting screwed while disguised as various women from around the Pin. But because Gretchen is such a good actor, Todd is in total awe of Daryl – thinking that Daryl is actually having sex with all these women! At first, Daryl tries to correct him, but Todd is so impressed that Daryl can’t help but let it ride. Daryl adds to it, however, with a lie – that Gretchen allows him to sleep with other women, and that the two of them regularly watch these DVD’s together.

Todd becomes so jealous and curious that he steals one of these discs on his way out. He becomes instantly addicted, so much so that he sneaks into the Gifts’ house the next day to steal another one. When he returns home to watch the second DVD, however, he’s stunned to find Daryl having sex with his wife Samantha! Todd rushes over to the Gifts’ to confront Daryl about it, but Daryl’s out. Gretchen’s home alone. Tearing at the seams from pent up rage and sexual frustration, Todd ends up trying to RAPE Gretchen, who, after struggling to fight him off, manages to bury a fire poker into his skull. Yup. Todd drops dead, and later, when Daryl comes home to discover the bloody scene, he immediately tries to call the cops...

But Gretchen won’t let him.

And while thus far, the movie had me thinking Adrian Lyne or David Cronenberg, this is where the term “Hitchcockian” finally comes into play...

From here on out, the movie’s about whether or not the two will get away with it, of course, tracking Gretchen’s evolution (or devolution?) from a seemingly nice girl with a sexual kick to a full-on femme fatale as she convinces her husband to dump the body into the river. Enter Detective Corry Donner, a cop who’s not even in the right department for the case but is handpicked by Samantha for the fact that they share a personal history. Corry does manage to make things difficult for Gretchen and Daryl, who do their best to survive his meddling, but in the end, it’s Gretchen’s unrelenting commitment to getting away that causes the greatest strife for all.

But let’s just stop here for a second. While the rest of the script does play out as a taut little suspense piece, more or less, there was one question that I just couldn’t get out of my head during the entire read: Why didn’t Daryl just tell Todd the truth?! I just didn’t get it. And I’ll get this out of the way really quick – I personally can’t stand it when a major plot point is forced into being by way of inebriated characters. Like, anything that doesn’t make sense can happen just so long as the character’s had a few beers or a couple of tokes. Wrong. Drugs and alcohol help characters do what they secretly want to do but can’t under the inhibitions that society forces on us. Drugs and alcohol do NOT make nonsensical plot points suddenly make sense.

I say this because I reread this scene several times in search of a better motivation. The only other contender was that maybe being new to the neighborhood, and wanting to prove to Gretchen that they do, in fact, belong in the Pin, Daryl was overly eager to ingratiate himself with his new neighbor. But still, it’s overkill because all this occurs after Todd offers to sponsor Daryl’s application to the country club. I didn’t feel Daryl needed to go that far.

The other problematic aspect to this issue is one of logic, I suppose, that the story Daryl gave Todd was less impressive than the actual story, which is that Gretchen’s figured out a way for him to have sex with other women – without having sex with other women! I know, at a glance, the notion of having sex with lots of different women is far more impressive to most men, but for a movie such as this, it’s more interesting and appropriate for a character to be psychologically and emotionally capable and desirous of sexual experimentation. While Todd can barely get Samantha to have vanilla sex with him, here Daryl has a wife who does this sh*t voluntarily. Awesome! That, to me, seems like a better answer to, “How do you two keep things hot?”

But logic aside, the basic issue still remains – I didn’t buy that Daryl had to let Todd think he had sex with all those women. I mean, yeah, there was no way for Daryl to know that such a lie would ever lead to such a crazy chain of events, but still, there were so many other reasons to stick to the truth. If Daryl was, in fact, having sex with all the women in town, is that something he should advertise to someone he hardly even knows? I think not. The problem is, everything that Gretchen and Daryl endure after that point seems so... unnecessary. And this unfortunate thought popped into my head every ten or so pages, sometimes prompted by something on the page, sometimes just because.

But this might just be me. Another reader might be fine with it. But even so, there’s another issue that they’re likely to run into, which is that the main characters disappear for too much of the remaining plot and their reactions to major events are all but buried, barely even thought of! One clear cut example of this is when, after they dump the body, Gretchen and Daryl attempt to sneak into Samantha’s house to retrieve the stolen DVD in order to clear the path of evidence. This is totally in line with their overall goal, which is to get away with the murder. But then, this DVD retrieval objective takes a backseat for an entire sequence of the film (too long, in my opinion), such that by the time the plan resurfaces, it feels like the movie should have moved on to something else.

The added problem to this is that the lack of a more consistent effort toward the goal also undermines the urgency. It’s rare that characters are less motivated to pursue their goals than the audience is in seeing them do it. For a movie like this, where the stakes are clear enough – and high – it’s not only a momentum killer but a failure to deliver on the genre. Don’t deflate the tension by allowing, or worse, making your main characters lay off the primary objective!

Another form of this “presence” issue came up in the lack of reactions to certain key events, one obvious example being the discovery of Todd’s dead body. Shouldn’t this be the event that comes about, say, at around the midpoint to raise the stakes and danger for our protagonists? Why do we not even get a moment where they react to being invited to the funeral? Why do we never see the two freaking out but then regrouping and adapting to a new course of action? Yes, you do need scenes with Samantha getting the investigation going, and fine, I’ll even deal with the expository business with Samantha’s history with Corry (more on this in a moment), but if your main characters are, for a while, going to be in the backseat as far as pushing the narrative is concerned, then you have to at least track their reactions to and attitudes about all that’s going on in the meantime.

But regarding Corry and Samantha’s backstory, although I appreciated that the cop role in this film had a more personal involvement in all the goings-on, it felt at times like it was either too much or too little. Either keep him as just the cop, or go all the way and resolve whatever issue it is that’s still bugging Samantha. And make it RELEVANT somehow. And not coy or deliberately vague. Yes, they have a brief moment in the end that’ supposed to imply resolution, but I’m not exactly thinking about their subplot at that point because it occurs right after the most violent scene in the movie. And ultimately, even in hindsight, it was too little, too late.

Finally, I wondered about the movie’s theme. What was it? I’m not sure. I hate to come off all post-feminist or whatever, because I’m anything but (as my girlfriend is happy to point out when I demonstrate this fact myself), but what does it mean to have a woman who accidentally murders someone out of self-defense against rape go on to become the monster of the movie? Is it saying that anyone with a gamier sexual appetite is inherently immoral? Is the movie simply saying not to lie? To keep your perversions to yourself? Without any clear answers, I was left with a touch of “meh” and a dash of “So what?”

To be fair, the script does several things well, one of which is that it earns the prefix to its thriller genre. Boy, is this film erotic when it has to be. Whether it’s something as small as flirtatious banter or as extreme as having sex simply to deceive, the sexual content of the film is quite effective. It arouses. It smolders on the page. And it leaves you wanting more – even though you get plenty enough. And the whole thing of getting dressed up other women, I don’t think I’ve ever seen that in a movie before. I personally thought it was an interesting enough to be the novelty of the movie. That, along with the fact that Gretchen is a compelling character with so many sides, ultimately makes for an easy if not enjoyable read. It’s a script that I hope undergoes the necessary improvements because with them, the movie will do what it promises.

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

What I learned: Sometimes, there is such a thing as being too short. While Borrowing Girls’ 90 pages were a breeze to get through, in the end, the story you’re left with is missing a good amount of material that needs to be there in order for the story to be fully satisfying.