Sunday, August 16, 2009

I love you, man OR How far buddy movies have come...

This blog will be two fold.

The first half of each posting will be what I honestly thinks of a movie. It will be the kind of 'real review' anyone who isn't in the business would tell their friends over dinner.

The second half of the posting be tailored to the writer who is crazy enough to write screenplays. I've taught screenwriting at New York University, at New York Film Academy, have had work optioned, I work in entertainment and run many writing groups.

Hopefully, this will foster a healthy and helpful discussion on writing movie scripts.

So...let's cut to the chase!

I saw I Love You, Man on DVD and was shocked.


Friendless Peter Klaven goes on a series of man-dates to find a Best Man for his wedding. But when his insta-bond with his new B.F.F. puts a strain on his relationship with his fiancee, can the trio learn to live happily ever after?


The verdict? It's a good movie. Like, pretty damn good.

Why is it a good movie? Well, for one, Paul Rudd is in it. The man can do no wrong. Yes, Jason Segel is good as well, but he's willing to let Paul Rudd walk away with the movie. What a nice guy.

My hubby knows nothing about movies, except that I force him to watch them all the time. He even said to me, "Isn't this what they call a 'bromance'"? I was tickled. He actually knew the term. I said, I guess it is. And if there is such a thing as a progressive 'bromance', then this is it.

The pitch is so thin it made me not want to see the movie. It's lukewarm. Also, the pitch, via IMDB, is not the real story. It's about how does Peter become the man he wants to be AND find a B.F.F., which he's never done before.

One of the most helpful things any teacher told me about writing movie stories was this (he was a cranky NYU professor, but I digress): "There is the plot of the movie and then there is what the movie is about."

Figure that out and you're halfway to writing a movie.

What is surprising about the movie is how surface it appears, but when it gets it's groove after the first ten minutes, it asks some fairly deep questions I haven't seen asked with this kind of courage in a commercial studio film in a long, long time. It's nothing new to the independent world or to European cinema, but for American cinema, it's pretty damn fearless.

Which is, I feel, why it didn't do very well at the box office. It's pretty bare. I can see the faces of guys going into this not knowing what to do with the subject matter or the bigger questions is asks, such as "What defines being a man in today's culture" or "How intimate are men with each other" or "Does Paul Rudd really fart that loud in public?"

Sorry. Couldn't resist. It's still that kind of movie.

If you are looking for a Road Trip style movie or Superbad movie, this isn't it. But if you are looking for a new kind of cross pollenation genre between a kinda chick flick and a man's feeling comedy, then give this a shot and you'll be very, very surprised.

And whatever you do, make sure you view the *gag* real in the special edition DVD as well as the *making of* feature with the director, John Hamburg. He is one cool and enlightened dude.

Now, for the writers out there...

Despite the fact this is a soft-pitch movie, what I found startling about this was that it plays with the very clear conventions of a romantic comedy but one with two decidedly heterosexual men and their blossoming love together.

Because I've been reading more of the work of recently deceased Blake Snyder (RIP, fine sir), I took at look at his very basic view of what he calls "Rom-com Buddy Love" and despite his very general views, this pretty much hits on all the points of the genre he details which, according to Mr. Synder, are:

1. -- The main character is a person who is incomplete and missing something (a physical thing, emotional or spiritual insight) which he needs the help of another to 'fix'.

2. --A 'mirror' person who gives the hero what she or he needs to be complete.

3. -- A complication to the whole things.

As writers of movie scripts, we are always looking for a new angle on an existing genre. While I Love You, Man is a love story and hits all of the above beats, what separates it from the pack is the twist of a very candid and liberated heterosexual point of view on the nature of platonic love between two men and the depth of the comedic and dramatic writing.

The main character, Peter, is a super guy who has always been the guy who has girlfriends his entire life, both romantically and platonically. He's never, ever had a male BFF. He and his finance both remark how 'incomplete' Peter feels and that the only way for him to become the man he wants to be (at his job by combating a snarky co-worker and being a more confident self in the relationship) is to find a BFF.

After the enjoyable and obligatory scene of him trying to find his platonic male soul-mate, he stumbles upon the complicated yet entirely fuzzy enjoyable Sydney Fife (I know the writers chose that name of a reason - bet is an anagram). Of course, Sydney is everything Peter needs to become whole. He's carefully reckless, terribly honest, blatantly confident and, perhaps, not everything he appears to be. More than that, he's a guy who, in the best light, knows how to be a guys' best friend.

Complications ensue when Sydney pushes a bit harder than he should for Peter to live an honest life and when Peter's fiance becomes jealous of her future husbands 'bromance'. Personally, this is the weakest part of the movie, but I can see why the writers felt they had to insert this in.

I find romantic comedies difficult to write. Just as you have to come up with a smart and fresh idea, the guts of the story has to contain deeper insights about the human condition most people are aware of but cannot articulate. It is, as Blake Synder once told me, the 'art of writing scripts.' It's important you hit the points in the story you must, but the real art is the stuff in center.

It's illogical for any of us to watch a movie without taking into account our own personal filter. I'm a gay man. My filter came into play before the movie. Whenever I hear about a new 'bromance' I cringe. Gays are always the brunt of the jokes with these movies, but the writers and creative behind I Love You, Man are so confident in who they are and their ability to question their relationships, there was not one moment my partner and I cringed.

The rising action in the second act sounds soft but plays well. We want so to badly to see Rudd acclimate and find his other 'bro-half' we are rooting for him the entire time as spends time with Sydney in many various activities, trying to find his inner 'bro'. Very clean and typical second act set pieces, leading up the the reversal in the center.

You can deconstruct this by the book in terms of act breaks and 'all is lost' moments...I don't think, for writers, such an analysis will help. What will help with this is a bigger picture view of how the writers took a genre and made it their own by making it very current, topical and very, very real.

One note: I'm fairly sure many of hysterical 'goodbye lines' (you'll know what I mean when you see it) are improvised. Normally, improvised movies are ultimately rather dull as they have no formal structure, but in this movie, it all works and it's very funny.

I Love You, Man is a gentle, sweet bromantic comedy with more on it's mind than the average flick. It's worth it for all writers who want to write a romantic comedy and are looking for a new way to tell one of the oldest tales in movies.

See you at the cinema!!


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