Genre: Comedy/Satire/True Story
Premise: (from Black List) The remarkable true story of an unremarkable church-going accountant who stole $17 million in the biggest fruitcake heist of all time.
About: This is the breakthrough script from Trey Selman, which made last year’s Black List. When asked in an interview at the Austin Film Festival how it all happened, he answered: “For years it was an unremarkable pursuit as I rolled along – finishing script after script – that no one ever read, until I finally wrote something that people wanted to read. Getting your start in screenwriting always reminds me of what Hemingway wrote, “How did you go bankrupt? Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.”
Writer: Trey Selman
Details: 107 pages
My reaction to “The Fruitcake” can be boiled down to my reaction of the script’s first sentence. “A massive split lane chugging between the breast augmentations of Dallas and the refried smog of Houston,” is how Selman describes the I-45 highway.
On the surface, I like that line. But when I start thinking about it, I’m not really sure what it means. What’s “refried smog?” Do they cook smog in Houston? It’s a weird analogy. And that confusion would happen a lot during my read.
Then again, “The Fruitcake” is a satire. And satire has always been a genre that confuses me. I feel like it’s smarter than I am. Therefore, even if it’s bad satire, I’m always assuming it’s me who’s the problem, not it. I don’t know. I’m starting to confuse myself here. Lots of confusion in today’s review and we haven’t even got to the plot summary yet.
Sandy and Kay Jenkins live in Corsicana, a rich little town in the famous (infamous?) state of Texas. Corsicana is best known for one thing – it’s the home of Collin Street Bakery, where the majority of the world’s fruitcakes are made.
Over the years, fruitcakes have become somewhat of a joke. Nobody knows anybody who’s actually eaten one of them. Yet they’re one of the most gifted foods of the holiday season, the solid state version of eggnog.
Don’t tell that to Collin Street, though. They pull in 40 million dollars a year on their fruitcakes. Those little nut and dried fruit patties are like gold. Which is why Sandy Jenkins is so damn confused why he’s not reaping any of the benefits of the business. He’s been an accountant at the company for a decade. He’s the ultimate team-player. He’s friendly. Yet he’s always passed over when it comes time for a promotion.
The truth is that Sandy is kind of a weirdo – the guy at work who wants to be your friend a little too badly. And his wife, Kay, isn’t helping matters. She’s practically begging her richer housewife neighbors to be in their book clubs, even though she hates books. She also says awkward stuff like, “Well, I don’t think we should celebrate until you’re pissing in high cotton, Sandy,” which is a sentence that I don’t understand.
Convinced he’s paid his dues, Sandy stops waiting for the American dream, and instead takes it. He writes himself, we’ll just say, a “secret check” from the company. At first he buys a Lexus. Then a 5000 dollar suit. Then a Bentley. Then a Porsche. Pretty soon he’s paying for 100,000 dollar parties every month.
Meanwhile, the company president, Bob McNutt, is trying to figure out why their foolproof business is losing so much money. He starts looking into it, all the while watching Sandy show up in a new car every day with a new suit every day, with a new watch every day. Gosh, he thinks, if Sandy would stop buying all this nonsense and invest his money into the company, they probably wouldn’t be in the red right now.
That’s how clueless Bob is on the matter. But, come on, how long can you really steal 300 grand a month from your company and get away with it? Believe it or not, a lot longer than you think.
If you liked movies such as Jack Black’s “Bernie” or highly celebrated 2010 Black List script, “Butter,” you’ll like “The Fruitcake.” It’s in that vein. But I struggled with it. My biggest issue was that I felt it was all overwritten.
For example, a basic beat where Sandy gets mad at himself while eating is described as such: “He BASHES his hands down. And like a volcano of reheated Tex-Mex, caloric chaos plumes high.” That’s a very over-thought sentence. And the whole script reads like that.
Dialogue such as: “Alright is a saddle on a donkey, Scott. I’m a four point harness in a Ferrari,” and “Arrived? We’re about to drive an eighteen wheeler of nitroglycerin right through the aristocracy of Corsicana!”
The reason I have a problem with this, particularly on the dialogue side, is that our two main characters, Sandy and Kay, never once speak like real people. They speak in over-the-top analogies the whole time. So how can I take them seriously?
It’s my belief that a movie can only work if you care about the characters involved. And in the case of The Fruitcake, we’re clearly spending the entire script making fun of these people. So why would I care about them?
But The Fruitcake has problems that go beyond that. Once Sandy starts stealing, the script keeps hitting the same beat over and over again – which is Sandy buying more and more stuff. That goes on for like 50 pages.
For the most part, a script is divided into eight sequences of 12-15 pages. Whatever “beat” you’re trying to convey, you want to limit it to one of those sequences. Once you move to the next 12-15 page sequence, you want to focus on something new!
That’s not to say that Sandy can’t keep buying shit in the other sequences. But that can’t be the ONLY thing that’s going on in the story for 50 pages. You need other plot beats to come into play.
For example, towards the end of the story, the FBI secretly catches Sandy, but they tell Bob McNutt if they’re going to convict him, Bob needs to catch him in the act of stealing. That’s a new sequence you could build right there – Bob trying to catch Sandy in the act.
Unfortunately, in the current draft, that moment doesn’t come until 10 pages left in the screenplay. So it’s an opportunity missed. But that’s what I mean. You gotta keep introducing fresh plot directions that make the current 15 pages feel different from the previous 15.
With that said, I liked a few things about the script, such as the fact that Sandy was the ultimate fruitcake. That actors love to play parts like this. And The Fruitcake is doing something different. We’ve got all these true stories showing up on The Black List. At least The Fruitcake is being unique in the way it tells its story. It wasn’t for me. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be for you.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Murder or Money. Murder or Money are the easiest way to write low-budget character-driven screenplays that are still marketable (and therefore still have a chance to sell). How does it work? Just make sure, at the core of your premise, is either murder or money. That’s it. In The Fruitcake’s case, it was money. In The Big Short. Money. In Fargo. Murder. In Wind River. Murder. Murder or Money, baby. Two things the world is fascinated with.