Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem
How goes it, friends?
I watched a movie last week that infuriated me.
So much so that I pretty much gave up screenwriting.
Thankfully that only lasted a day.
The movie I watched was I Give It A Year. Watch it on Netflix here.
After much thought, I realize that it infuriated me because it could have been GREAT. But was content to be GOOD. And instead came out BAD.
In trying to figure out why it didn’t work, I learned some common pitfalls of genre movies.
- The conclusion cannot be inevitable.
The characters’ fate has to be in real jeopardy.
In an action movie, it’s particularly hard because we’ve seen heroes escape all kinds of peril and our expectations have inflated. But I’m sure it can be done. Don’t ask me, I write comedy.
In romantic comedies, the central question is “Will the main characters find true love?” The answer to that question CANNOT be easy. The obstacles CANNOT be easy to overcome.
In I Give It A Year, however, the answer to that question was very easy. The filmmakers set up the ending far too obviously with soundtrack choices and weak plot choices. The obstacle (there was really only one) was, in my view, non-existent. At one point, a supporting character even challenges the main character as to why he can’t reach out and grab happiness. Tellingly, he is unable to answer. The obstacle in this movie was a straw man.
That’s no fun. I want to care. I want to be gripped by a movie by characters I care about in real peril. If I already know the ending, what’s the point in watching?
The only reason I did honestly was because I’m a comedy writer. And I regret that because I made myself rather upset.
2. The characters have to be real and interesting.
In I Give It A Year, a ‘lovable loser’ marries an ‘uptight career woman’.
And that’s as much characterization as either character is given in the entire movie. I’m not even joking.
The comedy came mostly from the supporting characters, who were miles more interesting, had gallons more depth, yet infuriatingly were obviously given less screen-time.
Again, if I don’t like the main characters and/or if I’m not interested in them, why should I watch this movie?
More importantly, why should I care if they are happy or sad, alive or dead, in the end?
3. The characters have to be consistent.
At one point in the movie, the ‘lovable loser’ turns to his ‘uptight’ wife and chides her for getting the words to popular songs wrong.
Now if he was such a ‘loser’, why would he care? His best friend, and best man at his wedding, never gets anything right. Why should his wife?
And come to think of it, if she is really such a perfectionist, why is she getting the words wrong in the first place?
But I laughed out loud – and I’m still laughing – at this moment because I thought, finally, we’re getting some depth from these characters. We’ve all got contradictions, so that moment made the characters seem more real.
But that was as far as reality went with this movie.
4. Please, God, please write some real women! And give them something fun to do!
The ‘lovable loser’, by dint of his ‘lovable-ness’, got some pretty funny moments in the movie.
The wife however was uptight and continued to be so the whole movie. She didn’t get to cut loose, break out, be the butt of a joke or tell one.
The two main female characters were so so boring in this movie. And unrecognizable as human beings.
Anna Faris’ character? “Badly dressed social justice type.” Stuck on the ‘lovable loser’, of course. Since why would any woman want to be with someone worth her while?
5. Completely useless interstitial element.
The film is framed by the couple going to a number of therapy sessions (with a bonkers Olivia Colman) when their marriage hits the rocks at 9 months.
The sessions don’t show us anything other than the fact that the therapist is bonkers. It sets up the pointless Act 3 struggle. Pointless because we, and the filmmakers, already know the ending. So the characters’ struggle is a waste of time and energy.
6. Don’t just string together set-pieces with no connecting tissue.
It felt like the script was made out of someone’s ‘spilt jam’ notebook. Like someone just thought about all the funny things that could happen to a couple and made a script out of them. Regardless of whether those situations could arise organically from the characters or the story the filmmakers set out to tell.
Don’t get me wrong, this movie was hysterically funny. But the funny bits often seemed completely out of character.
And ultimately, the movie didn’t have any emotional DNA. There was no theme. A string of events unfolding before us with no meaning.
I wanted to like this movie. It’s just up my alley. But I hated it.
I was super upset. Simon Baker! Rose Byrne (from Bridesmaids)! How’d they get such great stars with such mediocre characters?
Time to write some real comedy.
And friends, if I go to production with a script that’s anything less than stellar, you have my full permission to shoot me. Or at least, tell me what the matter is.
If I don’t listen, then you can shoot me.
Lots of love,
Sabina, The Happy Muslimah.
4 thoughts on “6 pitfalls of genre movies”
Sabina, you have an amazing ability to analyze movies without spoilers. It’s a superpower. I always enjoy and appreciate your thoughts on films.
Haha, thanks Shaula. If you watch the movie, let me know what you think.
After your glowing recommendation I’m not sure I’m going to make this a priority. But if I get trapped watching it on an airplane or somesuch I’ll be sure to report back!
(My idea of a good romcom? Some Like it Hot. The Apartment. The African Queen. You know how cutting edge I am.)
Yes, this might make a good plane movie. Can never follow plots on planes myself. It’s all about the set pieces.
I’ve not seen African Queen. Now those movies have stakes!