Monday, February 7, 2011

Oscar Scripts 2: The Contenders

I've been reading more Oscar-nominated scripts - the ones that could be king. Next up are two scripts in the Original Screenplay category - The Kids Are Alright and The Fighter.

I was keen to read Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg's script for Kids, because it's a brilliantly acted movie. And in that situation, you always wonder how much of that is down to the screenplay. Would the performances have been so great if the script was crap? And on the other hand, is it possible to act in an Aaron Sorkin script and NOT do a good job?

I think the answers are no and yes. No, the script has to at least somewhat contribute to the great roles - and it does in this case - and yes, it is possible to be such a bad actor that you create defeat out of the jaws of victory.

Leaving all that philosophical stuff behind, Kids has really well-drawn characters from the off. We can tell from the first ten pages that Laser is a good kid with a bad friend, that Joni is in love with her friend but way too uptight to tell him, that Jules is a flake and that Nic definitely wears the trousers in the relationship.

Stir in the likeable but feckless Paul and leave to simmer - and that's exactly what the writers do. Paul lands like a grenade into this readymade family and it's immediately obvious that change is coming to Nic, Jules and the kids whether they like it or not. What I thought was brilliant about this script was the set-up and the ticking clock it created from the start. Joni is going to college soon. Nic and Jules are heading for a crisis point, even if neither of them is really aware of it yet. Laser's best friend may be about to lead him into trouble. The story doesn't just meander along, yet none of the plotting is obvious.

This is a script that benefitted greatly from the performances of the actors in the final product. The dialogue isn't incredible and I don't think it's going to win the Oscar. But Kids is nevertheless a worthy nominee and a good read for any writer as an a example of multiple characterisations.

The version of The Fighter I've been reading is, I now realise, quite an early draft by Eric Johnson and Paul Tamasy. And the problem is, it's great. If they'd filmed this draft, I'd say they'd have a good shot at bringing home the little gold man. But instead, along the way things changed for the final movie version:

They took out the character of Dickie's ex-wife and added in a LOT more family members. Melissa Leo's character didn't change a huge amount from the early drafts but all those siblings weren't in there originally. And I think there's a bit too much family fighting in the final product.

The script used to start in the beginning back in the 1970s with Dickie about to fight Sugar Ray Leonard. He was a young guy with all his hopes and dreams - and all the dreams of his community too. Then it cuts after his defeat to the early Nineties and Dickie, now a drug addict, getting his car repossessed. It's heartbreaking - and it really pulls you in.

But in the film, we never see Dickie like he used to be (maybe they couldn't pull it off, appearance-wise? How would Christian Bale have done "both roles" as it were?) Either way, it feels like it begins way too far in now. Dickie is already a broken man and it's hard to imagine how he was ever a great fighter.

Lastly, I didn't care for the way Amy Adams played Charlene in the film - and there's no doubt that she was a far more sympathetic character in the early draft of the script.

What the final version still has is a brilliantly-drawn pair of brothers, a great (true) story. And a part that's going to win Bale the Oscar, hands down. But this script couldda been better. It couldda been a contenda... Sorry, couldn't resist!

If you want to spruce up your own dialogue (and who doesn't?) check out this great article on that very thing.

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