Hey, why am I rushing through this? Because my #3 and #2 favorite Hollywood movies of last year are both movies I’ve already covered extensively. #3: Cedar Rapids was an underrated movie, and #2: Rise of the Planet of the Apes was the topic of a whole week of Storyteller’s Rulebook posts:
- Create Reversible Behaviors
- Limit Your Hero’s Perspective
- Great Genre Stories Must Be Metaphors
- Reboots Must Re-Establish the Metaphor
The Story: When a disappointed wife (Julianne Moore) requests a divorce from her listsless husband (Steve Carrell), he seeks out the help of a local lothario (Ryan Gosling) to re-awaken his manhood, but just as Carell discovers his wild side, Gosling suddenly feels an urge to settle down with a straight-laced young lawyer (Emma Stone).
Why This One: Was this my favorite movie of the year? No, that was probably The Artist, but it was my favorite home-grown movie because, on a nuts-and-bolts level –-the scenework, the dialogue, the characterization–- it was so elegantly put together. It’s a master class in heartfelt writing, which is something Hollywood doesn’t know how to do anymore. Co-directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa knew a good thing when they saw it, so they shot Dan Fogelberg’s screenplay exactly as it was on the page
Rules It Drove Home:
- People only want what they want: This rule could have been the title of the movie, in which every character (the couple, their kids, their babysitter, their kid’s teachers, everybody) keeps getting walloped by their own unrequited, irrational desires, which they are helpless to ignore. Carrell and Moore have whole (beautifully-written) conversations where each one literally doesn’t listen to a thing that the other says. Yes, there are times when characters try to give each other advice, but every time, it’s hopelessly tainted by the advice-giver’s own frustrated desires and limited perspective.
- Build up false expectations beforehand: Let’s start with the first line of the movie: Carrell can’t decide on what desert they should have, so he asks his wife what she wants, and she replies, “I want a divorce.” From that point on, characters are constantly convincing themselves (and the audience) that something good is about to happen, only to encounter shocking reversals. Stone doesn’t get the proposal she expects, a PTA-meeting reconciliation that seems to be going great for Carrell suddenly turns hellish, an elaborate backyard romantic gesture ends in disaster… This movie toys with our emotions expertly.
- The twist must make sense immediately: This movie has a clever twist ¾ of the way in that forces us to re-interpret a lot of what we’ve seen, but we make that left turn very quickly (two quick questions are asked, along the lines of “Wait, but then how…”), then the movie charges forward. Fogelberg has very slyly been setting it up the whole time with little odd moments we don’t really notice… until it all suddenly clicks into place.