Tuesday, January 28, 2014

New Checklist and Rulebook Casefile: Empathy for All in Bridesmaids

I’ve updated the Checklist roadtest for Bridesmaids and you can check it out here. Now let’s look at one of the new answers in more depth:

Another new question on the checklist asks if the dialogue shows empathy for every character and this is something Bridesmaids excels at, as shown by the scene where Annie has an awkward lunch with her “nemesis”, Helen.

Many writers think that their hero has to “save the cat” in the first scene and continually save the cat throughout the entire story, but this just isn’t true. The scary truth is that your audience will give you about ten pages before they decide whether or not they like your hero.  If they haven’t identified with the hero by then, they never will, but the upside is that once they’re onboard they will follow your hero anywhere.

Especially in a comedy, this is the point where you want to stop writing scenes that play up your heroes’ rightness and start yanking their certainties out from underneath them. This will test their self-image, and since we’ve chosen to identify with the hero, it will also test our own self-image, causing us to sweat along with the hero.

This is why you need to demonstrate empathy for all. Sacrificing the other characters, turning them into hypocrites or sniveling caricatures, does your hero no favors. If the initial certainties that your hero and audience formed turn out to be true, then they can both coast through the story smugly, untouched by events. But you do want to touch them: not all comedies need to touch our hearts, but they do at least have to poke us in the ribs. We laugh when we feel vulnerable.

Showing empathy for villains will always make your story more meaningful. This scene is funny, but it also makes Helen into a much stronger antagonist, because it makes it harder for Annie, and the audience, to dismiss her. Seeing this side of Helen also makes us understand more why Lillian would like both of these women, and might genuinely choose Helen over Annie, which amps up the jeopardy.

Instead of saying, “Ugh, we hate trophy wives, so we’ll show the world how terrible they are,” the writers of this movies said, “Sure, Helen’s terrible, but have you ever thought how much it would suck to be a trophy wife, attempting to be at-least-somewhat-maternal to kids who see you as an interloping vamp?”

1 comment:

Parker said...

I hadn't thought of this scene in that way. I felt like it was a chance for the audience to see that Annie isn't the only one who can't stand Helen and is therefore justified in her dislike of Helen. But now I'm seeing that it actually does create some sympathy for Helen.

It's also just funny. :)