Premise: A socially unaware blissfully inept moron named Doug Himelfarb falls in love with a woman on their first date and surprises her by showing up at her parent’s home for Thanksgiving.
About: Himelfarb sold as a spec script to Warner Brothers back in 2006 and was the first sale for writers Paul and Mogel. It also finished in tenth place on the 2006 Black List. The writers got their first produced credit with Jim Carrey’s “Yes Man” a few years back and have a half dozen projects in development, including “Harvey and Marky: A True Story of Friendship and Betrayal” about childhood friends Harvey and Marky, who reach an impasse when the shy Marky falls in love and the domineering Harvey hires a fake girlfriend in order to show him up. Paul is also an actor and has had many bit parts in movies and TV. He was also a staff writer on a few series, including Stargate: SG1.
Writers: Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogel
Details: 117 pages, June 20, 2006 (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).
After reading Himelfarb, I was convinced that Jarrad and Andrew, the writers, had somehow managed to build a time machine, travel back to the year 2009, watch The Hangover, travel back, and write this script. “Oh no,” you’re saying. “Not another Hangover clone.” Oh don’t worry. Himelfarb is nothing like The Hangover. My theory is based on the premise that these two managed to write the perfect character for Zach Galifianakis before anyone knew about Zach Galifianakis. I mean, try to read a single line of Himelfarb’s dialogue without thinking of the portly Between Two Ferns host. Seriously. At certain points, I would physically see an animated version of the comedian dancing on my screen between lines. It’s that obvious.
Doug Himelfarb’s been hurt, man. He’s been scalded by the pain of love. His old girlfriend, who he broke up with by the way (according to him) has left a hole in his heart that he doesn’t know how to fill. Luckily he’s got his filmmaking career to fall back on, if you consider making self-funded test commercials for companies that ignore you a “career.”
Himelfarb’s partner in crime is his younger brother, Sandy. After their father died, Himelfarb’s become the father figure of the clan, and has made the still mourning Sandy his personal assistant, a position Sandy takes very seriously, despite having no idea what a personal assistant does and rarely doing his job right.
Himelfarb feels that it’s finally time to get back on the dating horse, so he sets up a blind date online. When the attractive small-town actress, Julia, first sees Himelfarb, she tries to escape, but he spots her just before she’s able to slip away, and the date begins. Within ten minutes, Himelfarb proceeds to break up with her because he realizes that while he’s ready to love, he’s still not over his ex, still not ready to move on. Julia, who’s terrified by Himelfarb and wants nothing to do with him, points out that they can’t break up if they’re not together. But Himelfarb won’t hear such nonsense. He assures her that even though this relationship is over, they can still be friends.
Over the ensuing weeks, Himelfarb suspects that he made a mistake, and starts writing Julia, and calling Julia, and writing Julia, and calling Julia. He begins to suspect that something’s wrong because Julia doesn’t write or call back. He remembers her talking about going back to her hometown for Thanksgiving during their date. So he grabs Sandy, drives cross-country, and prepares to surprise her.
Back at Julia’s parents’ house, Julia’s dealing with everybody’s favorite time, the annual Thanksgiving Break “Why The Fuck Don’t You Have A Husband Yet?” parental interrogation. So to get them off her back, she tells them she’s met a guy, using Doug’s name because he was the last person she went out with. How could she have possibly known that Doug would then show up a few minutes later?
The parents are thrilled, taken by Himelfarb’s strange but optimistic demeanor, and we quickly morph into “Meet The Parents: Bizarro World” version, as Himelfarb tells Julia he’s ready to take the next step and Julia tries desperately to get him the hell out of here, a task that’s proving more and more difficult as Himelfarb burrows his way further into the family’s good graces. The big question is, will Himelfarb be able to win over Julia herself? The answer, of course (spoiler alert), is no.
You’ll rarely get me to say I liked a script with a weak story. But sometimes, if the main character is interesting/unusual/funny enough, it can happen. Such is the case with Himelfarb. I couldn’t tell you what happens once Himelfarb gets to Julia’s house. There’s something about a pagent and Julia’s younger adopted sister or something. I don’t know and I didn’t care. All I cared about was hearing what this majorly delusional weirdo would say next, because most of the time, it was hilarious.
I would go so far as to rate the first act of Himelfarb “genius.” Watching Julia mistake a much handsomer more charming man for him on their blind date, then Himelfarb cutting in and saying, “Actually, I’m your date,” seeing her devastated reaction, yet still soldiering on excitedly, was perfect. Watching HImelfarb break up with Julia ten minutes later. Classic. Watching him teach his brother, Sandy, how to be more socially aware, despite being the most socially unaware person on the planet. Hilarious.
Of course the script changes radically once Himelfarb gets to Julia’s place. And that’s where things start to dissolve on the story front. Julia just happens to tell her parents that she’s dating Doug mere minutes before he shows up, forcing her to go along with Himelfarb’s claim that they’re together? I’d call that quite convenient timing for the story and we never quite buy it, knowing that in the real world, she would’ve had him out on his ass within 60 seconds.
But here’s where the genius of Himelfarb lies. You don’t care. You don’t care because Himelfarb is so damn funny and so damn clueless that it doesn’t matter. When he starts directing the rehearsal for the pagent, and is in charge of coaxing a realistic performance out of Julia (who, amongst other things, is dealing with her imminent failure as an actress), and tells her that she’s doing it all wrong….just seeing the rage build on Julia’s face is enough to make you forgive the script’s many other shortcomings.
On a technical note, I loved what these writers did with parentheticals. A lot of writers stay away from parentheticals because they consider them “directing the actors,” which is supposedly a no-no in screenwriting. But parentheticals can be a very handy tool in comedy, as long as they enhance the line or the line reading. “not interested at all,” “dramatic pause,” “very uncomfortable,” “annoyed,” all added context to the lines that followed and made them much funnier.
Predictably, where this script loses its mojo is in its length. At 117 pages, it’s 17 pages too long and you feel it with every pointless scene. Not only that, but this is a thin premise. Guy crashes girl’s Thanksgiving. You don’t need 117 pages to tell that story. I can buy 117 pages if you have a character going back in time trying to reunite his parents before attempting to get back to the future. But this is a story that takes place at one house on a Thanksgiving weekend. Why so many pages??
Also, please people, no more adopted Asian daughters in your comedies. These guys get a pass cause they wrote this 5 years ago but if I had a buck for every time I saw an adopted Asian daughter in a screenplay, I’d be palling around with Mark Zuckerberg.
This would’ve probably received an impressive if the screenplay was condensed and they did a better job convincing me that Julia wouldn’t have kicked Himelfarb out 2 seconds after he walked in. But as it stands, it’s still damn funny.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: When writing a screenplay, you don’t always have to start with an idea. You can just as easily start with a character. Think about it. When looking back at movies, the first thing you remember are the characters. So why not start with one? Create someone interesting, unique, strange, quirky, original, someone that people will remember, and then build your movie idea around him/her. I don’t know if this is how Himelfarb was constructed or not. But I’m willing to bet it was.