Genre: Family Comedy
Premise: The former lead singer for an Alt-Rock band must take his kids on the road with him when the band reunites for one of the biggest music festivals in the world.
About: Mega-writer Drew Pearce (Iron Man 3, Sherlock Holmes 3) teamed up with Jason Segal (The Muppets, Sex Tape) to sell this pitch for north of a million dollars a few years back. The scribes then went to work, but nothing ever came of the project. Today, we’re going to find out why!
Writers: Drew Pearce & Jason Segel (loosely based on the doc, “The Other F Word”)
Details: 106 pages (5/6/14 draft)
The aging rock star concept is one I see a lot. I think it’s because the rock star is the quintessential embodiment of Peter Pan syndrome. People enjoy the irony of seeing an aging rock star forced to grow up. But it’s also a sub-genre that’s never quite been nailed.
Are Drew Pearce and Jason Segel the writers to finally nail it?
Jim Stent is 35 and father to 14 year-old Tara and 8 year-old David. To people who grew up with normal lives, getting to be a dad to two wonderful kids might be the pinnacle of their lives. But Jimbo used to be a rock star! Well, that’s putting it strongly. But he was the lead singer of a fairly well-known alt-rock band in the 90s called Delinquents (no “The!”). And once you’ve had thousands of fans screaming your name, you’re not exactly pining to pack lunches on Monday morning.
To add insult to injury, Jim’s wife, Suzanne, is becoming the next Stephanie Meyer. Her werewolf books have gotten so popular that when you google Jim Stent’s name, his band doesn’t even come up anymore. He gets, “Suzanne Stent’s husband” instead! Jim is feeling more irrelevant every second.
So when his old guitarist, Richard, stops by and says that the 6th biggest rock fest in the world wants Delinquents to reunite, Jim is intrigued. But with Suzanne about to go on a book promotion tour, Jim’s stuck on daddy duty! That’s when Jim comes up with a plan. He’ll tell Suzanne that he and the kids are going on a camping trip instead, then go on tour.
Jim and Richard get the rest of the band back together (crazy Gene Biscuits, and mute bassist, and the lone female in the band, Blue). The plan is to play four small venues so they’ll be ready for the festival. Off on tour they go. But with kids!
The mini-tour is an ongoing balancing act as Jim tries to protect his kids from the unseemly aspects of rock glory. But in doing so, is unable to channel his inner rock star, leaving his performances devoid of energy and coolness.
Gene Biscuits finally has to step in, telling Jim that he’s become a lame dad. And that if Delinquents return is going to be successful, he’s going to have to leave the “dad” behind and let loose! But therein lies the question. Can Jim leave the dad behind? Or is that who he’s become?
I’ll be honest. I don’t like this genre. Personally, I think family comedy is where screenwriters go to die, the last leg of the tour, if you will. But there’s a way to make these movies work. It’s not like by deciding you’re writing a family comedy, the movie will automatically suck. School of Rock was a family comedy and it was good.
Here’s my operating thesis on what went wrong here. Family comedy works best when you define the line of what’s “too far” for a family comedy and you spend the entire script going right up to that line, even inching past it. Because that’s what makes people laugh. They don’t laugh at the safe obvious stuff. They laugh at stuff that’s gone a little too far, the stuff they’re not sure they’re allowed to laugh at.
School of Rock is actually a good example of this. Jack Black’s character perfectly walked that line of liking the kids but also making fun of them when a good joke presented itself.
Delinquents never gets anywhere CLOSE to that line.
The main joke in the movie is Jim rewriting “kid-safe” swear words that all of the band must use. You can’t say, “Motherfucker.” You must say, “Motherfrogger.” There might have been a version of this joke that was funny if the substitutions were funny. But they were all lame. And, jesus, swear jokes have been beaten to death in this genre. As far as I’m concerned, you get one “EARMUFFS!” zoinks swear joke in a family comedy and that’s it. Go challenge yourself and find some new jokes.
The rest of the script is similarly lazy.
A few weeks ago, we talked about the power of saying “no” to your characters. The more you say “no” to them, the more they’re forced to fight for what they want. And that’s the most entertaining thing about watching a movie – seeing your hero work hard to get what he wants.
But I want to talk about a bad type of “no.” The “fake no.” The “fake no” is when you say “no” to your character when it doesn’t make sense. The only reason you’re doing it is because Scriptshadow told you to. So in the first few pages, we establish that Jim is miserable and misses his former life as a rock star.
Then Richard shows up and says, “Hey, do you want to get the band back together?” Now, in real life, what does Jim say here? He says yes! This is exactly what he’s been waiting for! But because they needed conflict, they had Jim say no for NO OTHER REASON than this was a screenplay.
This leads to a big scene where the families get together for dinner and Jim “feels out” what people think about a reunion, the idea being that if it’s a positive reaction, he might be up for it. But the scene is lifeless because the device that got us here (the “fake no”) was so transparent.
And while the average viewer isn’t going to understand any of the terms I’m using above. Believe me. They subconsciously know when something’s off. You can’t bullshit audiences. They’re smarter than you think.
This script just needed to be more dangerous. It needed to take more chances. And I’ll give you an example of one of the first chances they should’ve taken.
The script starts in the present, with us getting to know Jim, the lead singer, and Richard, the lead guitarist. We also meet Suzanne, Jim’s wife. We then learn that the reason the band died was because Jim got Suzanne pregnant 15 years ago. He had no choice but to quit. He had to start a family.
Quickly after this present-day setup, we flash back to 15 years ago, when the band was on top of the world. Backstage, after a big concert, a 20 year old Suzanne walks into the room. She walks right up to Jim and gives him a big kiss. A few minutes later, she reveals that she’s pregnant, and we cut back to the present.
First of all, we didn’t need this scene. This was exposition that was already hinted at and could’ve easily been handled inside of one present-day line of dialogue.
Regardless of that, one of your jobs as a writer is to do the unexpected. Seeing a man with a wife in the present and then cutting back 15 years and showing the two of them together again – what’s the point of that? If you’re going to flash back, you need to give us NEW INFORMATION.
What they SHOULD’VE done is have Suzanne walk into the room, look like she’s going to walk up to Jim, but she walks right past him and gives a kiss to… Richard. It’s there we learn that Suzanne used to be Richard’s girlfriend. We would eventually learn that she was sleeping with Jim while she was with Richard, and that’s the reason the band broke up.
Now, not only does that scene have a reason to exist. But you have some MAJOR CONFLICT to settle in the present-day storyline, and you build that darker edgier comedy out of that conflict, instead of going to the kid’s swear-joke well.
I’m probably being hard on this because I really don’t like family comedy. But I still think this could’ve been a lot better.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Don’t say “no” to your characters just because a screenwriting website told you to. Every “no” you insert should be believably motivated by the characters and the situation.