Genre: Dark Comedy
Premise: An obsessive type-A student vows to secure the valedictorian title before school ends by any means necessary, even murder.
About: This script finished number 22 on this year’s Black List! The writer is a newbie, with just a single completed short film to his credit (as both writer and director).
Writer: Cosmo Carlson
Details: 112 pages
It’s time to take a break from The Last Jedi, even if the narrative following the film is juicier than an internship at TMZ. I just heard today that only a tiny group of people actually dislike The Last Jedi. That those people are a “vocal minority.” And that, actually, the large majority of people love it. It is inconceivable, according to the sites reporting this – the same sites that get invited to Star Wars premieres and get exclusive interviews – that a lot of people would dislike this Star Wars film.
I’ve come to realize that we won’t know if this movie is good or not for another couple of months, once the box office numbers are in. For reference, The Force Awakens had a 40% drop from Weekend 1 to Weekend 2 at this exact same time two years ago. So how big the drop is with The Last Jedi will be our first indication of whether people like this film.
In the meantime, I did a first page SHOWDOWN between Black List scripts, Valedictorian and Where I End, to determine which script I’d be reviewing today. Simple rules. Whoever has the best first page wins. Funnily enough, both scripts, despite being completely different genres, start with a guy approaching a girl. However, Valedictorian blew Where I End out of the water.
There was much more at stake with the opening of Valedictorian. A guy walks up to a girl in a high school and asks her to prom. The scene is sudden, intense, and the vibe is unique enough to keep the reader intrigued. It’s not your typical prom proposal.
Meanwhile, Where I End begins with a guy approaching a girl at a party and the two start talking in abstracts. One of them points out that we’re all just matter and that we should be able to pass through each other. Or something. Uh oh. Faux deep dialogue alert! My experience when I see dialogue like that right off the bat is that the script ends up being a mess. But I’ll give Where I End another shot since it’s ranked so high on the list. Today, however, we’ll go with Valedictorian.
18 year old Larry Fikus wants one thing and one thing only – to be valedictorian, brother. A little known fact is that all the greatest presidents were either valedictorian or salutatorian (2nd place – just learned that in this script!). Unfortunately, as the end of his senior year is upon him, Larry isn’t either. He’s in third place. And third place doesn’t even have a name.
Above him are Omar Sadaar, a nerdy Pakistani kid who wears his heart on his sleeve and doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. And Bridget Greene. Bridget is currently in first place and she’s a perfect little blonde nightmare. She’s a shoe-in for valedictorian, and to make matters worse, her mother is the damn principal.
Larry’s only got a couple of weeks left of school to leapfrog these two, and he starts by teaming up with Omar. He promises Omar the number 1 spot if Omar helps him take down Bridget. We know, of course, that Larry’s only using Omar and once he dispatches of Bridget, poor Omar will be next. But Omar doesn’t know that yet.
And the truth is, Larry may never get to that point. Bridget is a worthy opponent, surviving Larry planting a pound of weed in her locker. Surviving him sabotaging her scores in math class. She’s even resistant to his bribes and blackmails of all the teachers at the high school.
The elephant in the room is that it doesn’t matter what Larry does as long as Bridget’s principal mother is in the picture. Any dent in her grade, she fixes. Any surge in his grade, she retracts. This is going to be impossible. Unless, that is, he could get rid of Bridget completely. You can’t win valedictorian… if you’re dead.
I loved this script!
Larry is hilarious. Everything he does to get ahead is hilarious. One of my favorite sequences is him trying to score a perfect score on an oral Spanish test. Larry is terrible at Spanish. Luckily for him, the real Spanish teacher is sick this week so a substitute is in. And the substitute is blind. So Larry comes up a plan to recruit a Mexican student who can’t speak a lick of English, and tell him to go into the class and pretend he’s him, Larry, before taking the test. However, before he goes, Larry fears that the student speaks Spanish a little too well. So he sits him down and attempts to teach him how to speak Spanish more like an American, erasing the heavy accent and the rolling R’s. It’s a funny scene and a great representation of the humor in the script.
But the script is clever as well. The biggest challenge with a script like this is justifying why an audience would root for this hero. This is a selfish asshole who’s burning everything to the ground Rian Johnson style to achieve his goal. So what Carlson does is he makes Larry’s competition even worse. Bridget is a girl who cheats even more than Larry does. And she’s got this principal mother covering for her ass every step of the way, even going so far as to threaten teachers who give Bridget subpar scores. Of COURSE we want to see her go down.
The script itself is Scriptshadow plotted. We got the goal – Valedictorian! We got the stakes. Larry believes he will be president if he wins. We got the urgency. He’s only got a couple of weeks to pull this off. This is the perfect time frame I tell you guys to use. 2 weeks is the ideal time setup for a movie. Enough time to get us into these characters’ lives. But short enough to keep things moving!
The script also reminded me how ideal the high school setting is for a screenplay. Screenwriting is structure. You’re looking for form, for containers that you can use to hold stories in. The more boundaries you can establish around your story, the more structured it will be. Day-to-day life is wild and messy and you’ve got home and work and everything in between. When you’ve got a high school, everything’s structured out for you. We understand the rules of high school. And it allows you to play with the form.
It made me wonder why we don’t write more scripts in this setting. And I’m not talking about cheesy 80s high school films. Or even films like this one, which admittedly owes a lot to Election. But what about using this setting for other genres? You’ve got a thousand characters bouncing and banging off each other – conflict at every turn – stuck inside these walls, a clear time frame every day – 8-9 periods. There’s so much you can do here.
Anyway, I’m rambling. But I liked this. It was fun. And a nice detour from Canto Bight.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: I’ve noticed that high school has been severely under-represented in film recently. Most high school ideas have moved to television. This tells me that there may be a high school genre revival. Stay tuned.