Can a screenplay from a New Zealander prove this week’s Scriptshadow theme wrong? Or do I still stick by my guns and say: “Stay away from quirky character pieces when writing a spec?”
Amateur Friday Submission Process: To submit your script for an Amateur Review, send in a PDF of your script, a PDF of the first ten pages of your script, your title, genre, logline, and finally, why I should read your script. Use my submission address please: Carsonreeves3@gmail.com. Your script and “first ten” will be posted. If you’re nervous about the effect of a bad review, feel free to use an alias name and/or title. It’s a good idea to resubmit every couple of weeks so your submission stays near the top.
Premise: When a simplistic man meets a simplistic woman on the internet, wedding bells start ringing. But when he finds out his crazy ex-girlfriend not only still has, but has since lost his engagement ring, he must team up with her to find it.
About: This script was written by a New Zealander! And I think he’s going to be making the movie himself. He was curious to see how the script would play to an American audience.
Writer: Michael Dunigan
Details: 104 pages
Anne Hathaway for Roxy?
It’s funny this script showed up when it did, because it fits in nicely with the week’s theme – writing a character-driven indie spec. Actually, there’s a little more of a hook going on here, and you could argue this is also, if not solely, a romantic comedy. But it seems to have its roots firmly in the indie world, and it has a ton of quirkiness, something I’ve taken to task in this week’s article.
I actually got an e-mail from the writer saying he was scared of my review now because of my recent quirky-bashing. So I just wanted to clarify something. I have no problem with quirkiness IF it serves the story. It’s only when it’s used to serve its own purpose that I have an issue. For example, if a character wears a kilt just because the writer wants him to, I’m rolling my eyes. But if he just moved to the U.S. from rural Ireland and hasn’t purchased any American clothes yet, then it makes sense. So was the quirkiness in “The Very Last Girl” justified? Or was it just for its own sake? Time to find out.
Owen Marley is one straight-laced dude. This is not the kind of guy who’s going to dance on tables at a party. He’s the guy next door who gets irritated by all the noise coming from the party. So it makes sense that he’s searching for his next girlfriend online. And lo and behold, he finds her. Her name is Laura and while she’s pretty, she’s kind of morbid and depressing, obsessed with the meaningless of existence. Perfect for Owen! The first date is a smashing success, even though it looks to us like the two are having the most boring time in the world. They apparently enjoy this kind of (non) activity.
A few days later, Owen pops the question, and the two prepare to head into wedding bliss. But it turns out that Owen’s ex-girlfriend still has his engagement ring, which has been in his family for generations. Asking any ex-girlfriend for a ring back is going to be awkward, but asking this girl is going to be particularly difficult. That’s because Roxy, Owen’s ex, is psychotic. Don’t let her day job (a school teacher) fool you. She’s like a six year old on crack. Oh, and she no longer has the engagement ring.
BUT she thinks she knows where it is and tells Owen that if he wants it, he’ll have to join her to get it. So the two go riding around town, descending down manholes and hunting down local metal hunting enthusiasts in search of the ring, at one point running into a dangerous biker gang, who end up kidnapping Owen’s fiance. Along the way, Owen starts to realize that maybe Roxy isn’t as bad as he thought she was. And with fiance Laura starting to suffer from Stockholm Syndrome from her female biker captor, Owen probably doesn’t have any choice but to like Roxy anyway. But when Roxy throws a horrifying last second revelation at Owen, will the former love-birds be able to recover? Or will Owen find himself back at the starting gate, alone once again?
So what did I think of The Very Last Girl? Here’s how I determine my level of like (or dislike) for a script. Would I recommend it to anyone? Would I pass it on to a friend and tell them to read it? And if the answer is “no,” why is it “no?” I wouldn’t recommend this one and here’s why. There’s something too predictable about it. Too familiar. Even with all its quirkiness, I felt like I’ve seen this movie before, and nothing new was brought to the table. Typically, I hate being 20-30 pages ahead of a script, and that turned out to be the case here. Now I was 20-30 pages ahead of St. Vincent De Van Nuys as well, but the difference was that those characters were all unique and deep and compelling. These characters never really went below surface level.
Take Vincent from “St. Vincent,” for example. He had this whole backstory with being a war hero and having a wife who’s since been lost to Alzheimer’s. Maybe that was my issue with “Last Girl.” The characters didn’t have any backstories. They were defined by their present traits only. Roxy was weird. Laura was morbid. Owen was boring. I’m not even sure what the backstory between Owen and Roxy was. If it was stated, I missed it, but I was constantly trying to figure out why the two had been together. They were such different people. I know opposites attract but I would’ve liked to know specifically why they attracted.
Then again, I started to get a little skimmy after the midpoint, so I may have missed some details. That’s what writers sometimes forget. If a script isn’t catching a reader’s interest, their mind starts to drift. They can’t help it. If you’re not interesting them, they’re going to stop paying attention. And I’m not saying it was super bad in “Last Girl’s” case, but there were a few times where a couple of pages went by and I was like, “Whoa, I don’t remember what I just read.” If I’m giving notes, I’ll go back and read those pages. But if I’m just reading a script? Those pages get lost forever.
Another issue I had was that our main character, Owen, was boring (sorry, I can’t think of a nicer way to put it). This was somewhat offset by Roxy being so crazy, but having a boring main character is tough, even if you’re going the “protagonist as straight man” route. Not to keep bringing up “St. Vincent De Van Nuys,” but look at the main character in that script. He’s a drunk asshole who always says what’s on his mind and refuses to open up to anyone. Plus he had all that backstory. That guy was interesting! Even if you want to argue that the little kid was the main character, HE was interesting. He was adopted. He was super smart. He was weird – different from all the other kids. Owen existed almost invisibly throughout this script.
On the plus side, the story had a clear objective and therefore the characters were always moving towards something. That kept them active. There was also clear conflict between the two leads, Owen and Roxy, which kept their conversations exciting, even if that conflict was a little forced.
I’m not sure if there was a ticking time bomb (was the wedding tomorrow? I can’t remember). But even if there was, there were no true stakes attached to Owen achieving his goal. Laura was going to marry this guy no matter what (before the Stockholm Syndrome) so you got the feeling that even if he didn’t find the ring, they were going to be just fine. I remember with The Hangover, you knew that if these guys didn’t find the groom, they were going to be in some deeeeeeep shit. I never got that feeling here. And that’s important. If we don’t feel the stakes of the objective, how can we be invested in the story?
So this one didn’t quite do it for me. Moving forward, I’d make Owen more interesting and I’d also build more backstory into the characters. That’s what’s missing the most, in my opinion. The characters just aren’t deep enough. They have these surface level quirks, but I don’t feel their history, what’s going on inside of them, enough. You fix that and you’ll fix a lot of this script’s problems. I wish the best of luck to Michael!
Script link: The Very Last Girl
[ ] Wait for the rewrite
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: If I can’t remember one distinct trait about a character, then that character hasn’t been developed enough. I can’t think of one distinct trait about Owen. And this is the character taking us through this story! Make sure that your key characters all have at least one distinct memorable interesting trait about them.