RSS icon Email icon Home icon
 
LinkedIn Twitter Facebook

  • Why Her ?

    January 4th, 2014

    By Danny Manus

    2013 was an excellent year for movies – perhaps the best in quite a few years. And there are many films that I would be very content with winning the Oscar. But for me, the best movie of the year is Her. And no one is more shocked about that than I am.

    I went in doubting the hype. I’m not a huge Joaquin Phoenix fan and Spike Jonze is the kind of manic eccentric genius that sometimes doesn’t translate to a relatable cohesive story. And considering his writing credits include the Jackass movies and Where the Wild Things Are and his directing credits include Adaptation, Being John Malkovich and dozens of music videos, who could guess that he’d write the next great American love story.

    The best compliment I could give Her is that it makes me never want to write again because I don’t think I could ever write something as good that works on so many levels. It is a touching, amazingly relevant, powerful and complete love story that engrosses you more than most love stories where there are TWO people present on screen. It is beautifully crafted, beautifully acted and thematically impactful. It’s a love story for the ages, and the age that hasn’t come yet.

    And I realized there are some specific reasons why this movie works so well.

    1.    It creates an interesting, expansive world but only explores one tiny piece of it. There are so many lovely nuances to this futuristic Los Angeles setting. The green screen backgrounds shows how much LA has changed in the near future, with its endless glittering lights and cell towers pinging like shooting stars. Every single person is engaged in a schizophrenic-like experience talking to their own ear pieces and personal OS systems as they walk down the street completely oblivious that anyone else exists. The sharp, ultra-functional, ultra-modern, color-infused world of the apartments and offices underline the isolation that seems to exist between its residents. There are friendships and dates and social interaction, but the closest relationship people seem to have in this world is with their tech gadgets.

    Other nuances like how email is read and categorized, how fast technology works and is able to absorb and grow and adapt, how people get around, etc. only further help flesh out the world.  Jonze clearly knew every little aspect of his near-future landscape before he wrote this script and was able to pick and choose which ones would highlight his theme and story and characters in genius ways.  There are probably tons of other aspects of this world that could have been explored, but limiting it to what is directly connected to the love story makes it all the more intriguing. When writers know how to create a truly intriguing world that is special yet relatable, different yet plausible, and that world matches the story that is occurring within it, it’s a winning combination.

    Many of the scripts I’ve read lately have these expansive futuristic/dystopian/post-apocalyptic worlds, but they aren’t really necessary to the story – the writers are just hoping that their “awesome” worlds will mask what’s lacking in the narrative. Jonze chose a time and world that complimented the story in perfect fashion and made it feel MORE believable and viable instead of just distracting us from it. Jonze created a big world but made it feel small, while creating a small story and making it feel big. That’s one of the keys to successful world building.

    2.   Timing. Is there a more relevant love story right now than that between man and technology? It’s the right story at the right time. The themes and societal questions raised and explored of what makes for a genuine relationship, what defines a happy couple, what makes for true love, and what constitutes an acceptable love dynamic in society is done so in beautiful ways. At a time when gay marriage is a hot button issue, Jonze takes the concept two steps further and makes relationships with OS’s (Operating Systems) the next issue to be tackled. It’s talked about and accepted by many in this story – but it’s still not the thing everyone is comfortable with. It’s still somewhat taboo and embarrassing for Phoenix’s character. There’s still that unsure “Ohhh…umm…okay” reaction when people hear about this relationship.

    When a writer can tap into the zeitgeist – and what could be NEXT in the zeitgeist – in a way that examines an issue in a brilliant way without ever mentioning the issue, that shows true talent. The concept of the OS/Human relationship is discussed, but it’s more about the doubt the Human and the OS have in their own feelings than their worries about what the outside world thinks. It’s about being comfortable in your own love and your own mind and letting everything else go. And if that’s not an important and relevant message and theme to explore today, I don’t know what is.

    The beauty of the way Jonze explores this theme, however, is how he has elevated the genre and the discussion. Which brings us to…

    3.    It defines elevated storytelling. And that’s not easy to do with romance or romantic dramas. If you’ve ever seen a Nicholas Sparks novel brought to life on screen, they all have strong emotional hooks. They all have an internal dilemma and external conflict that rips the lovers apart only so they can find a way to come back together. But almost none of them feel realistic or relatable. His books explore life-threatening illnesses and death. They are female fantasies underlining the power of true love. None of them are overly intelligent or complex. They connect on an emotional level but that’s about it. The beauty of Her is that it connects on an emotional level AND a cerebral one. It makes you feel, it makes you cry, and it makes you think at the same time.

    Hollywood always says it wants ELEVATED material. This is a romantic drama on an elevated level. Elevated means there is something smarter and deeper about the story than the normal, down-the-middle boy meets girl story. And Her delivers on that in spades.

    4.    It tells a complete love story. It’s boy meets girl (ish), but in a whole new way. But the beauty of the structure of the story is that we really get to experience their whole relationship. I don’t want to give anything away about how the film ends, but every time you think the story can end, Spike Jonze finds a believable and relatable way to throw another plot twist into the mix that progress the arcs of both characters and raises the stakes. And they all feel like REAL twists that would plague any real-world human relationship which is what makes it feel so genuine.

    It doesn’t take much to believe that a person can fall in love with a voice on a computer. So once you swallow that premise, the rest is a rollercoaster ride of emotion from beginning to end that probably feels like a love story you’ve experienced.  Or maybe that’s just me. It uses all the tropes of romantic drama – loss, death, cheating, conflict, temptation, realization, growth, change, love and sex – but there’s only one physical person involved. It’s a focused story, but a complete story. And that’s what you should be trying to do with your scripts.

    5.     It gives its actors immense room to play, react, feel and emote. Movies don’t get made without stars these days, and to get stars you need characters that stand out and give them something to do.  A new situation or mindset for them to explore emotionally. And too many writers focus on the action of what the characters do in the scene and not enough on the REACTION the actors get to portray in their quiet or reflective moments. And all of the actors in this film have those moments and play them perfectly.

    Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams (who looks more like Cameron Diaz in Being John Malkovich than the glam roles she usually plays), Olivia Wilde, Rooney Mara, Chris Pratt and especially Scarlett Johansson are all pitch perfect (and listen for the greatest voice over cameo ever by Kristen Wiig).

    The fact that Scarlett Johansson can’t be nominated for an Academy Award is a damn shame. Personally, I’ve never been a big Joaquin Phoenix fan. I find him intense and creepy to watch but not in a fun way (like Daniel Day Lewis). But the man knows how to genuinely emote on screen like very few others can. He’s so open and able to commit to the words, it’s powerful to watch. And I’m not sure if Scarlett was in the room or speaking to him through the ear piece or if it was all done in post, but you’d never know he was the only person in the room.

    Phoenix’s character has a simple enough backstory – a nasty divorce from the love of his life has left him somewhat of a recluse and emotionally crippled. It’s not a hugely original backstory. But when combined with the world created, it’s all you need. The OS Samantha, played by Johansson, has just as much (if not more) or a character arc than the human characters. It’s her character that grows and changes the most. As I said, it’s a complete love story told from both perspectives, even though we are only SEEING one on screen. Give huge credit to Scarlett for bringing a character to life that isn’t even alive and that we never see. If you can write characters like that, you will get a major actor attached to your script.

    6.    The dialogue will affect you. I don’t want to ruin anything, but I will leave you with two quotes that stand out.  “Love is a form of socially acceptable insanity.” This line is brilliant not just because it’s accurate, but because the whole story is about a guy talking to an ear piece, which makes him look even crazier yet in this world it’s socially acceptable. And “The past is just a story we tell ourselves.” It’s one of those lines that stay with you, that become part of the way you think. The script is full of these, and that kind of dialogue is what powerful films are made of.

    Hopefully I’ve convinced you to go see Her, but also to read the script and learn how to craft a story that deserves Oscar gold.

     

  • How Technology Has Ruined Romantic Comedy

    November 21st, 2011

    Remember the good old days when to find one’s lost soul mate, a character had to scour the earth on this grand romantic voyage with nothing but a wisp of hair, a charcoal drawing and a childhood memory? Now, they can just use Facebook. It takes 30 seconds and the story is over.

    Social media and today’s current technology has completely ruined romantic comedies and has made it that much harder to create an original and believable story for two random people to get together.  Because there is NO such thing as random anymore. There’s no such thing as “courting.” People don’t even date anymore – they just hook up and eventually decide they are together. So you need to ask yourself – are your characters still living in the 1950s?

    Even if you bumped into a total stranger on the street and a had that “love at first sight” moment, you’d go home and Google her, check out her Facebook page, her MySpace, her Linked In profile, her blog, and her Twitter account (which comes with GPS location and receipt counter so you could know exactly where she’s been and what she bought), and you’d know everything you could ever want to know in 5 minutes.  Kind of takes the fun out of a good old fashioned stalking, doesn’t it?

    Some of the biggest romantic comedies are based on one of the following issues or setups:

    Finding a lost love or childhood sweetheart

    Getting a message to the person you love before it’s too late

    Connecting with the friends or family of the person you love

    Overcoming distance

    Trying to break up a couple because they don’t belong together

    Getting someone’s attention who doesn’t know you’re alive

    Finding out something about the person you want to be with so they think you have something in common

    Proving you aren’t lying or cheating to someone

    Having to track someone down

    Best friends who fall out of touch and then find each other again later in life. 

    These used to be concepts you could write 100 pages on. Now, any one of these issues would be solvable in a matter of minutes.  A good love story may still transcend time, but these days, if your characters don’t even have cell phones, how genuine to real life could they be? These days, Harry probably would have met Sally on Match.com and that orgasm scene in the deli would have been Billy Crystal watching a video of Meg on his iPhone.  Steve Martin wouldn’t have had to sit in the bushes and whisper words to another man to woo Roxanne – he could have just texted her from the other guy’s phone.  And John Cusack wouldn’t be standing outside Ione Skye’s house with a boom-box over his head– he would have just thrown his iPod into her open window and screamed “Track 4!”

    “Sleepless in Seattle” worked because it was about these two people on different sides of the country who found each other on a radio show. But now 15 years later….who listens to the radio anymore except right wing nutjobs, Howard Stern fans and 12 year old girls?

    And long distance relationships are certainly much easier these days than it was 10 years ago. The recent release “Going the Distance,” which is about trying to make a long distance relationship work, has a hilarious phone sex scene, but aren’t we past that? There are webcams built into every computer. There’s Skype and sexting and websites designed for people looking to cheat. In a world where 14 year olds are having more sex than their parents, 1 in 2 relationships end in divorce, and 1 in 4 relationships are started online, romantic comedies about the 25 year old beautiful virgin girl or true love that doesn’t involve technology, just don’t ring true anymore.

    This certainly doesn’t mean that true love – or romantic comedies – is dead. It just means you need to be more creative in your hooks and premises, and be mindful of the pitfalls of forgetting about technology. Now perhaps if you’re writing “It’s Complicated” and your lead characters are in their 50s or older, technology doesn’t have to be focused on as much. But if you’re writing a teen romance and the kids never text each other – how genuine is that to today’s youth?

    Romantic comedies have always had an element of fantasy to them. They are the perfect dream scenarios. They follow a simple equation – Circumstance plus magic plus incredible good looks minus obstacles equals happily ever after.  And audiences do go to the movies to escape the realities of their own lives, but they need to be able to relate to the world you have created. Romantic comedies have to be grounded in some sort of reality, and if none of your characters use a computer, that’s just not reality.  So, always keep in mind the time period you are writing for and everything that encompasses.

    And when it comes to love, keep an open heart and an empty hard drive.

©2010 No BullScript Consulting - All Rights Reserved     Powered by Discreet