Premise: A young man with a promising future is responsible for the death of his brother. When he realizes he can still see and talk to his brother at the cemetery where he’s buried, he abandons his former life and becomes a manager at the cemetery.
About: Starring Zac Efron, Ray Liotta and Kim Bassinger, this script was adapted from the Ben Sherwood novel. You may recognize Sherwood as the author of the book “The Man Who Ate The 747″ which Stark reviewed just a few weeks ago. St. Cloud is the project Efron painstakingly chose over reinventing the Footloose brand. One of the writers, Craig Pearce, wrote both Romeo & Juliet (Baz Luhrmann) and Moulin Rouge. The other, Colick, wrote both Beyond The Sea and October Sky. Charlie St. Cloud hits theaters on July 20th.
Writers: Craig Pearce and Lewis Colick, based on the novel by Ben Sherwood
Details: 114 pages – Undated (This is an early draft of the script. The situations, characters, and plot may change significantly by the time of the film’s release. This is not a definitive statement about the project, but rather an analysis of this unique draft as it pertains to the craft of screenwriting).
So Zac Efron wants to be taken seriously. Gone are the dance moves and the high school cliques. Say hello to the new Efron. Period pieces like “Me and Orson Wells.” Thrillers where he plays a CIA spy. He’s even going to portray a coke runner in the drug-fueled Snabba Cash remake. I just feel sorry for those poor teeny boppers. Their pin-up has leapt off the wall. While 17 Again and Me and Orson Welles were appetizers, the first major entree in the “Take Zac Efron seriously” meal is “Charlie St. Cloud,” a drama where Efron actually gets to play a 30 year old (though I can’t imagine they haven’t made him younger since he signed on). It’s heavy on the drama and requires a wider range than anything Efron’s done before. So is the script he signed up for any good?
It’s 1995. Charlie (athletic, tall, good looking, senior class president, basketball star, sailing star) is one of those lucky bastards who won the genetic lottery. He’s got it all. And not only does he have it all, he lives in a town that beats it all – a small postcard of real estate right off the ocean. You know what people do here in their spare time? Sail. Talk about the life. Where I grew up you spent your spare time experimenting with heater forts in order to stay warm through the day.
Charlie’s best friend is his 12 year old brother, Sam. You couldn’t split these two apart with the jaws of life. And that may have been my first problem with the screenplay. In what universe are brothers best of friends, much less brothers who are 18 and 12. Not that big of a deal but my “huh? meter” did start beeping. Anyway, these two like to go sailing together, play catch together, watch the Red Sox together. They’re the best of buds.
But one night while driving home, Charlie smashes his car into something not soft and Sam dies. Wow, that sucks. However, Charlie’s shocked to find out that he can actually SEE Sam at the funeral. He quickly realizes that he has some power to see dead people, and in order to be around his kid brother, Charlie ditches all his previous life plans and takes the managerial job at the cemetery. Twelve years go by before we catch up with Charlie again.
All grown up (and 30 years old), the highlight of Charlie’s day is still seeing his bro. Now there are some rules to seeing Sam. He can’t wave his magic wand a la Harry Potter and say “Samus Appearus!” He can only spend time with Sam at sunset. Before and after the sun sets, no Sammy. Don’t ask me what happens when it’s overcast.
Now as you can probably guess, people in town think Charlie’s a little…….weird. He doesn’t talk to anyone, he doesn’t do anything. It’s all cemetery all the time. And since he can’t tell anyone why, Charlie has to pretty much sacrifice real life for an imaginary one. (On a completely unrelated note I’ve always wanted to write a movie called “Cemescary.” I just haven’t come up with a story yet).
Into the mix pops Tess, a 24 year old beauty who, like that really bad 16 year old Swiss sailor chick who likes to use government money to save her ass whenever she inevitably screws up, Tess too wants to sail solo around the world. In fact, Tess is a little bit of a celebrity, and she happens to be using Charlie’s town as her launching point.
So one day Tess secretly heads off to practice before her big trip and gets stuck in a huge storm. The last thing we see is a huge wave and a cut to black. The next day, Charlie notices Tess at his cemetery. Hmm, I wonder where this is going. So Tess and Charlie start hanging out and falling in love and stuff. This of course starts to infringe upon brother time, and that’s a huge problem, because if Charlie ever misses a day with Sam, Sam will disappear forever.
(MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW)
Now this is based off a book, so I’m not really spoiling anything, but eventually Charlie and Tess realize that she’s dead, which puts a major crick into their relationship because you can’t marry a dead person. I think there’ a law against it somewhere. However, in a late double twist, Charlie realizes that Tess actually ISN’T dead. She’s barely alive somewhere out on her boat and she won’t live unless someone goes out and saves her. Charlie, with his added ESP powers, is the only person who can do this. Of course, if he goes after Tess, he’ll miss his daily meeting with Sam, and that means Sam will be gone forever. What ever will Charlie choose to do?
Man, I have some mixed feelings about this one. It starts off terrrrrible. I mean roll your eyes every 20 seconds cheese-factor times 8 billion terrible. For example, to show how close the two brothers are, they go to a Red Sox game, and the Red Sox hit a game winning home run, which is heading right towards Charlie and Sam. And Charlie holds Sam up to CATCH THE GAME WINNING HOME RUN. I’m not kidding. It doesn’t stop there though. Later, after Sam dies, we get Charlie falling to the ground accompanied by the ubiquitous anguished cry into the sky, “WHY DID YOU LEAVE ME!?” I’m hoping some smart editor burned that film. But yeah, there’s enough cheese here to feed half of Wisconsin.
The Charlie and Tess stuff is okay, I guess, but introducing a girl who wants to sail across the world felt like a completely different movie. I suppose inside a 400 page book where you have time to segue and explore different things, it may have flowed naturally. But in the tight constraints of a screenplay, it was like, ‘I thought we were telling a story about a guy who sees his dead brother. Now it’s about a girl who sails across the world?’ It felt clumsy.
But the biggest problem with the script was that outside of the Tess sailing thing, any seasoned moviegoer was 40 pages ahead of the story the whole time. We knew the brother was dying. We knew the girl was dead. We knew exactly how the relationship would unravel. It was hard to enjoy because there just weren’t any surprises.
However, I will admit, things did change in the final 40 pages. I thought for sure they were going to find out Tess was dead, which meant they wouldn’t be able to be together, but then, probably, in a final twist, Charlie would either kill himself or find out he was dead too. Instead, we find out Tess is still alive and from that moment on, you’re genuinely wondering what’s going to happen.
This was highlighted by incorporating “The Choice,” – the moment near the finale where your main character makes a choice between staying the same or changing. For Charlie, that means holding onto the past or moving into the future. If you do a good job setting this up, it can be the most emotionally satisfying moment in the script and the cornerstone of the climax. In a movie like “L.A. Confidential,” for example, Ed Exley (Guy Pearce’s character), has a choice at the end to either continue to “follow the rules” or become “dirty.” He chooses to be “dirty” and shoots the captain in the back. The choice cuts to the very core of what he’s been battling with the whole time, so it resonates. I’m not saying Charlie St. Cloud is on that same level, but I thought the choice itself was well-constructed.
Unfortunately, the first act was way too cheesy and melodramatic, and the love story was only so-so. This shouldn’t bother Zac Efron’s younger female audience base as much, but it did bother me.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: If you’re building up to a shocking tragedy in your first act, try not to overdo the “everything’s perfect” scenario that precedes it. I mean the love between the brothers here is so over the top that we knew without question Sam was a goner. Audiences are so savvy these days. They know something’s off when a character in a movie has it too good because movies aren’t about people who have it good. Movies are about people who run into problems. So if you want that tragedy to truly shock us, be a little more subtle with the character’s good fortune.