Premise: When four grown-up siblings come back to visit their parents on their 35th anniversary, they’re greeted with a devastating family secret that changes everything they know.
About: This script leapt up and grabbed onto the 2007 Black List with its fingernails, refusing to let go.
Writer: Peter Craig
Details: 109 pages, March 23rd, 2007 revisions
My new thing is using one review slot a week to dig up an old script from 4-10 years ago, and review it. The hope is to find something everyone forgot about. There are times where a couple of big specs hit and the waves they generate are so high that all the little guys get swept away. And maybe those little guys wrote something good. I’ve seen my share of strong scripts that were either passed over or entered development hell immediately, so I’d like to be the lighthouse that guides those scripts back to shore.
The question is, how clueless do I want to be in choosing these scripts? Do I not want to know ANYTHING other than the title and that they finished on the Black List? Apparently, that’s the call I made this week, and booyyyyyyy do I regret it. Okay so look. We all have off days. We all pick up or write a bad script every once in awhile. But does it have to be a back-from-the-dead-hopefully-this-will-be-awesome Scriptshadow review script? Humph.
Today’s script falls into that love-it-or-hate-it subgenre known as the “Wacky Family Independent Film.” Oh man! Those family members. They’re all so wacky! This was popularized by Wes Anderson and somewhere between the years of 2002-2005, everybody and their crazy grandpa was writing one of these. I think I wrote one too. And it was dreadful. So I feel you, Peter. But there was a success or two. Little Miss Sunshine did well, right? I mean, its writer is now writing the next Star Wars movie. But then you had your Running With Scissors’es…es. And those were just as unpleasant as the Sunshine’s were pleasant. Even Wes Anderson seemed to get bored of the genre he popularized, pumping out pale imitations of his earlier films.
Which I guess leads us to Relativity, which I’m relatively sure isn’t going to get a lot of feedback here on Scriptshadow. In fact, I’m willing to bet the comments will dive to subatomic levels, which is probably a good lesson for screenwriters out there. The comments section on Scriptshadow is pretty a pretty good indicator of the public’s general interest for a film. If an idea or genre is boring, people aren’t going to see it (or comment on it).
So with that said, let’s start butchering—er, I mean reviewing. I’ll try to be clean and kind. I’ll try to make this painless. Then I’ll broil the meat instead of fry it so we can have a healthy Monday Scriptshadow meal. Waddaya say?
50-somethings Claire and Franklin Fergusson should be at the precipice of a wonderful weekend. They’re about to celebrate their 35th anniversary with all four of their excitable grown-up children, who are coming home to joyously participate in the festivities.
Except Claire and Franklin have been hiding a deep secret from their children. All four of them were adopted! So when unkempt Charles, nervous twin Vincent, uptight Conrad, and artsy Judith, show up and hear the news, they’re…hmmm, well, upset to put it mildly. The biggest issue seems to be that all of them thought they were born into a rich prestigous family, when in fact they were all poor and deserted by their families.
Vincent is so confused by the news that he runs away. Charles becomes manically obsessed with the fact that Vincent isn’t his real twin and decides to celebrate his “individual” birthday as a sort of “fuck you” to the news. Judith learns she was the daughter of a Russian spy and a hooker and doesn’t know what to do with herself. And I’m not sure what happened to Conrad. He got shafted as far as storylines go because I can’t remember a single thing about him.
As far as the plot, that’s pretty much it. Our four 30-something adopted grown-ups just sort of run around and pout. There’s no goal. No real story. It’s just people complaining to each other. I’m not going to say it’s all bad. I did giggle a couple of times. And if you’re into this kind of humor, you’ll find it funnier than I did and that might help cover up some of the script’s other problems. But that’s the thing. Relativity had so many problems that they couldn’t possibly all be covered up.
So let’s pretend we live in an alternate reality where I’ve been asked to guide this script through development. I would start by adding an actual story. Currently, these kids come home to a 35th anniversary that nobody cares about, that has no festivities or schedule, and that has no stakes attached to it whatsoever. Why would you make that the story center? It’s boring! Make it a wedding instead. Probably Vincent’s, since he brings his fiancé home anyway. Now we have more of a ticking time bomb. We have something that can be interrupted and ruined, which means the stakes will be higher.
Then, instead of this adoption information being offered up voluntarily, which feels beyond artificial (there’s no reason for the parents to bring this up now other than that the writer wants to so he can have a story), the information should come out by accident. One of the kids stumbles upon it at the house. Or another finds a semi-clue and puts two and two together. The kids confront their parents. The parents admit it. Now the situation feels a little more believable.
And here’s a question: Why do the kids have to find out all at the same time? It might be more interesting to have the news spread from kid to kid gradually. That could be fun, with Vincent being the one person the others know CANNOT FIND OUT HE’S ADOPTED. They know he’ll have a mental breakdown. And they know it will destroy the wedding. So everyone’s trying to keep the secret, but at a certain point, too many people find out, and then right before the wedding, Vincent finds out, and everything goes to hell.
I’m afraid that particular story improvement would only slow the bleeding though. This script has too many issues. My biggest problem was that there wasn’t a single authentic moment in the entire screenplay. Nobody acts logically. Choices are made for cheap laughs rather than exhibiting what the characters would really say or do in these situations. For example, one of the kids points out that they SAW the mom pregnant when they were young – which means at least one of the kids can’t be adopted. The mom counters that they suspected the kids might possibly remember an adoption, so to trick them, she stuffed her dresses with pillows to give the appearance that she was pregnant.
Oh. M. Gee.
I mean, come on.
Okay, look. I get that this is supposed to be broad. It’s wacky. It’s nonsensical. And that’s supposed to be the funny part of it. But there wasn’t one REAL moment in the entire script. And because nobody acted real or authentic, I didn’t care about them. Even in Wes Anderson films, like Rushmore, the characters have hearts and feelings. This felt like 7 Jim Carrey’s running around trying to out-overact each other.
Relativity also severely handicapped itself by making its main characters a bunch of rich snobs. These are by far the hardest characters to make likable. There are exceptions where rich people can be made sympathetic (actually, anybody can be made sympathetic by a skilled writer), but no effort was made to do so here, and as a result, everyone came off as stuck-up, ungrateful, juvenile or annoying.
Then you had the Quirk Factor Level 17. Everything was done specifically to try and be quirky. And I’m not going to get carried away with this. I’ve been there. I’ve written the same kind of characters and the same kind of situations. I think every writer goes through that phase. But when the family members were driving around in a bumper car that was decked out to look like a race car, or the grandfather announced that he had breast cancer (yes, the grandfather)…I just died a little inside. I couldn’t take it anymore.
These kinds of scripts are too artificial for me. I need something to be grounded in reality or to know Wes Anderson’s going to make it all alright on screen. This was way too wacky for my taste. I was thinking about giving it a “What the hell did I just read” but then I realized it wasn’t badly written. It was just not my thing. Hence, it wasn’t for me.
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: When doing a character piece, particularly a companion piece, don’t leave your characters out to dry by not giving them a plot, as was done here. Since the 35th anniversary carried no weight and didn’t mean anything to anyone, there was nothing that needed to be done, and therefore nothing for anybody to do. That forced the characters to try and keep the story interesting via their wackiness alone, which they weren’t able to do. Instead, give your characters a looming goal or end game that carries with it HIGH STAKES. Something like a wedding would’ve worked great here. Now characters have things to get done (preparing, planning, creating) which makes all of them more active and more interesting. With an end game, you also give the audience something to look forward to. They’ll want to know if Vincent finds out about being adopted or not. And if he does, what is he going to do?? Look at Little Miss Sunshine. They had to get to the pageant. So they all had a directive, a goal, stakes. You give yourself a way better chance to write a good story going this route.