Genre: Dark Comedy
Premise: When her step-brother, whom she’s never met before, gets back from rehab, a 16 year-old girl with all sorts of issues engages in a bizarre, sexually dysfunctional friendship with him.
About: Alexander McAulay has found a small level of success selling novels, but this appears to be his first real screenplay (or at least the first one he broke in with). It finished fairly high on last year’s Black List, though it is so messed up I don’t know if anyone’s going to have the balls to buy it.
Writer: Alexander McAulay
Details: 99 pages
Sometimes you read something and you go, “Did I just read that?” Because you can’t believe that you actually did. Like Fatties. I still have nightmares about the amputation fisting scene. But Flower, with its appropriately coy title, may go beyond even that script. I mean, this thing is so messed up I don’t even know where to begin.
I guess you should imagine Flower as “Fatties meets Heathers.” That would give you a small inkling of how delirious it is. The question is, would anyone actually purchase it? Getting on the Black List is great. But it doesn’t always mean a sale. It just gives you the kind of exposure that may lead to a sale.
Personally, I think this was a brilliant move by McAulay. He knew the chances of Flower getting made were slim, but he also knew that if he pushed the envelope and made the reader uncomfortable, that you’d remember his script. And call him in for a meeting. And that’s all you’re really trying to accomplish as a screenwriter. Get as many people as familiar with your work as possible. Because the more people who know you, the more rooms you get into, the more jobs you get.
Oh, so what do I mean when I say this script is crazy? Well it starts with this girl, 16 year-old Erica Vandros, blowing a really creepy old dude in a van. After he finishes, Erica’s best friends, Claudine and Kala, come out of the bushes, informing the man they’ve been taping the whole thing. If he doesn’t give them every cent he’s got, he’s going to jail for a long time. Oh yeah, and this isn’t an isolated incident. They do this ALL THE TIME.
Erica’s saving up money to bail her deadbeat dad out of jail. But her blowjob streak is interrupted when Luke moves in. Luke is her stepdad’s son, the result of a new enough relationship with her mom that she and Luke have never met. Luke is really fat. Like Southwest Airlines “buy two seats” fat. I think Erica describes him as if “Jabba The Hut sat around all day eating lard.”
So how does this relationship begin? Well, what better way to introduce yourself to your new step-brother than asking him if he wants a blowjob! Yes, Erica’s so into blowing guys (preferably guys she doesn’t know) that she actually has a sketch book where she’s drawn all the penises she’s encountered. What a classy lady. Luke is so freaked out by girls in general that he declines, and a baffled Erica eventually learns that the reason for this (and his craziness in general) has something to do with a guy who lives in the house across the street molesting him as a boy.
This angers Erica, who puts Operation Stepbrother Blowjob on hold so she can take Paul (the neighbor in question) down. She and her friends will drug him, take a bunch of sleazy pictures with him, then use those pictures to blackmail him out of everything he owns.
Things don’t go exactly according to plan though. (Spoiler) Molester Dude sort of… dies accidentally during the drugging, which means Erica’s a murderer. So she goes on the run with Luke, deciding to kill two birds with one stone and bail her father out of jail along the way. But what happens instead are a lot of confessions that amount to these two being big fat liars their whole lives. Including that little molestation accusation that led to Paul’s death. Oops.
Like I said, this is a great script to get you noticed. It’s risky. It’s daring. It makes you feel weird reading it. I wrote an article awhile back about not writing “soft” scripts. This is anything but soft. It’s got pointy, stabby edges that are continually jabbing at your insides. I mean, I’m not going to pretend like it’s God’s gift to screenwriting or anything. But I’ve been pretty bored with my reading the last few weeks and this was the first time a script really made me sit up and pay attention. So it had SOMETHING going for it.
And it wasn’t just a string of shocks either. McAulay knows how to construct a story with goals and obstacles and conflict all the way through. I liked that Erica wasn’t just sitting around on her ass being a boring independent movie character all the time. She’s out there actively making money so she can bail out her father. And when Luke enters the equation, Erica’s goal slides over to taking down the molester. That’s what you need in a script – you need to feel like the characters are moving towards something at all times, even if it’s something odd or nontraditional that would only make sense in their particular universe.
Also, if you’re going to get on the Black List like Flower, you need interesting characters – characters readers haven’t seen before. Both Luke and Erica definitely fit this bill. Luke is half-crazy, suicidal, an oxycontin addict and a food addict. And Erica’s an enigma. She’s a blowjob addict. She’s funny. She’s over-the-top. But I think, most importantly, you DON’T FORGET HER. I read so many forgettable female characters in screenplays. I PROMISE you, with this girl’s attitude and the shit that comes out of her mouth, you will NOT forget her.
The only thing that hurt the script was that every now and then, it felt “written.” In other words, when you read something, you could actually see the writer typing it down. It’s typically a bad thing as it means you’re not immersed in the story. I mean, when Erica’s mom kisses her and she yells back, “more tongue, ma! Or I feel gypped!” or when she spots Luke, “Look! Shamu’s found dry land!” or later to Luke, “Don’t you want revenge? Or did he rape all the manhood out of you?” you can smell McAulay grinning deliciously at his little insults.
And then you have things like Luke getting back from rehab, then a scene later, his molester from ten years ago moving into the house across the street – I mean, come on, what are the chances? A plot should be invisible. It must not draw attention to itself. When you cram big plot points together like that, they expose the gears of your story. The reader shouldn’t see the gears of the story. It’s like seeing behind the curtain in Oz.
The funny thing is, it almost worked. I mean, the story and characters were so out there, so weird, and people were always doing and saying things that were so bizarre, why not make it a giant translucent chicken drumstick of crazy? If you’re laughing, you might not care that you can tell the writer’s there in the room with you, typing away.
I don’t know if the masses are ready for Flower though. This thing is offensive at every turn. Who’s going to pony up five million bucks to have a high school girl parade around town offering blow jobs to old men? I guess it could happen. You have to find that really fucked up filmmaker, like a young version of whoever that guy was who directed “KIDS” back in the day. But I’m not holding my breath.
Still, despite its weirdness, I wanted to see what happened. I wanted to get to the end. And the writing was infinitely readable. Enviably sparse and to the point. It was one of the faster 99 pages I’ve ever read recently. I’m going to recommend this only to the weirdos though (like me!). If you’re not the kind of person who waits til you and your friend are alone so you can start cracking the most inappropriate, insensitive jokes in history, you’re probably not going to like this.
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Beware the perfectly-timed coincidence. Coincidences are your enemy in screenplays. If things that you need for your story to work just show up out of nowhere at just the right time, the audience will groan and roll their eyes and call you on it. The perfect example is Luke coming back from rehab and, what do you know, the guy who molested him at some faraway camp a decade ago has just moved in directly across the street. It may be EASIER to write that plot point, since you don’t have to put any effort into it, but it’s always better to go the extra mile and make your major plot points coincidence-free.
What I learned 2: While it certainly isn’t a prerequisite, if you can write two really quirky weird characters into your script, your chances of getting on the Black List go up 100 fold. The Black List loves the unique weird offbeat strange characters.