Wednesday, August 28, 2013

"Don't kill yourself tonight."

It's overcast today with a bit of rain and thunderstorms from mid-morning through tomorrow.  Yes, I started with weather.  No, I'm not changing my rule (adopted from Mr. Leonard) - consider it both foreshadowing and a testimony as to how much I've been thinking about E.L.'s passing.  I generally don't pay much attention to the goings on of the "rich and famous" or "celebrity" but I really enjoyed his story telling and the idea that there will not be another "Rum Punch" (a.k.a "Jackie Brown") is disappointing.  They weren't perfect, or for everyone, but they were laugh out loud funny and I have tried to emulate his style with a few pieces.

Today, however, is not about ole E.L.  It's about "Little Miss Sunshine" because Wednesday's are “Tales From the Script”.

LMS needs a little over an hour and you'll want to be able to read it in a single sitting.  Few of the scripts I've read were as compelling and demanded that I resume my read as quickly as possible after getting off the train.  The film is 'R' for language and if the script is any indication, there's about six movies worth in there - and not the lightweight stuff, I'm talking big box, Costco sized bombs being dropped by pretty much everyone except the youngest character.  She is pure, naive joy - an island of hope surrounded by broken dreams, wasted lives, and maniacal misery.

The plot is very straightforward.  Little Miss Sunshine is the name of a beauty pageant in Florida. Our story begins in Maryland.  It takes place over a weekend.  You guessed it, road trip movie.  It even has the stereotypical cast - Goofy Dad, Mom who holds things together, moody Son, quirky extended family members, battered car, etc.  But there's a twist - Dad is scary, not just goofy.   Mom is on the verge of a breakdown the whole time.  The moody son?  All set-up for major character development.

This isn't just an off-beat comedy.  It's a drama with serious story chops.  The family is hysterical and dysfunctional but each character is uniquely written, with his own voice and own psychosis which remain consistent and lead to seriously funny situations/lines and powerful arcs for everybody.  Except LMS herself.  Much like Dr. Kimble in “The Fugitive”, she drives the action, forces the change, yet remains much as she was on page one.

As a writer, I picked up a couple of things that I liked.  The first was how Mr. Arndt wrote telephone conversations.  Compact, efficient, and completely trusting the actor to get it right.  I'll be able to save pages going forward.  I also liked the way sequences were introduced - obvious, but clear and you were quickly back in the story but understanding exactly how it was going to look.  The relationships between the characters were set up with action, dialogue was reserved for laughs.

I haven't quite figured out why this was so great - the story doesn't sound all that intriguing, after all, I'm not into pre-tween beauty pageants, and as funny as I think Steve Carrel is, he wasn't in the script.  This is a story to be read a few more times.  There's magic in the page that makes you care and want to see where it's going.  You're rooting for everyone.  I was surprised a couple of times.  It keeps switching between subtle and in-your-face.

I'm sure that Mr. Leonard enjoyed it.  Not quite what he would have written, but certainly up his alley.

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