Premise: After a woman sends an indignant email to her new beau, who’s gone radio silent post sex, she discovers he’s comatose in a Mexican hospital and races south of the border with her friends in tow to intercept the email before he recovers.
About: This is the number 8 script on 2009’s Black List. The casting cabinet has Isla Fisher placed neatly on the shelf to play Wesley. Rapoport has a bit of a reputation for writing raunchy female dialogue and situations, the kind of stuff that would make even the girls of Sex and The City blush.
Writer: Ellen Rapoport
Details: 112 pages (June 23, 2009 draft)
To prepare you for Desperados, one should know that the opening scene contains horse fucking. One should also know that the words, “enormous horse penis” are used. I’m just trying to acclimate you to the weather here. Everyone’s calling Desperados the “female version of The Hangover,” and I can confirm that tone and storywise, that’s exactly what it is. But is it as good as The Hangover, a script that made the original Scriptshadow Top 25 way back when? Or was the comparison just a brilliant marketing tool, culminating in a sweet spot as one of the official best screenplays in town?
Wesley is a cute 30-something lawyer who’s spent way too much time in the gym, pushing and pulling and shaping herself to be ready for the moment she meets Mr. Right. Problem is, she hasn’t met him yet, and she’s right on the cusp of that horrible female stage where you become the angry bitter single version of yourself. You know, the kind of guy/girl you always made fun of as a kid? But she decides to give the penis-bearing ones one last chance. And it ends in the worst blind date ever. But then, almost magically, she runs into Jared, a dreamy 37 year old Adonis with a personality as perfect as his smile. Jackpot!
The two go out a few times, and against her best friends’ (bitchy Brooke and Optimist Kaylie) wishes, Wesley has sex with him. Walking on air, she’s already hearing wedding bells. But then Jared doesn’t call. And Wesley gets so freaked she goes through that psycho stage where you check the person’s Facebook page 90 times a day to see if they’ve made any updates, confirming they’re living their life just fine and ignoring you in the process. When 24 hours turns into five days, Wesley’s had it. With the rage of all the failed relationships she’s ever had wrapped inside her, she sends him the mother of all “fuck off” e-mails. The problem is, is that Jared calls a few minutes later, calmly apologizing. It seems that he’s been in a car accident in Mexico, and he’ll be holed up in the hospital for a couple of days.
Wesley, Brooke and Kaylie realize the only way Wesley has a chance of keeping this guy, is if they jet to the Mexican hotel Jared is staying at, break into his room, and delete the e-mail off his computer before he gets back from the hospital. So they jump on a plane and actually FLY TO MEXICO. To DELETE AN E-MAIL.
In what becomes a cross between The Hangover and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the three friends hang out at a plush vacation style Mexican hotel, while Wesley runs around trying various ways of getting into Jared’s room. In addition to that, she must deal with that disastrous blind date she had the night she met Jared – the occasionally charming Huck – as by the father of all coincidences, he’s taking a vacation at the very same hotel!
This is easily the script’s sweet spot and where a lot of the laughs are. In one scene, Wesley wraps herself in nothing but a skimpy towel outside of Jerod’s room, hoping she’ll be able to convince the maids that she’s been locked out of her *own* room. I won’t give everything away, but I will say the scene ends with a naked Wesley in the bathroom with a curious 14 year old boy, who are then interrupted by the boy’s mother.
In between attempts to delete that incriminating e-mail and get back to LA, Wesley repeatedly and reluctantly bumps into Asshole Huck. Problem is, after a few run-ins, Huck doesn’t seem so much like an asshole, and even though she’s head over heels for Jared, there’s something kinda cool about this guy. After awhile, it’s clear she’s developing feelings for him, but she ignores them in order to pursue the man she believes she’s supposed to spend the rest of her life with.
What I liked about Desperados is its theme of how we present ourselves. The way we introduce the perfect version of us to everyone, hoping that if we trickle out our faults at spacious enough intervals, that the other person won’t notice, or be in too deep to turn back. It’s such a deceptive but common tactic that it almost makes you wonder if you’ve ever given anyone the “real” you. And if you’re not giving people the real you, can you even call the relationship real? I think it’s an interesting debate and by no means does Desperados dig that deeply into it, but definitely scratches the surface.
I also liked how Rapoport explored the notion of ‘how crazy is crazy?’ And how the relative notion of crazy is always in the eye of the beholder. Wesley is out there passing judgment on the fucked up shit people do every day. Yet she’s the one flying to Mexico to delete an e-mail from a guy who isn’t even officially her boyfriend. It gets you thinking about some of the crazier things you’ve done for a guy or a girl, and how in the moment those ideas seemed totally rational.
The only thing I didn’t like about Desperados, and what kept it from what I was sure would be an impressive rating, was the ending. Rapoport wrote herself into a bit of a corner with the two guys, and at the end, she has to find a way out of it. The reasoning for why one of the guys falls out of the running is the only time in the script where the writing felt forced. And because this took me out of the story at such a critical moment, I couldn’t help but lose some of my enthusiasm for it.
But hey, this is still a really funny – sometimes even hilarious – screenplay. I’m thinking 8’s the perfect spot for it on this year’s list.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: (spoilers) I talked about this after my review of “The City That Sailed.” But since that review disappeared, let’s discuss it again. It’s hard to create a story based on a relationship when the people in the relationship are never together. In this case, you have Wesley and Jared who, because of the plot machinations, can’t meet up til the end. This makes a lot of writers, as well as producers and directors, nervous, because they don’t have their male and female leads together ever. Not only is that going to disappoint audiences (imagine Pretty Woman if Julia Roberts and Richard Gere weren’t around each other for 90% of the movie), but what actors want to play parts where their characters never act opposite one another? This is why a lot of writers add in a second love-interest. And usually, because audiences want to see their leads onscreen together, this love story becomes the main love story, which is exactly what happens in Desperados (with Huck). The key is to understand this problem (my lead characters are never together) before you write the script, because I guarantee you you’ll have to deal with suggestions later that your main characters are never together, and therefore you need to write in another character (or completely change your story). In the end, I think Desperados made it work because it was always less about the relationship and more about the comedy. But it’s still a slipperly slope, and I try to avoid stories like this when I can, cause they’re always tricky.