Premise: A social worker tries to save a young girl from her deranged parents.
About: Purchased spec starring Renee Zelleweger and Bradley Cooper. Paramount has kept this behind the curtain for almost 3 years now. One wonders if they should open a case about its absence and call it Case 40. It would seem that with Cooper’s newfound stardom, this would be opening soon, but only a vague 2010 release is planned. Strange considering the movie is already playing in South Korea. The film is directed by Christian Alvart, who has since directed the upcoming spooky-as-hell looking sci-fi flick, Pandorum. You may recognize the writer, Ray Wright’s, name off the marquee for the “sometimes Japanese movies should just be left in Japan” remake of Pulse. He’s also writing the upcoming “The Crazies”. I have no idea what The Crazies is but there is a small group of internet nerds who are very upset about it.
Writer: Ray Wright
Details: 113 pages (original 2006 draft that sold)
Stop yer bickerin. Carson likes horror. Smart horror though. The horror has to have some brainage behind it. Like the cleverly constructed Case 39. But before we talk about that, let’s talk about Bradley Cooper’s hairline. Real? Fake? There’s definitely something funky going on there. Lest you believe I’ve devolved into instigating tabloid fodder, a second look proves that I’m actually setting up today’s review. You see, Case 39 is all about deceptive appearances.
Emily is an LA county social worker. She’s attractive, has a good head on her shoulders, and like a lot of social workers, buries herself in her work. As a result, the poor woman doesn’t have a lot of time to meet guys. Which means she’s not married. Which means she doesn’t have kids. And it’s clear from the way she yearns to save children, that she desperately wants one of her own.
But even Emily has her limits. She can’t save everyone. So when she’s given yet another case, the innocently labeled “Case 39”, she pleads for some mercy. Abuse doesn’t work around your schedule though and Emily finds herself investigating a young girl named Lucy Sheridan who’s been falling asleep in school. Jesus, if that constitutes child abuse, I was abused at least 500 times in High School. But actually, the teachers are worried something might be going on at home. Lucy used to be a good kid. Something has changed. So Emily drives over to the Sheridan’s for a courtesy visit and discovers a couple of parents who look more like undertakers than middle class adults. They’re tired, cranky, weird, spooky. In the brief moments when Emily and Lucy are alone, the little girl’s eyes scream out “Help me.”
Emily gets a hunch that something really bad is going on and begs her boss to do something about it. But without any evidence of physical abuse, his hands are tied. Being the good unlawful social worker that she is, Emily heads over to the house the next night only to find Hanz and Franz (the parents) trying to burn their daughter alive in an oven! Holy shit! Emily saves Lucy just in time, and her parents are sent to their new house, of the nut variety.
Unfortunately there are no houses that can currently take Lucy in, so Emily gets this radical idea to adopt her herself! Yeah, radically stupid! In an act I can only imagine breaks at least four dozen Los Angeles laws, the county awards Emily temporary custody of Lucy. Awww. Finally, Emily has her little girl. I’m thinking this is going to work out really well. Don’t you agree?
Seeing as we’ve just entered Act 2, I’m guessing, *probably not*.
What starts off as a beautiful mother-daughter relationship quickly turns – shall we say – downright terrifying. Sometimes Emily seems normal. Then there are times when she seems anything but. Looking back at Lucy’s parents, Emily starts to wonder if maybe they weren’t crazy. Maybe they were…scared. But scared of a little girl? What could possibly be scary about a 3rd grade girl?
One of my favorite scenes (besides the oven scene) is when Emily becomes suspicious that something strange is going on with Lucy. So she sneaks back to the abandoned Sheridan house to look around. She’s drawn to the parents’ bedroom, where she notices hundreds of scratch marks on the floor. It takes her a moment to realize they’re the marks of the bookshelf being repeatedly dragged every night. But to where? She simulates the motion and realizes it was being dragged in front of the doorway. This leads her to discover two large deadbolts on the door. Why in the world would these two need to deadbolt their bedroom door?
Later, when Emily is in her bedroom, wondering what Lucy is doing in hers, wondering if she’s going crazy, wondering if it’s ridiculous to think that the young child she adopted is actually the devil, a simple call from her daughter to tuck her in is enough to make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
The problem with Case 39 is its third act, which feels a little routine. In a film that kept you guessing and played with suspense in a way I haven’t seen since The Sixth Sense and The Others (although The Orphanage did a good job), the final 30 pages were too cliché for my taste. The issue is a forced attempt at a “you gotta have faith to defeat her” storyline that seemingly comes out nowhere. Maybe Wright was a draft or two away from setting this up better, but as it stands, it took what would have surely been an “impressive” down to a recommended read.
I don’t wanna shortchange this script though. It was definitely fun and I’ll be catching the movie when it comes out. Whenever that may be. Hmm, should we open a case to find out?
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: 180 degree character transformations are hard to pull off. Emily loves children more than life itself. So to believe that she’d be able to kill a child at the end of the story is a huge stretch that takes a lot of setting up. It is only because Lucy repeatedly kills others and almost kills Emily, that we buy into Emily’s transformation into a killer. Anybody who saw Anakin Skywalker’s unconvincing transformation into the Emperor’s disciple in Episode 3 knows that it’s easier to screw these things up than pull them off. So make sure you lay the groundwork during the course of your screenplay to sell that transformation once it occurs. If you don’t do your job, we’ll call bullshit and check out of your story.
no link. :(
Genre: Romantic Dramedy
Premise: Wally is in love with his best friend Kassie. When Kassie tries to get pregnant via artificial insemination from the perfect guy, Wally replaces the sample with his own.
About: To star Jennifer Aniston, Jason Bateman, and Jeff Goldblum. Directed by Will Speck and Josh Gordon (Blades Of Glory). The material is based on an original short story by Jeffrey Eugenides published in The New Yorker. What isn’t clear to me is if this is an assignment by Loeb (in which case he’s relieved of a ton of the blame) or if he bought this to write himself.
Writer: Allan Loeb
Details: 119 pages (Feb 2007 draft)
When I reviewed “Solitary Man” last week, I knew it was going to be the kind of script that divided men and women. The main character was an aging womanizer who treated women like cheap Chinese food. And somehow I was rooting for him. Enter “The Baster,” where the roles are reversed. Now, it’s a strong and alienating female character at the center of the story. And I hated her. I mean hated her with every fiber of my being. But why? Is that fair? Shouldn’t I have rooted for her the same way I was pulling for Ben? These and other questions are answered in my review of The Baster.
Kassie Larson may be vying for the most villainous unlikable female love interest in the history of cinema. No wait, make that the history of entertainment. Kassie doesn’t want a man. She wants the genetic Holy Grail. You know that sign at the theme park that says you gotta be “this” tall to ride? Kassie has her own sign. A sign that says you have to be “this” tall, “this” strong, “this” smart, “this” funny. If you don’t have every single “this”, guess what? You don’t get to ride Kassie. In fact, if you don’t meet her stringent criteria, you’re no better than the homeless guy on East 32nd and Lexington. But that’s okay right? What’s wrong with high standards? No one should have to settle. Except Kassie takes her demanding selfish unrealistic view of the opposite gender and uses it as an excuse to treat her best friend, Wally, like complete and total shit.
Wally’s in love with Kassie of course. We wouldn’t have a movie if he wasn’t. But why Wally cares one iota for this destroyer of all happiness is a question that’s never addressed in The Baster. Because of Kassie’s stratospheric standards, she is without man. And because her biological clock is ticking, she wants baby. Wally, being her “best friend,” feels that he’s the best candidate. But Kassie wants to find a stronger, taller, smarter, better looking baby-maker – “Modern day natural selection” style. This leaves desperately-in-love Wally to strike out in his final attempt at everlasting love with Kassie.
But this is New York. The Big Apple. The City That Never Sleeps. A place where an honest women can inseminate herself with a turkey baster. So when Kassie holds an “I’m Getting Pregnant Party,” Wally uses the opportunity to snatch her donor’s sperm and replace it with his own. This way, Kassie is going to have Wally’s baby and not even know it!
Afterwards, Kassie decides to spend the next seven years in Minnesota. So we skip that time and rejoin her when she moves back to New York – her young son in tow. Or shall we say, her and Wally’s young son in tow. Except she doesn’t know that. Thus begins a second courtship, with Kassie supposedly “maturing” and not putting as much emphasis on all those silly superficial things (translation: She’s gotten older and uglier and has a kid and therefore has to lower her standards). So after destroying Wally’s universe, Kassie now puts a relationship on the table. Wally dumps his longtime girlfriend for the chance he’s been waiting for his entire life. Then less than a week later, Kassie starts dating the original donor (or who she thinks is the donor), claiming this is okay because she never told Wally they were exclusive. Am I the only person who wants to throw this woman off a cliff?
Underneath it all is the slowly building suspense of what’s going to happen when Kassie finds out that Wally’s the real father. Except it’s hard to drum up any excitement for the revelation because I’m thinking, as soon as she finds out and gets all pissed off, Wally will finally be free of this blood sucking Devil-Spawn. So I was hoping for the revelation. But I think for the wrong reasons. We’re supposed to be *worried* that it will ruin Wally’s chances. We’re not worried. We’re hoping. Desperately hoping.
I don’t know why I’m hating all these Jenifer Aniston projects lately. I actually like Aniston. She manages to be sexy and funny –not an easy feat to pull off in this day and age. Angelina Jolie. Sexy. Not funny. Paula Poundstone. Funny. Not sexy. I can’t even think of another woman I’d characterize as funny and sexy. So I have respect for the woman (check her out in “Management.” She’s great.) But this script is a whole different beast. It’s practically begging you to root against it – challenging you to like one single character. And no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t. In retrospect, I’m not sure this is Loeb’s fault. I don’t think the premise works as a movie. Maybe it did as a short story. But man are these characters difficult to empathize with.
[x] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: One thing Loeb did well was establish a clear and consistent theme. The theme of “natural selection” permeates through the main as well as all the sub-plots. That message came out loud and clear. Though I’m continually at odds with just how important theme is when one of the more well-integrated themes I’ve read in awhile rests inside a story I disliked so much. Writers have been shot on message boards for suggesting as much. So I’ll frame this as a question: How important is theme to you?
Labor Day Schmabor Day. Scriptshadow doesn’t take days off. What is Labor Day anyway? A day off in celebration of “labor”? We need more holidays like that. Here’s my question. Us U.S.’ers have been around 300 years and we have about a dozen holidays that give us days off. How is it for you countries who have been around for 2000 years? Do you guys have like 100 holidays? Every other day must be a holiday. What am I even talking about right now? Back on point. Today, we actually have a spec sale to cover. Outside of Fuckbuddies – which was really a replacement for the case of the disappearing Cameron Crowe – we haven’t had many of these lately, cause there just haven’t been that many. Which means all of you are slacking! Get out there and sell some scripts so I can review them! – I haven’t read Barnaby James but from the description, it just goes to show that you don’t need to write the next high-concept comedy or thriller to sell a script in this town. And that if you have a script that’s a little different, Appian might be interested (remember – DiCaprio bought the very “un”spec-like “The Low Dweller”) – As for the rest of the week, expect a rare double-review where I team up with one of our readers to tackle the latest from one of the bigger writers in town (and someone I’ve reviewed a few scripts from on the site already). Also expect another rarity: Me reviewing a horror script. A horror script I thought was quite good in fact. Also we’ll take a trip back to a script that Spielberg, when he read it, said was the best script he’d ever read up to that point. The script never got made. Also, I’m learning that Spielberg says that kind of thing a lot. And as for the final review, we’ll keep that a mystery for now. Here’s Roger Balfour with his review of The Many Deaths Of Barnaby James…
Genre: Horror, Dark Fantasy
Premise: A teenage apprentice in a macabre circus for the dead yearns to bring his true love back to life, but not before encountering the many dangerous and gothic characters that stand in his way.
About: 2008 Black List script. Sold to Appian Way in March, 2009. Remember, Appian is Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company. Nathanson is repped by CAA and Benderspink. His script “The Occasionally Interesting Anti-Adventures of an Unnamed Girl” is in development with Scott Rudin at Disney.
Writer: Brian Nathanson
Details: 114 pages (undated)
You ever wonder what the world would be like if Chuck Palahniuk wrote “Something Wicked This Way Comes”? Or what if John Bellairs had a love-child with the Blood Countess herself, Elizabeth Bathory, and their baby boy grew up to write screenplays?
Yeah, these thoughts never occurred to me either, until “The Many Deaths of Barnaby James” found its way onto my hard-drive.
Let’s all pretend it’s a late cider day. The once green leaves have faded to blood-red and autumn herself has wrapped her crisp cloak around your shoulders. Gather ‘round the fire and focus on Roger in the chair as he tells you the one about Barnaby James and his many deaths.
Once upon a time…
…there was a transgendered club owner who called herself Lady Liberty. Spindle-shank skinny and all tattoos and lipstick, a spiked tiara protrudes out of her bluish-green wig. She’s the force of nature behind The Pound, the Mortecita den of sin where the especially seedy and select can be serviced by boys and girls appareled in scant, bordello-red leather.
If your name’s Callahan, you’re probably interested in other taboos of the flesh. Lady Liberty can accommodate you, too. As a VIP, you’ll be escorted past Malacoda, the chain-wielding bouncer, and led into the basement that’s fondly referred to as The Meat Room.
And there you will find stacked glass cases that align the walls like some Freak Show exhibit curated by Eli Roth or Darren Lynn Bousman. Because inside each glass case is a prisoner, a live human being on display as if they were action figures at Toys ‘R Us. It’s a veritable smorgasbord for those who have a taste for American red meat.
Just seeing this live menu causes your eyes to turn yellow, your fangs to jut out.
It triggers The Change.
Because if your name’s Callahan, you’re also a feeder. One of the cursed. And the cursed gotta eat. But don’t touch Play-Thing, the mangled, gibbering mass of scar tissue with female genitalia. She’s already reserved for someone else. But that plump brunette next to her? She’s all yours, friend.
But this story isn’t about Lady Liberty or Callahan or the other characters that populate this story. Not really. This is about Barnaby James. Everyone else is more or less a monstrous obstacle on Barnaby’s Campbellian road of trials slash rite of passage.
Who’s this Barnaby chap and what’s with this many death business?
You know anything about Saint Nicholas? And I don’t mean Santa Claus, although this dude’s the prototype. No? Well, he’s a miracle worker of sorts. There’s the legend about the malicious butcher that lured three children into his house. He killed them and put the butchered remains in barrels. Saint Nicholas is the dude that saw through the butcher’s ruse and resurrected the slain children.
I mention this legend for two reasons. 1) Resurrection is both crux and MacGuffin in this dark fairy tale and 2) when we first meet Barnaby he’s digging up a grave in the Church of St. Nicholas cemetery.
Barnaby’s a grave boy.
He works for Azlon. Azlon is showman, businessman, barker and owner of the Black Top. The Black Top is a mysterious travelling carnival and circus. Think Vaudeville cross-pollinated with the Grand Guignol. A sprinkle of Caligari here and a dash of Rob Zombie’s “Living Dead Girl” there.
And, oh yeah, all of the performers are resurrected corpses.
Azlon possesses a wand. It’s about ten inches long. Metallic. It has ancient writing and strange swirling symbols chiseled into its sides.
Now here’s the racket. Grave boys like Barnaby dig up these corpses, and Azlon arrives with his wand. He jams the wand into a specific spot between the corpse’s neck and chest. The wand plunges into the flesh and leaves a telling mark on the body. Purple ichor bubbles out of the mark, enlivening decayed flesh, making the body new again. The deal is, these people are given a second chance at life, but it’s in servitude to Azlon and his Black Top.
You don’t like the terms of the deal, say hello to the business-end of Azlon’s other wand — his boom-stick. After all, the Reaper will gladly chaperone you six feet under for a second time.
Now, Barnaby, he doesn’t remember much before his life with the Black Top. He doesn’t remember how he died. He remembers that he was raised in an orphanage. He remembers that he was rescued from the orphanage by a farmer. He remembers that he worked as a farmhand.
And he remembers Delilah.
He remembers her porcelain skin, her red hair. He remembers that he loved her. He still loves her. He loves her. And every time the Black Top passes through Mortecita, the longing for Delilah becomes overwhelming. Because Mortecita is Delilah-Ground Zero. It was their home before all the bad came to pass, and it’s her home now.
Mortecita is the resting place for Delilah’s corpse.
And every year Barnaby begs Azlon to resurrect her. She’s an angel. She’s so beautiful she could be a lead attraction. It’s how Rob Zombie must feel about Sheri Moon Zombie. But every year Azlon must dissuade the boy. But this year, Barnaby is not going to take ‘No’ for an answer.
Barnaby steals Azlon’s wand and escapes the Black Top. He embarks on a journey to find the final resting place of sweet Delilah so that he can resurrect her. Lovers reunited.
You still haven’t told us about Barnaby’s many deaths…
And spoil the fun? Okay, I’ll throw out some bones.
Barnaby has a huge problem. And that problem is the bounty hunter employed by the Black Top. They call him The Fiddler. He’s sort of an assassin-troubador. A murderous minstrel. Has a nasty switchblade attachment on his fiddle bow. Likes to kill things.
If Barnaby’s presence in Mortecita isn’t enough to send its underworld into a frenzy, then the unleashing of The Fiddler all but guarantees a maelstrom of people stabbing each other Michael Myers-style to simply make it to dawn alive.
And like Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, and countless other fairy tale children before him, Barnaby has wolves and witches of his own to contend with…
A) Jayce. Twenty-seven. A modern day Don Juan. A necrophile. I wish I could make the word ‘necrophile’ blink. But I guess it pops out on its own, doesn’t it? When we first meet Jayce, he’s going to town on a corpse in the Mortecita cemetery. With his dong. Yeah. It’s gross. Anyways, Jayce is in a relationship with…
B) Elena. Early thirties. Although ‘relationship’ is probably too strong a word because she’s more of a beard for Jayce. She’s a Bible-quoting born again who doesn’t put out. But she has her reasons. Elena is a feeder, a were-creature, who is trying to be free of her curse. And Elena’s ex is…
C) Callahan. But we already met him. He’s not so keen on letting Elena put her sinful and flesh-eating ways behind her. He wants his were-mate back, and he’ll do anything to get her back. Even if it means dragging her to The Meat Room himself so she can no longer fight her primal urges.
D) Figueroa. Forties. A salty old dog of a tattoo artist. Sort of a liaison between those that are undead, or if you wanna be PC, ‘re-born’, and the waking world. Barnaby goes to him to cover up the mark on his chest and to find the whereabouts of Delilah’s body. He might even murder Barnaby to get control of the wand…
So yeah, a dark forest of nasty adults. Barnaby may or may not die a few times trying to navigate his way through the forest.
Sounds twisted. Did you like it?
I thought it was pretty damn good. It’s a matter of taste on two fronts. 1) Subject matter and 2) narrative structure.
The content is not going to be for everyone. But that’s okay, nothing is for everyone. I’m a stickler for dark fantasy and fucked up fairy tales. I like both Lemony Snicket and Mario Bava. If those two want to team-up and try to scare the bejeezus out of me, I’m all for it. And that’s what this story feels like. It has claws poking out of it.
If you’re like me, and your favorite holiday is Halloween, then you might love this thing. Because this story pushed all my Halloween buttons, and that’s no small feat. After I finished reading it, I wanted to hand the script to my favorite tattoo artist and say, “Here’s your reference point. Read it. Be inspired. Now slap a full sleeve on me.”
The sense of melancholy in the third act is so intoxicating I might have even shed a tear.
This thing just isn’t all flash, there’s some real storytelling chops at work here. It’s unique. It feels new.
It’s “Sweeney Todd” on X-rated over-drive. It’s “Into the Woods” if every character was trying to kill each other. It’s Sondheim and Hans Christian Andersen distilled through Tim Burton and Dario Argento.
The structure irritated me at first because it was jarring to be pulled out of Barnaby’s point-of-view. I was already settled in with the character and I didn’t want to leave him, and the writing was so good I was kind of surprised that the writer chose to structure the story as a Rolodex-shuffle of rotating perspectives.
But it’s necessary for the story to work. It’s devious. Like Lemarchand’s box. We meet the characters and then Barnaby collides into them. There’s some bait-and-switch moments, and they work. The ending caught me off guard.
Reminded me of a Robert Cormier story. If you know his books, you know he writes about teenagers. And no taboo is forbidden. Every topic is fair game, however shocking. But more interestingly, his protagonists rarely win. And that’s heart-wrenching.
So if you’re willing to go along for the ride, you might also notice this story is laden with the monomyth. From a Campbellian perspective, the writer is tilling some rich fields. It’s not something that calls attention to itself, and I like that about it. But it’s certainly there for those of you who like Joseph Campbell and are into the Hero’s Journey.
If I lived in Los Angeles, and if he were so inclined, I’d love to take Nathanson out for a nice, dark stout and tar-tar and discuss our future careers in serial murder.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] genius
What I learned: Are you using structural trick-flourishes for the sake of style alone? Or does the nature of your story necessitate it? Because the punishment for the sin of the first is that it will damn your story under the label of ‘gimmickry’. You don’t want to be known as the guy or gal that’s all style and no story, do you? But if your story necessitates a structure and style that deviates from traditional dramatic structure and you can pull it off, then more power to you. You must ask yourself, what will make your story more powerful? Do you want to make “Smokin’ Aces” or do you want to make “Pulp Fiction”? There’s an important distinction in there, somewhere…
Genre: Dark Comedy
Premise: A sex-addicted former car magnate tries to put his life back together.
About: Solitary Man stars Michael Douglas, Mary-Louise Parker, Susan Sarandon, Jenna Fischer, Danny DeVito, Jesse Eisenberg, and is directed by David Levien & Brian Koppelman. The sex-addicted character of Ben is one that Douglas understands well as he was diagnosed with sex addiction back in 1990 (take that you copycatter David Duchovny). The film was produced by Paul Schiff and Steven Soderbergh.
Writer: Brian Koppelman
As the Tornonto Film Festival gears up for its return, a lot of future indie darlings are prepping and hoping to get their name out there with a great screening. Festivals are like Grand Slam tournaments for indie projects (tennis reference) and they know that a good showing can be the difference between a wide indie release and a debut on your local video store shelf. Festival titans like Werner Herzog, Alejandro Amenabar, Lars Von Trier, and Terry Gilliam will be vying for your indie hearts and trying to generate buzz. But one movie that no one seems to be talking about is Solitary Man, the much less publicized starring comeback of Michael Douglas (he’ll also be starring in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street sequel). Well, if the script is any indication, this is a movie that should not only be on everybody’s radar, but could nab Douglas an Oscar nod if he takes advantage of what’s on the page.
Ben may be 60 years old, but he doesn’t act a day over 30. Everything he does, from dying his hair to the way he dresses, represents a man desperately trying to hold onto his youth. Back in the day, Ben was a shark. The guy owned one of the biggest car dealerships in New Jersey and was such a high roller, even the mayor knew who he was. But greed and carelessness resulted in some sketchy financial practices and Ben lost it all. It’s been some years now and Ben’s running out of his ‘fuck you’ money. He needs to make something happen fast or this “everything’s fine” façade he’s put up will fall away faster than a Cameron Crowe script review.
Which explains why he’s with Jordan, a 40 year-old divorcee who’s hot enough to land a role on Desperate Housewives. But Ben has no interest in Jordan. Ben has no interest in any relationships. It so happens that Jordan’s ex-husband runs in some high-class circles and Ben needs funding for his brand new car dealership – the business that’s going to put him back in the game. Ben slyly convinces Jordan to set up a meeting between the two so he can do what he does best: Sell.
Ben is not thrilled then when Jordan tells him that as long as he’s going up that way, he can take her daughter Allyson with him and introduce her to the Dean of the nearby college she wants to attend. Since it’s Ben’s Alma Mater, he can put in a good word for her. Neither Ben or Allyson is hip to this idea *at all*. Allyson is quite the bitch and it so happens she’s actually caught Ben cheating on her mom. Not that she cares. She hates Ben. But she hates her mom even more. The two actually agree to fake the trip and lie to the mom afterwards. But at the last second Ben grows a conscience and decides to do the right thing.
Once at the school, Ben both watches over and tries to stay out of the way of Allyson, as she seeks out one of those memorable self-destructive college visit nights (come on, we’ve all been there). In the process he meets uber-nerd Daniel (played by Jesse Eisenberg) and teaches him how to use car salesman tricks to talk women into sleeping with him. The two actually develop a bit of a friendship, and Ben watches proudly as Daniel emerges from his shell. Later at a bar, he spots Allyson talking to some douchebag, goes to save her, and the two actually find that they have more in common than they’d like to admit. One thing leads to another and before we know it the two are back at the hotel doing all sorts of self-destructive things.
Yes, Ben just slept with his girlfriend’s daughter. Have you stopped reading yet?
Here’s the thing. This doesn’t play out the way you think it will. At first glance it seems like Ben is the predator. But the next morning, we realize that he was actually the prey. For the first time in his life *he’s* been fucked. In a little karmic justice, Ben desperately tries to court Allyson, only to be fed a line he’s fed a lifetime of women: “Last night was fun. But that’s all it was.” Once home, Ben continues to desperately court Allyson. She realizes the only way to get him off her back is to do the unthinkable: She tells her mother she slept with him.
Bye bye car dealership!!!
And pretty much bye bye everything else. Ben’s life comes crashing down. He loses the financing. He loses his home. He’s forced to beg his ex-wife for money. He has no friends to turn to because he’s burned every bridge he’s crossed – usually for a one night stand. And finally, here, this man, clinging to the last rung of respectability, doesn’t have anywhere to turn.
Ben is a sad sad character. You actually wince while reading him. Every scene is an exercise in saying, “No. No. Don’t do it!” And then he does. There’s a scene late in the movie, after Ben has helped Daniel land a beautiful girl who he ends up falling in love with. And they’re all hanging out at the bar and Daniel goes to the bathroom and it’s just Ben and the girlfriend. And you close your eyes and say, “Please. Please don’t do it.” But when you open them, there he is, asking her if she’s really satisfied with Daniel. Telling her that all he wants is one night. Daniel will never know. It’s sad and it’s disgusting and yet it’s incredibly compelling.
You see, despite it all, we’re rooting for Ben. He’s like Darth Vadar. We want him to change. We want him to see the light because somewhere deep inside him, we know there’s good. There’s a great final scene where he actually gets this opportunity. On one side is the hope of an honest life, and on the other, the mistakes that define his past. It’s a clever little moment with an ending that brought a smile to my face.
But hey, I’m not going to pretend like this is for everyone. Women, in particular, will probably find this character unbearable. But we’ve all known a Ben, maybe even have been him for awhile, and for that reason it’s a fascinating character study. Can’t wait to see what the reaction to this is coming out of the festival.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: When you have this repulsive of a character, you need to give us something so we can root for him. If he’s 100% bad, we’ll hate the guy. Koppleman achieves this by giving Ben a grandson who he loves more than the world. In the scenes where the two are together, they get along so well and Ben is so happy to be with him, it allows us to see that good side. It helps us sympathize and gives us hope that he can become a better person.
For those of you who missed it the first time, Extract was one of the first scripts I reviewed on the site. You can tell by the lack of any information in the review. I thrived on laziness back then. I still thrive on it, I just manage it better. Well, as is protocol here at Scriptshadow, when a script is officially released as a film, it’s no longer eligible for my Top 25. So unfortunately we have to say goodbye to Extract. If you’re feeling nostalgic though, go back and read the original review. Also check out this review at the LA Times which reads shockingly similar to mine. Then go see the movie tomorrow. We need to support Mike Judge!