Cake

cakeToday’s script comes from writer Patrick Tobin. The draft I read is from 2013. The writer has one other credit on IMDb from 1996, so this seems to be his breakout script.

Cake is a very good script. It is almost at the level where it merits a full five question review. I’ve decided, however, to go with my more focused approach [looking at the one question in which the script really excels or fails] because, as a whole, this version of Cake would finish at around a 75. There is [in my opinion] more work that ought to have been done in focusing the script’s theme. I believe the author would cite something like:

Life is always beautiful even when it’s painful

as the theme of this draft. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s what distills [most] from the pages he’s written. To me, the theme of this script is:

Always be yourself.

I believe this ambiguity exists because the author had a set of plot points that supported the theme he set for himself, and this theme [and those plot points] got cannibalized by the tour de force he wrote as protagonist, Claire Simmons. In other words, the author did such a good job creating his heroine that the heroine overwrote all his good intentions.

Because character and, by extension, dialogue, dominates this draft, we will spend our review looking closely at question one:

Is the dialogue (a) free of exposition and (b) rich in subtext? This will include (c) unique voices for each character.

Part A) We are introduced to Claire Simmons near the end of a support group she attends. Claire is a former lawyer, divorced, and she was in a terrible car accident that left her with vivid scars. Her son died as a result of the accident.

Let’s trace when these facts get revealed by citing their initial appearance in the script.

The very first line seems to put us in a bit of an expositional hole by announcing:

INT. COMMUNITY CENTER – NIGHT

A sign taped to a closed door: WOMEN’S CHRONIC PAIN SUPPORT
GROUP.

It gives us our first piece of information about Claire. Does the rest of the script follow this inauspicious beginning?

About Claire being a lawyer, and from pages 81-82:

Claire watches the TV with a wistful expression.

The Filipino nurse comes in to check on Claire.

FILIPINO NURSE
You should eat something. How about
the apple sauce?

CLAIRE
We went to a drive-in.

FILIPINO NURSE
Who?

CLAIRE
On our first date. We were law
students at UCLA.

FILIPINO NURSE
I should’ve known you were a
lawyer.

It takes 80 pages for this script to let us know that Claire is a former lawyer. Out of 106.

Not bad [Actually, ridiculously impressive, but what do I know?].

When do we find out she’s divorced? From pages 4-5:

Claire shakes her head and erases the message. The next
message is from Claire’s ex-husband JASON.

JASON (VOICE)
Hey, it’s me. Could you call my
assistant tomorrow and let her know
when I can come by to pick up the
rest of my stuff.
(pause)
When you aren’t there.

(MORE)
I think it’s…prudent if we don’t
see each other. Not yet.

Claire erases the message.

CLAIRE
His mother must have told him
exactly what to say. He never used
to throw around words like
‘prudent’.

Page 4 is no serious accomplishment for exposition hiding. However, I love how the exposition [which is unfilmable and in the action line] is made filmable by “the argument” Jason and Claire have in the dialogue. Sure, we can infer from the fact that Jason wants to come pick up his stuff when she isn’t there, that Jason and Claire used to live together, but we know they’re married because of Claire’s comment about Jason’s mother and her prudence.

The most important fact about Claire we need to know in order to understand her story comes in two parts.

1. She was in a terrible car accident that has left her in debilitating pain.
2. Her son didn’t survive this accident.

So, when does the script OFFICIALLY let us in on these secrets? We learn about 1 on pages 32-33:

INT. SUV – DAY

Silvana drives, Claire laying all the way back.

Claire starts rubbing her leg. She suddenly holds up a tiny
fragment of glass.

It sparkles in the light.

CLAIRE
Look at that.

SILVANA
I drive.

CLAIRE
I’m shedding glass.

SILVANA
Is normal?

CLAIRE
That’s what the good doc says.

Traffic slows down: there’s an accident up ahead. Silvana
inhales sharply when she sees it.

CLAIRE (CONT’D)
What’s going on?

SILVANA
Nothing.
(pause)
Workers.

CLAIRE
What kind of workers?

SILVANA
Just workers.

CLAIRE
(suspiciously)
What are they wearing?

SILVANA
Yellow. Orange.
CLAIRE
Is anyone hurt?

Silvana doesn’t say anything. Claire studies her face.

CLAIRE (CONT’D)
Take Romaine instead.

SILVANA
Yes.

If you’ll notice, the author NEVER tells us Claire was in an accident. He let’s us infer it from the fact that Claire is shedding glass combined with Silvana’s pitiful attempts to keep her from knowing about the wreck that has happened in front of them.

We learn about 2 on page 104:

EXT. CEMETERY – DAY
The rental car is parked near Claire’s son’s headstone.
Silvana uses a step ladder to attach some chimes to the
branch of a nearby tree. Claire watches.

This is the FIRST time the script mentions that Claire had a son. Don’t get me wrong, the script implies Claire had a son… throughout. But, it is never directly stated until page 104. That is impressive writing.

If exposition is something you worry about, this script is a masterclass in what I always call Iceberg Exposition.

Part B) As you can imagine, given my response above, I also think this script does an excellent job delivering its subtext. There are many areas I could focus on to display this, but Claire is the gravitational center of this script, so I’ll stick with her.

She presents as one seriously mean, cynical person, who doesn’t really care about anyone or anything. Of course this isn’t who she really is [it’s also the reason I think this script’s theme is about being yourself—and not the beauty in a miserable life], and it’s in the subtext that we learn this. From pages 38-39:

IRMA
(in Spanish)
I heard through the grapevine poor
Nuncio can’t find work.

INOCENCIA
(in Spanish)
That must be so hard for you. Poor
Silvana, always working your
fingers to the bone.

SILVANA
(in Spanish)
He got a job.

IRMA
(in Spanish)
Really?

SILVANA
(in Spanish)
A good one. He builds big swimming
pools.

INOCENCIA
(in Spanish)
At his age?!

IRMA
(in Spanish)
You know my Eduardo, he retired
this year. Now we spend all our
time with our grandchildren.

Claire notices that Silvana is looking increasingly
miserable. She gets up.

CLAIRE
Excuse me ladies, I’ll be right
back.

We follow Claire as she finds the Waiter. She hands him some
twenty dollar bills.

CLAIRE (CONT’D)
Please bring the change to that
woman, not me. You understand?

WAITER
Yes.

Claire slips back unnoticed.

INOCENCIA
(in Spanish, to Silvana)
Your daughter was so pretty when
she was young. Is she still a
beauty?

CLAIRE
Nuncio did a fabulous job on my
pool.

The three ladies stare at Claire with confusion.

INOCENCIA
Really?

CLAIRE
I’ve recommended him to several of
my friends.

IRMA
Oh.

CLAIRE
(to Silvana)
Should we go shopping or do you
need to get back home.

SILVANA
(gratefully)
Shopping.

The Waiter brings the change to Silvana. A beat of confusion,
before she counts out a tip. Irma and Inocencia are
impressed.

CLAIRE
(to Silvana)
Thank you for lunch, it was
wonderful.
(to Irma and Inocencia)
And any friend of Silvana is a
friend of mine.

Claire demonstrates, in this scene, she isn’t the cold, unfeeling person her typical manner of interacting with the inhabitants of the world suggests she is. She is at her best, physically and emotionally, when she uses her abilities to help others. Claire loves Silvana; this is the first scene in which she shows it.

Part C) All of the characters in this script are wonderfully differentiated. I could cite so many lines to show this, but I don’t think this review would be complete if I didn’t work in my favorite scene from the script. You’ll have to look at it from an angle to see how it applies to character differentiation, but I think the effort is worth it. From pages 88-89:

CLAIRE (CONT’D)
I was a mouse in The Nutcracker
Suite. Three years in a row.

NINA
(nodding)
You were adorable.

CLAIRE
I wanted to be Clara or the sugar
plum fairy, but my mother told me I
wasn’t graceful enough. She said,
be grateful you’re a mouse, because
then no one will notice when you
make a mistake.

NINA
Ouch.

CLAIRE
The thing is, she was right. She
was always right.
(shaking head)
But I refuse to take her with me.

NINA
(whispering)
We’re running out of time.

Claire goes quiet. The train is getting closer.

NINA (CONT’D)
Say it Claire.

CLAIRE
I was…

Claire turns her head to watch the train approaching. She
looks back at Nina with a scared expression.

NINA
You were what Claire?

CLAIRE
A…

NINA
A what Claire?

Claire watches the train approaching. When she looks back
Nina’s gone.

CLAIRE
A good mother.

In the end, I thought this script was really, really good. It doesn’t quite cross over into the exceptional stratosphere, but there is no doubt that it is:

Rating: Recommended Reading

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