Premise: Two brothers raised to believe their father died find out their mom was lying to them and doesn’t know who their father is (due to a healthy sexual appetite in the 70s). So the two set out to find him.
About: Bastards sold earlier this year to Paramount just 24 hours after being put on the market. This is Justin Malen’s second sale, the first being a script titled “Prick.” He is also working on a project titled “Trophy Husbands” for Mike Judge to direct.
Writer: Justin Malen
Details: 112 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).
Should I give up with comedies? Is every modern comedy script just an idea with comedic potential for Vince Vaughn to improvise in? Is there such thing as a comedy spec that’s just…I don’t know…GOOD?? It seems like even when a good spec is purchased, the studio finds a way to screw it up. Going The Distance was a hilarious comedy spec. Its biggest strength was its edgy dialogue. So what’s the first thing they did once they bought it? They REWROTE ALL THE DIALOGUE! I guess when a “soft” director and huggable cast is added, the studio has no choice but to make changes but man, there’s something wrong with that process that needs to be fixed.
Anybody still with me? Have I whined you away yet? I hope not. Because guess what? Today’s comedy is actually pretty good!
Peter and Kyle are twins but couldn’t be more different. Kyle’s a cross between Keanu Reeves and Brad Pitt, while Peter’s a cross between a can of peas and a cherry pit.
Kyle doesn’t have a single identifiable skill. But an aspiring barbeque sauce maker spots him on the beach and asks him if he could use his silhouette for his sauce label. The sauce blows up, and Kyle becomes a millionaire off the royalties.
Peter, on the other hand, is a proctologist. He sticks his hand in assholes all day. But there’s actually a reason for that. You see, Peter and Kyle’s mother told them that their father died of colon cancer before they were born. Peter, then, is on a lifetime crusade to help others with the disease.
Well that’s about to change. In a twist only Meryl Streep with a bag of popcorn watching Mama Mia could’ve predicted, it turns out that their mother’s been lying to them this entire time! Dad didn’t die. She doesn’t even know who dad is! That’s because she was the world’s biggest slut back in the 70s. Their father could be one of a dozen men for all she knows.
The cool news, though, is that their mother was a REALLY GOOD SLUT. Like if they were ranking sluts, she would be at the top of the slut chain. She had sex with some really famous people, and right away the evidence points to their father being Hall of Fame quarterback Jack Tibbs! Kyle is besides himself. This is the coolest news ever! But Peter’s still thrown by the whole thing. He can’t get over the fact that his whole life has been a lie.
So they go and visit Jack, and even though they hit it off, Jack mentions just how much sex their mom had (a LOT!), and evidence points to there being more likely candidates than himself. So Kyle and Peter jetset all over the U.S., meeting their potential fathers, but can’t seem to locate “the one.” During that time, Peter finally unleashes the longstanding resentment he has for his brother, who’s lived this charmed life while he’s never had ANYTHING good happen to him. Looks like these two won’t just have to find a father. They’ll have to find each other (awwwwwww).
Let’s address the most important thing first. Bastards has a goal (find the dad) that a character DESPERATELY WANTS TO ACHIEVE (Peter wants nothing more than to find out who his father is and have a relationship with him). Since we sympathize with Peter’s earnestness and his frustration for always being second fiddle in his family, we root for him, and therefore want him to achieve his goal. All of this is set up in the first 25 pages. And when you do that well, your story writes itself. It has direction. It has purpose. The reader is never lost because he/she understands what the protagonist is trying to do. This is how to set up your story.
Bastards also nails the second act because remember what the second act is mainly about. It’s about exploring unresolved relationships between characters. And here we have a big one. Peter hates his brother’s perfect life. So that’s the relationship that needs to be fixed. But what I found unique, and really liked about Bastards, was Kyle’s role in all this. He was completely oblivious to Peter’s resentment. He loved his brother more than anything and would do anything for him. He was just clueless and naïve. So you didn’t have that cliché “both characters hate each other” thing that you see in a lot roadtrip movies. The dynamic was more subtle, and therefore unique.
Malen has also put story before comedy. I’ll be honest. I didn’t laugh a whole lot in Bastards. But I wanted to see if Peter was going to hash out his problems with Kyle and find his father. I can’t emphasize enough how important this is. It’s probably THE BIGGEST MISTAKE amateur writers make when writing comedies. They don’t care about the characters or the relationships those characters have. They rationalize to themselves, “Well it’s just a fun comedy! I don’t have to create deep characters.” And then they’re surprised when nobody’s into their screenplay. Readers say, “I didn’t really connect with the characters.” And the writer screams back, “But it’s just a light comedy! It’s not supposed to be about the characters. It’s supposed to make you laugh!” We don’t laugh unless we care. And caring typically comes from giving us characters we identify with and care about. I believe this is why a lot of people had a hard time with Mrs. Satan. It wasn’t that it didn’t have funny moments. We just never cared for or identified with the main character.
Comedy-wise, Kyle is the big star here. He’s pretty funny as the clueless guy with the perfect life. He not only has a Hawaiian model wife and three perfect children. But his wife is of the belief that men have strong sexual appetites that need to be satiated and if she’s not around, he should satisfy those urges. Because that will make him happy. And if he’s happy, his wife argues, then their marriage will be better. So the whole time Kyle is feeling bad because he doesn’t want to have sex with other women but has to, which just infuriates Peter to no end.
I don’t know why but I kept imaging Keanu Reeves for the role of Kyle. He needs a good comedy role and since I’m a Keanu apologist, I’m secretly hoping that that’s the way they’ll go. Anything so this isn’t another Vince Vaughn comedy. All in all, this is one of those perfectly executed comedy specs. Malen really showed his command of the craft here. It wasn’t funny enough to get an impressive, but everything else was so sound that I’m strongly recommending it.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: A few weeks back I wrote an article about how to juice up your scenes. One of those tips was to add a THIRD PERSON to the scene. Bastards showed how to use this tool effectively. In these types of movies, you’re always going to have the scene where the characters finally blow up at each other. It’s the “You Wanna Know What Your Problem Is!” scene where each character tells the other what there big “fatal flaw” is. Because we’ve seen this scene so many times, it’s become cliché. But what Malen does here is he adds a third character – a hitchhiker they picked up – and it adds a different flavor to the fight that actually makes it funnier and a bit unique. The hitchhiker is the one that senses the tension between the brothers, instigates the fight, and then referees it. It’s a small thing but this is what screenwriting is about. Finding those little things that make scenes feel different!