One Fell Swoop

OFSThis is one strange little script. I liked it, and will end up recommending you read it, but this is a radically infertile row our author-farmer has hoed. Since I never go in for plot summaries, I can’t give concrete reasons for what makes this script so odd. However, you can get a sense for the type of plot points the script employs by glancing through the industry sanctioned logline:

A self-centered divorce attorney’s life takes an unexpected turn when he is guilted into spending time with the family of a one night stand who dies in a freak accident.

The only thing I’ll add is that the freakish accident which kills the one night stand [Lauren] happens ON THE NIGHT “the stand” with our self-centered divorce attorney [Scott] takes place. Clearly, the land on which this story grows is among the least arable a Story Farmer could choose.

This script, then, registers as another premise in the argument I will someday construct about the type of script we amateurs ought to be writing. [I’ll save the full treatment of those ideas for a time when there are enough instances to make a strong induction toward the conclusion I’ve (already) drawn.]

What interests me about this script in this moment, however, is Genre. What the hell kind of story is One Fell Swoop? Is it comedy, black comedy, romantic comedy, or drama? Here is a list of the movies it resembles:

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
While You Were Sleeping
Groundhog Day
Home for the Holidays
The Royal Tenenbaums

We humans, being intense classifiers of instances, modify all of these films with the adjective comedy. Of the five, I would claim that only Groundhog Day and While You Were Sleeping deserve that modification. The first three in the list are also endearing, and, therefore, I have no issue with calling them “romantic” before also calling them “comedies”. The last two move progressively toward the dark side of the comedic spectrum and I’m fine with labeling them black comedies.

Unfortunately, although One Fell Swoop resembles the five films listed, it does not get close enough to any of them to earn their classification.

For me, there were no laugh out loud moments. Scott finds himself in a situation, which by its definition, is not funny, and the author doesn’t make jokes at the situation’s expense. Our story has much in it that is awkward [a pre-condition of humor] but it doesn’t treat this awkwardness with the proper dissociation [a post-condition of humor]. So, One Fell Swoop is not a comedy.

It flirts, stridently, with being romantic, but it fails to have Scott and Jane [Lauren’s twin sister] achieve a connection beyond Fade Out. Since this is the most pressing commitment a “romantic comedy” must meet in order to earn this classification, One Fell Swoop is not a romantic comedy. In spite of that, the relationship between Jane and Scott is authentic. It is one of the stronger elements in the script. Given the lack of arability described above, this is pretty remarkable.

I don’t know how I can call it a drama either. No one in charge of marketing this is going to call it a drama. Its premise is far too artificial to gather momentum as a drama. A hypothetical person in charge of the campaign for this will draw five moments from the completed film and cobble them together so it looks like a typical romantic comedy. A move which would inevitably disappoint anyone who paid money to go see it.

All of which illuminates the central problem in this script’s design. One Fell Swoop is not enough of any one thing for it to gain traction with an audience. [It’s also not Original, so it won’t be the script that invents a new genre either.] With the right two leads, it could make enough money to get the return on investment guys excited but, even from a strictly mercenary perspective, this strategy is likelier to be more risky than it is rewarding.

What, then, is a well-written script [with a lot going on to recommend it] to do if it won’t fit neatly inside a genre? My suggestion would be to revise. This story has to be funnier, or it has to be more endearing. It would be better if the writer could make it both. [If the writer intends to keep his ending, he’ll have to make it funnier, more endearing, AND Original. I suggest taking the easy way out and just dropping the ending. Original is a once every decade phenomenon.]

The reason Eternal Sunshine and Groundhog Day work is because their author’s PAYOFF their protagonist’s transition from misanthropy to humanism by allowing them to get the girl at the end. This explains why changing the ending is the easiest solution to fixing One Fell Swoop.

However, I prefer if today’s author would go for Originality and fix his story. This script, ultimately, fails because the reason Scott and Jane can’t be together at the end is not given until page 100… of a 109 page script. It’s a cheat. There is no way this piece of information stays hidden given the context Scott finds himself in. [Which is… close proximity to Jane’s parents for several days. They would have said SOMETHING about this piece of information before page 100.] If the author allows this to naturally pop into his story around page 50 or so, and then lets Scott and Jane work through it with at least one foot planted in the soil of realism—he just might have something unique here.

Why settle for okay, when you can be great?

Rating: Worth Reading

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2 responses to “One Fell Swoop

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