Genre: Wes Anderson
Premise: Adapted from a French film, “My Best Friend” is about an unlikable middle-aged art dealer who’s come to the realization that he has no friends, and so goes about trying to find one.
About: Wes Anderson wrote this script for Imagine Entertainment over at Universal. It’s one of the few scripts (it may even be the only script) Anderson’s written without the intent to direct. However, in subsequent interviews, he’s professed how much he loved writing it, leaving a tiny door open that maybe one day he’ll direct it. As for why it hasn’t been made into a film yet, it may be that they’re banking on that slim chance. But my money’s on the fact that it was written in 2009, and in 2010, the French-adapted comedy Dinner For Schmucks bombed big time, pretty much putting the kibosh on any French comedy imports. The trend seems to have shifted towards the “lots of lesbian sex” import genre. So if they can bring someone in to change the characters into female nymphomaniacs, they may have something on their hands! Anderson’s newest film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, comes out next month. But if you’re jonzeing for some immediate Wes, check out the trailer for his new horror film!
Writer: Wes Anderson (based on the French Film written by Patrice Leconte)
Details: 95 pages, First Draft (Aug 3, 2009)
So I was going through my script pile last night and I came across this old forgotten Wes Anderson script. It occurred to me, as I picked it up (“digitally” picked it up mind you) that I’d never actually read a Wes Anderson script. Or if I had, I didn’t remember doing so. I found this reality to be problematic, since Anderson is such a force on the Indie film scene. But what could I possibly learn from some reject Wes Anderson script anyway? If it’s this forgotten, it couldn’t be any good, could it? Let’s find out!
Nicholas is an art dealer with zero honor. He is oblivious to the way he fucks people over, which is fine when you’re 25 and have time to mature and change your selfish ways. But Nicholas is 46, and a life of fucking people over has led to a lonely existence, an existence he hasn’t become aware of until recently.
Currently, Nicholas is buying up all the paintings in town from a particular artist, Moses Rosenthaler, who he has it on good authority is going to die soon. After he dies, Nicholas will host a showing of all the Rosenthalers and make a killing. Yup, like I said, this isn’t the kind of guy you want to bring home to your parents.
Nicholas is also a bit of a scammer (surprise surprise) and doesn’t have any money. This forces him to team up with a fellow art dealer, Lucinda, an older woman he doesn’t like but who has money. He lets her in on his Rosenthaler secret and she agrees to put up half the loot.
That night, Nicholas invites Lucinda to his birthday party. She comes and is amused to find that nobody’s actually shown up. She points out the obvious to Nicholas, that he has no friends, which he vehemently denies. They get in an argument, and Lucinda makes a bet that if he can prove he has a friend within a week, she’ll give him all the Rosenthalers for himself. If he loses, she gets all of them. He agrees.
Nicholas enlists taxi driver and aspiring artist, Zbigniew, to drive him around town to find one of these friends. In every way Nicholas is socially moronic, Zbigniew is a social superstar. He can charm an entire room with an anecdote or joke, whereas whenever Nicholas speaks, people get scared and run away. Upon seeing Zbigniew’s talents, Nicholas hires him to teach him “how to make friends.”
It’s a ridiculous request and Zbigniew tries to say no, but Nicholas is so darn insistent that Zbigniew has no choice. Nicholas looks for friends first on his payroll, from his lawyer to his psychiatrist, but comes back empty-handed. He even goes back to someone from 6th grade who he thought was his best friend, only to find out that he’s actually his mortal enemy (because Nicholas doesn’t even understand the basic definition of the word “friend,” he doesn’t realize that terrorizing someone over the course of their childhood would actually make that person hate him).
Eventually, of course, Nicholas begins to realize that he’s enjoying his time with Zbigniew, and that he may be the friend he’s been looking for. Unfortunately, as soon as Nicholas realizes he can use Zbigniew to win the bet, he screws it all up, potentially losing everything in the process.
One thing I’ve found with these French comedies is that they often operate under 1980s American Comedy rules, where the setup doesn’t have to be logical. You get silly stuff like Brewster’s Millions. That’s the biggest hurdle “My Best Friend” faces. Nicholas and Janice make this bet that he can’t find a friend, yet never define exactly what that means. Is a “friend” someone he hangs out with every Saturday night? Someone who calls him back within a day of his voice mail? The script never defines this, and it’s a huge problem.
The flimsy setup also begs questions like, why can’t Nicholas just pay some random dude 5 grand to pretend he’s his friend? And I hate that. I hate when the rules of the story aren’t defined, because then there’s too much wiggle room for the writer to bullshit. And that’s exactly what you saw here. Once Nicholas tells Lucinda that Zbigniew’s the friend, she starts rambling off all this stuff about how he has to prove it. (“Um, then he must steal something for you!”) Okay, so the final act is Zbigniew having to steal something to prove that Nicholas is his friend?? What???
There’s an old saying in screenwriting. If there are problems in the third act, it’s because of problems in your first act. This is the prototypical example of that. We have a weird misconceived “Zbigniew tries to steal a painting” climax because the rules of what “a friend” are are never stated. This forces the characters (and by extension the writer) to make those rules up in the last act, which feels lazy and results in a sloppy finale.
But here’s why I still liked this script. The characters were great. And I think Wes Anderson gets shortchanged on characters because everything takes a backseat to his unique production design and quirky sense of humor. But he’s so damn good at creating comedic characters. Nicholas, as this clueless asshole, never fails to amuse, because he’s so damn dull when it comes to understanding friendship. Zbigniew needs to teach him how to actually talk to people. Just talk! And Nicholas still figures out a way to screw it up.
What I found clever about this was that we have one of these potential script-killing problems in “My Best Friend” (the main character is a total asshole), yet Anderson brilliantly offsets it by pairing him up with the most likable person on the planet – Zbigniew. He’s kind, earnest, passionate, active. The guy loves art but he can’t create it for the life of him. Yet he still tries. How could you not root for that guy?
And I think what this script does that a lot of good scripts do, is you’re so into the characters, you don’t really think about the plot. You’re just in the moment with these two people. Laughing and enjoying their company. So even though the plot here is flawed, it doesn’t matter as much because you just want to see these two guys “get together” at the end.
And you know, that’s kind of the genius of this story. It’s essentially a romantic comedy. It takes your typical rom-com premise (guy and girl team up to find a guy the love of his life, but the two end up falling in love with each other in the process!) and hides it within a bro-mance. Brilliant!
I don’t know if they can ever make this without Wes Anderson directing. It has his fingerprints all over it. Trying to get someone else to interpret it is going to send the film into “Community Season 4” territory (when creator Dan Harmon left) – a badly plagiarized imitation. The thing is, I believe this would be one of Wes Anderson’s best movies if he made it. It’s a little more mainstream than his typical fare, yet still has that unmistakable quirky bent his films are known for. If I were him, I’d consider it. It’s a really good script. (The script is out in the ether. People have it. So if you want to read it, ask around in the comments).
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: If you’re having trouble with your third act, go back to your first act and make sure you’ve clearly set up your protagonist’s goal, as well as the rules for achieving that goal. If you know that Indiana is going after the Ark, you probably know your climax is going to involve him and the Ark. But if you’re vague about it (i.e. Indiana is going after miscellaneous “treasure”) figuring out your final act is going to be a lot tougher. Here, we never defined the rules behind what “friendship” means, so the ending was sloppy in defining how the bet was won.