Premise: Grief stricken over his wife leaving him, a man finds solace in an odd activity… stealing figurines of flamingos.
About: Writer Michael LeSieur is probably best known for writing “Me, You, And Dupree,” back in 2005. If I remember correctly, that script sold for a boatload of money. More recently, he’s been focused on television, creating the show “Glory Daze,” which centered around college life in the 1980s. The Flamingo Thief landed on last year’s Black List. Last I heard, it had Will Ferrel attached to star and was being produced by Ben Stiller. The author of the original book, Susan Trott, has written 16 novels. Many of them have received options here in Hollywood, but only one was made, “When Your Lover Leaves,” which was turned into an NBC movie of the week.
Writers: Michael LeSieur (adapted from the novel by Susan Trott)
Details: 112 pages – May 18, 2011 draft
Okay, I admit, I’m a sucker for these “guy gets left by his wife and has a mid-life breakdown” type scripts. It’s why I loved the script for Crazy, Stupid, Love. It’s why I loved the script for Everything Must Go. There’s just something very relatable – something we’ve all been through – about being left by the person you care about most, then feeling lost and confused, not knowing where to go or what to do with your life because for the past however many years, that person WAS your life.
And when that kind of thing happens, you do strange shit. I was just talking about this with someone the other day. Love makes you act irrational, makes you do really crazy things you’d NEVER do otherwise. It’s almost like you turn into a completely alien form when you’re in love. Someone you don’t recognize.
So hey, is resorting to flamingo thievery weird? Sure. But we’re all weird when we’re in love. So don’t judge the star of today’s story, Tim Forrester. I’m instituting a No Judging Zone for the poor guy.
The aforementioned Mr. Forrester, a high-powered attorney who’s the youngest partner in his firm, believes he and his wife’s marriage is going splendidly. That is until they’re at a furniture store and she casually breaks the news that she wants a divorce. Oh, and that she’s dating some real estate dude who owns the golf course record at the local country club.
Tim is devastated by this because, hey, he loves his wife! His first reaction, then, is denial. He thinks his wife is going through a phase, that she’ll get over Mr. Zero Handicap and move on. But the only place she’s moving is into his house. Not only that, but she’s setting up shop. She ain’t gonna be leaving for a loooooong time.
This is, of course, where the irrational thoughts begin, and Tim becomes obessesed with finding out where Lefty lives. So he grabs his brother, George, who is put together in every way Tim has fallen apart, and they park outside the guy’s house and stare at it for way longer than they should. It’s here where Tim notices a couple of decorative flamingos on the lawn. They’re so…smug. And happy. And flamingo-y.
So what does he do? Well he goes back later and steals them of course. And this is what begins his unhealthy obsession with flamingo thievery. ANYTHING that has a flamingo on it – coffee mugs, antennae decorations, paintings – Tim must steal them. Pretty soon, Tim’s alter ego, the “Flamingo Thief,” becomes a cult hero in the tiny community. Nobody can stop talking about him.
While Tim is dealing with his flamingo issues, we find out his brother George isn’t as put-together as we first thought. George likes to secretly go to upscale orgies, and even invites Tim to one of them to help forget his wife. But when Tim accidentally pees in the jacuzzi, everyone at the orgy freaks and kicks him and George out.
The only person Tim can confide in is George’s daughter and his niece, Joy, who thinks it’s pretty cool that her uncle is the one stealing these flamingos. Together they try to figure out why Tim is so obsessed with this strange fetish and come to the conclusion that it’s some sort of cosmic universal thing making him do it or something. There’s a REASON he has to steal all of these flamingos. Those crazy cosmos just haven’t told him why yet.
Eventually, Tim gets in over his head when he steals a large flamingo from a man’s home which used to belong to Frank Lloyd Wright and is therefore worth tens of thousands of dollars. Maybe more. If he’s found to be in posession of this flamingo, there’s a good chance he’ll go to jail. It’s when this reality hits him that he finally understands what he’s done – and knows what he must do. He must return each and every flamingo. But will he be able to do so without getting caught?
So with Everything Must Go, which was at one time my favorite script, I saw firsthand how a great script doesn’t always translate into a great movie. I just found that script to be so damn clever, yet the static-ness of the visuals (We’re hanging out on a lawn the whole time) really hurt it once it became a series of moving pictures. So I’m always wary when I read scripts like that now. They’re completely character driven. And if you don’t get the right actors to play the characters and the right director to do something slightly different with the direction, it can easily look like a bunch of rich people whining about their trust funds.
However, I’m not judging The Flamingo Thief as a film. I’m judging it as a script. And as a script, I thought it was pretty damn good. The character work here is solid, and writer LeSieur does an excellent job making us care about and root for Tim. One of the reasons so many movies start with the main character getting dumped is because you instantly care about a person being left. Especially if they loved their wife as much as Tim did (look no further than When Harry Met Sally for proof). We so want to follow this guy until he’s okay again. It’s a brilliant way to shape a character, as long as you can inform it in a way that’s slightly different from what we’ve seen before. And I believe LeSieur’s done that.
There were also plenty of unexpected choices here, which gave the script the requisite originality it needed to stand out from the pack. Just the fact that the main character is stealing freaking flamingos is unique enough. But the strange turn down the line that his brother goes to orgies was also unexpected.
And that’s another area where this shined. I think if you’re ONLY exploring one character’s internal journey throughout your script, you’re not maximizing all the emotional cylinders. Adding an arc to two, three, or even four characters, really ups the emotional quotient. Realizing George is lying to his wife, lying to himself, and has his own obstacles to overcome if he’s going to find happiness, gave the story a “fuller” feel than had we just been following a flamingo thief.
And the niece was great too! A lot of times writers will lean on the staple of the 12 year old girl who’s as wise as a hundred year old man with a wit as biting as a late night talk show host. It’s soooo “been there done that.” Not the case here. The niece is just nice and sweet and understanding. She listens to Tim. She’s there for him . She helps him. And I loved how she also finds her life thrown into disarray late in the script, when her parents break up because of the orgy ordeal.
When you write a character piece, you really only have to make sure that one thing is working. The characters! They have to go through arcs, they have to change, they have to be EXPLORED. And as far as I’m concerned, all the characters worked in The Flamingo Thief. Not sure how this would turn out in movie form, but in script form, it’s darn good.
What I learned: Explore character flaws with more than one character in your script. Whenever I see this, I know I’m dealing with a pro. Amateurs, if they’re exploring a flaw at all, tend to only do so for their main character.