Say you could clone a younger hotter version of your wife? Would you? Better be prepared for the consequences.
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Genre: Romantic comedy
Premise: After watching his marriage implode, a scientist creates a cloned version of his wife, yet gets in trouble when his ex-wife wants to get back together.
Writer: Brett Martin (story by Brett Martin and Ben Liska)
Details: 105 pages
“Clone Wife” is the kind of title you could see pinned on an 80 foot billboard standing above the 405 Freeway. It’s high concept, something that sells itself without having to know anything other than the premise. That’s when a high concept is really doing its job, when just its title or a quick sentence gets you thinking of a million different scene possibilities. And “Clone Wife” had me doing just that, which is a big reason why I chose it.
I also chose it because two independent sources e-mailed me to tell me it was a good script. And whenever you get an independent referral, it’s a good sign. It means someone’s already vetted the screenplay and, without anything in it for them, vouched for it. Of course, now that I think about it, I didn’t know the two people who wrote in and vouched for it. I suppose they could’ve been the writer in disguise. But after reading it, I can see how someone might recommend “Clone Wife.” It FEELS like a screenplay. It SMELLS like a screenplay. It TASTES like a screenplay. There’s something overtly professional about Clone Wife. And yet there’s something missing as well. Ironically, one might argue the script feels like a clone itself. It looks the way a script is supposed to look, but lacks the depth and detail of an original.
The story’s simple enough. 37 year-old Travis Wonders is an inventor/scientist. Instead of a man-cave, he has a lab-cave, complete with little robotic assistants that bear a striking resemblance to the one Iron Man uses. Travis is a hardcore workaholic, putting the bulk of his efforts into cloning, and it’s driven his wife, Renee, crazy, to the point where she’s decided to leave him.
This takes poor Travis by surprise, and the next thing he knows, Renee has left for Japan! Bummed out, Travis goes into a mumblecore-like tailspin, complete with Chinese food take-out containers strewn about and the ubiquitous 3 day old beard. But then one day he wakes up to see that Renee is in his bed. But not just any Renee. A REALLY HOT, YOUNG RENEE! Just like that, things are looking up!
After doing some digging, he realizes that his robotic apprentices cloned a 9-years-younger version of his wife, which would make her only one year removed from when they first met. Which is exactly how she perceives the situation. She believes their relationship has just started, and that it’s actually 9 years ago.
Travis decides to engage in the relationship because…well because the real Renee left him! But that’s about to change as Stig, Renee’s brother, convinces the real Renee to come back and give Travis another shot. Travis quickly finds himself in the precarious position of trying to get his real wife back while staving off the fake one. Or vice versa. Or verse vice-a. It all gets pretty tangly, and however it shakes out, it’s probably not going to be pretty.
Like I said, this FELT like a screenplay, but there were a lot of little problems (and some big problems) that, when added up, hurt the reading experience. Let’s start with the characters. I have a simple equation for a romantic comedy: We gotta like the guy. We gotta like the girl. We gotta want them to get together. If your romantic comedy doesn’t hit those three marks, there’s a good chance it won’t work.
I kind of hated Renee. She was bitchy. She was usually upset. She was a bit of a whiner. Even after she came back to try the marriage again, she immediately gets pissed off. There was never a time where she seemed nice or cool or fun or someone I might actually enjoy being around. Then there was Travis, who comes off as so oblivious and unaware that it was hard to sympathize with him. Renee is telling him she’s moving on and his reaction is, “But what about our dream, Moonbeam?” Why would you break out a cute rhyme when your wife just told you she’s leaving you forever? Yet that’s Travis. He never appears to exhibit any genuine emotion.
So I didn’t like Renee. I didn’t get Travis. Naturally, then, I didn’t care if they got together. And once you don’t care if the leads are getting together in a romantic comedy, what’s the point? It’s like when I accidentally turned into oncoming traffic at the beginning of my first driver’s test. Both myself and the instructor knew he was failing me, but he made me go through the rest of the test anyway. Why instructor? Why??
Then there was the introduction of Clone Renee. I still can’t figure out how she came to exist. From what I understand, Travis’ robots created her. So let me get this straight. Travis has spent HIS ENTIRE LIFE trying to clone something, with his biggest achievement being holding together organic matter for .2 seconds before it exploded. Then a couple of robots are able to clone a woman while he’s sleeping? I always try to get this across: Don’t fudge your major plot points. Major plot points need to make sense! We’ve set up that cloning is impossible. So how do robots do it??
I’m not sure I dug the on-the-nose nature of the script either. Our main character is named “Travis Wonder,” which seemed a little forced. Our villain, Guy, who used to date Renee when she was a prom queen, has since gone on to write a bestselling book called “Marry that Prom Queen.” He spends the plot trying to – you guessed it – marry the former Prom Queen. .
I also felt the humor was scattered and hard to get a handle on. For example, there’s this whole humorous subplot where Clone Renee is confused by all the modern technology (since she still believes it’s 9 years ago). I don’t think a script called “Clone Wife” should deal with characters who are wowed by the future. That’s a different comedy altogether. And then there’s a running “Scarface” joke, even though, for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why anything in the story would be affiliated with that movie. Maybe if the story was set in Miami?
If I were Brett, I’d take a step back and remember what we’re after. Romantic comedies, at their core, are character pieces. They’re characters learning about themselves through each other. That means establishing flaws for each character and using the journey to show them overcoming those flaws.
I think Brett’s trying to establish that Travis is a workaholic, a good flaw for a romantic comedy. However, the key scene inside those first 15 pages is Travis driving Renee to their high school reunion only to be told by Renee that the High School Reunion is next month. Besides the weirdness of this scene (why would Renee wait until they got to the high school to tell Travis they’re doing something else?) the purpose of the scene seems to stress more that our main character is forgetful, not a workaholic. So right from the start I had the wrong impression of Travis
Assuming we clear that up, the next step should be Travis trying to reverse the mistake that lost him Renee in the first (being a workaholic). So now, when Clone Renee enters the scene, he should be caring for her, doing things with her, being there for her to a fault. Then Real Renee comes back into the picture to complicate things. That’s what bothered me about Clone Wife. There was no real exploration of the main character’s issues.
It’s so hard for me to say this stuff because Brett definitely put a lot of effort into this. But I think too much of the focus was put on WRITING the story and not TELLING a story. I would try writing this as a character piece and let the comedy emerge from that, as opposed to directly looking for ways to exploit the premise. Let your characters take you places instead of forcing the places upon them, as the story almost always goes to an artificial place in those circumstances. That’d be my advice. What’d you guys think of Clone Wife?
Script link: Clone Wife
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: With Clone Wife, I got the feeling that every little period was scrutinized over. Which can be a good thing. But sometimes it can kill a script in the same way that a speech can be over-rehearsed. If you try to make every little sentence too perfect, too cute, too measured, you lose the naturalism a script needs to read well. So really, after you get your script into perfect shape, consider going back and “dirtying it up” a bit. As counterintuitive as that sounds, some of us over-writers need to do it.