ALLIGATORS IN A HELICOPTER

a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Wedding Crashers

So I finally saw this movie, and the obvious advantage is that now I can write about it without feeling like I'm giving anything away, because so many other people have seen it.

(If you haven't seen it, and don't want to read any spoilers, go work on your script. Or write a haiku).

Wedding Crashers (and The 40 Year-Old Virgin) are both examples of how to do a comedy right. The first, obvious thing is that they are both well-cast, and are carried by their leading men, something that is hard to anticipate at the screenwriting/reading stage; comedies are about the hardest thing to figure out if they are actually funny or not when they are sitting on the page, for both the writer and the reader.

I read a lot of comedies, and most don't work on the page, and likely wouldn't on the screen, either. Here's some of the things that Wedding Crashers (and Virgin) both do well.

YOU CARE ABOUT THE CHARACTERS. The central plotline of Wedding Crashers actually has its cheesy/predictable side; clearly Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams are going to wind up together, and some of their romantic scenes are run-to-the-bathroom moments, like their going bike riding together. Meanwhile, her fiance is such an obvious jerk that simply coming to her senses plays a bit too much of a part in her story. Still, the story works, because the basic situation makes us root for Owen to win over Rachel and wonder how he is going to get the chance to do it, which helps drive a lot of the last two-thirds of the film; it's formulaic, but they nail it here.

Importantly, the writers mine humor from the main characters while keeping them real and not demeaning them (with the possible exception of the horny mom and the weird gay son, both of whom subsequently feel underused and unsatisfying). Isla Fisher's character has her wacky side that is mined for some good laughs, but her character becomes appealing along the way, and though Vince Vaughn gets abused in the second act, the writers nicely juggle the sense that he is deserving of this and that he's growing from his experiences. Both romances have their good moments, with some of the more pat falling-in-love bits between Owen and Rachel enlivened by some solid details, like their hand-slapping bit or their banter, while the Vince Vaughn/Isla Fisher romance is quirky, original and funny. (Similarly, in The 40 Year-Old Virgin, the characters are kept real and sympathetic throughout, even as the writers are finding a lot of laughs in their experiences).

THE STORY HANGS TOGETHER. The best comedies find a solid storyline, and then hang a lot of funny setpieces on them. Wedding Crashers drags a tad in its third act, but the plot is put together well; throughout the movie, we're engaged with what is happening and wondering what will happen next, while the plotting never gets too silly or cartoonish. It also never feels like a cheat; the tale is true to the characters throughout.

IT'S FUNNY - AND IT'S R-RATED. Thank goodness comedies that aren't afraid to be a little adult and raunchy can make some money, or that the makers of these films didn't have to declaw them to get a PG-13 rating. Thank goodness for the kind of crispy, funny dialogue and comic banter between characters that is often attempted by so rarely works as well as it does in these films. And again, a lot of this has to do with casting -- obviously it is easier to write a funny movie for Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn to bring their strengths to, than it is to write one for Rob Schneider and Pauly Shore to pair up in, much less write a movie in which you really can't picture any specific actors in your head until they are actually cast.

IT'S FUN. This is probably the most important thing to keep in mind if one writes a comedy -- that the audience loves to go on an entertaining ride in which funny stuff happens to interesting characters whose tale spins in solid, humorous ways and all comes out right in the end. Movies like this aren't made to change the world; they are made to entertain people. But too many of the comedies I read just make me wonder who they were written to entertain; even if you don't want to feel you are writing to entertain everyone, entertain someone. At the minimum, entertain yourself; often I feel that people are writing the kind of comedies that they think other people will like -- they are copying something that worked even though they didn't like it, or get it, themselves.

In a certain sense, Wedding Crashers feels like a no-brainer; pairing up Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn is fairly high-concept, and they play off each other so well that one can't wait for the next movie they do together. But Wedding Crashers also works because it does a lot of subtle things well, because it isn't afraid to be funny yet (with the possible exception of some of Will Ferrell's late bits) doesn't strain for it, because the plot allows for some good comic setpieces, and those setpieces deliver, because Rachel McAdams is adorable, and because, by the end, it fulfills all of our expectations about what we want the movie to be, and it even has some heart, which people want more than many will admit.

They even get away without the characters crashing a wedding for about an hour in the middle of the movie.

All I know is that watching it made be want to rewrite one of my old scripts, that tried to be fun like this but never acheived it consistently; juggling story, character and big consistent laughs certainly isn't easy, but when it is done well it makes you want to tackle it.

Now if we could only do something about Owen Wilson's nose...

9 Comments:

At 10:03 AM, Blogger The Moviequill said...

I think Owen is preparing for the Chinatown remake, since he has Jake Gittes nose work down

 
At 10:32 AM, Blogger CD said...

Scott --

Could you talk about what you see in comedy scripts that just doesn't work? I'm in the middle of writing a comedy and anything advice about what I could do (or what I should avoid) to help "bring the funny" to the page.

It seems to me that 90% of the comedy on the page is dialogue -- not necessarily sight gags. For example, in Dumb and Dumber where Harry hits Lloyd with his cane at the Aspen high society party I cry with laughter. However, on the page I know that's just "Harry hits Lloyd with his cane."

CD

 
At 10:42 AM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

I think comedy needs to be more than just funny dialogue; it needs to be comic situations that come out of the story you have put together, humor that comes out of the characters and the places they find themselves in.

It's hard to say what doesn't work, because it's different for every script. But too often people just strain to find humor (adding fart gags, or giving characters silly names, or having them fall down) rather than having it be part of a whole story-character-comedy interplay in which each feeds the other.

The best scripts are able to do this so well, that when you read "Harry hits Lloyd with his cane", you can picture it, and it's funny. It's not easy to do, though -- comedies are hard to bring across effectively.

 
At 11:39 PM, Blogger Mark said...

Scott

Have you read any good dark comedies lately?

One time an agent told me he loved them, but they were the toughest to sell. And if they sold them the darkness was taken to a dim.

Mark

 
At 12:38 AM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

Dark comedies are tough, because they need to be good to make money, and often have a name actor attached. If you write a good one, your best chance might be to get it to a director who will spark to it and can get it made.

Nothing jumps out in my head about recent dark comedies that I might have read (and I tend to try to forget about things as soon as I have covered them), while I've been reading a lot of books recently.

There are probably companies more likely to look at dark comedies than others, though who that may be is not really my area of expertise.

 
At 11:30 AM, Blogger CD said...

Scott -- thanks for your comments.

* * *

Mark --

I haven't read it but I think Fun Joel (another blogging pro script reader) mentioned Pretty Persuasion as being one of the best scripts that he read recently. It's supposed to be kind of a dark comedy ala Heathers.

It seems -- IMHO -- like there's more room for error in a dark comedy than others. I think part of the reason that Heathers worked so well (besides it being so well written) was that it could be viewed as kind of the negative cynical version of all those John Hughes high school movies (Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles, etc.).

You know a good example of a dark comedy? Eli Roth's Cabin Fever. There's so many over-the-top comedic moments mixed in straight horror scenes. That's dark comedy for me anyway.

CD

 
At 1:53 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

The problem is that Pretty Persuasion came out, got largely unenthusiastic reviews, and tanked -- which isn't going to help the genre.

 
At 8:46 PM, Blogger ScriptWeaver said...

So - I've seen both movies and don't mind the spoilers, but I wrote a haiku anyway...

Wedding Crashers rock
Forty year old virgins rule
I busted a gut.

 
At 5:09 PM, Blogger sretherf said...

What makes "Wedding Crashers" is the concept. It's high concept without being over-the-top. I feel like, once they had the simple concept, they had plenty to work with. Sure, it would take work to get the final story hammered out, but basically the concept sets it all up perfectly. I really commend them for realizing that and pursuing the idea. Most people would have probably been thrown off by the simplicity and thrown out the idea...

 

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