Tuesday, May 29, 2007

David Muhlfelder Reviews "The Senator's Wife"



Hey guys,

I’ve mentioned before that my script reviews on
TriggerStreet average about 2000 words, and if I really love your story, I might go up to 5000 words. On the other hand, our very good friend David Muhlfelder will shoot you down with unbelievable accuracy in about 200 words or less, and I SO admire that skill. He always makes me think of David & Goliath. While I would take down any giant with a submachine gun riddling holes into every crevice of its body, David will use a simple pebble and sling and never fail to hit his target right between the eyes.

Hehehe

David has reviewed over 600 scripts (and counting!) and has been recognized as a Reviewer of the Month on TriggerStreet where you can also find
4 superb screenplays he’s written, which have all been Top Ten favorites (as rated by his peers). And, well, I love his bio: “From the age of 16 months to 5 years, I lived in a state mental hospital in Harrisburg, Pa. My father, a German/Jewish psychiatrist and refugee from Nazi Germany, was the hospital's clinical director. We had a nice house on the grounds. We got all our food for free from the hospital grocery store. We ate steak almost every night. I was happy there. One day I hope to return to a place just like it. I think I'm well on my way.”

While this is a little more than 200 words, it is, as always, superb.

Thanks so much, David.

-MM

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A CAPITOL IDEA

I’m used to reading and reviewing spec scripts. It’s quite a different experience reading and reviewing a script that’s in production and starring Jennifer Aniston. I went into it looking for those elements that got this project greenlit, and there were many. A strong high concept anchored this story. A ten-year old boy enlists a leg breaker for a loan shark to track down the biological mother of a dying friend who gave the baby up for adoption, and is now the socialite wife of a Florida senatorial candidate. From this premise, I found myself wanting to know what happened next thanks to clean and well-paced writing. Although, there were a few too many unfilmmable character internals for my taste, we all know that the “rules” are different for working writers. The twist ending truly caught me by surprise. But while the ending addressed many of the concerns I had with the first two thirds of the script, I also felt a bit manipulated, dirty even. But more on that later.

Young Joel was a truly resourceful character, maybe a bit too resourceful. Precocious children have always been a staple of movies. Tatum O’Neal in “Paper Moon” and Natalie Portman in “The Professional” are good examples. The latter kept coming to mind as Joel used Donny, and then Rosalind, to do his bidding. But you never lost sight of the fact that Mathilde in “The Professional” was a child, even when she talked tough and smoked cigarettes. Especially in the first half of the story, Joel just didn’t sound and act like a ten-year old. With the exception of pretending that Donny was his father in the hospital corridor, I missed seeing the vulnerable child under the streetwise orphan. Both Donny and Rosalind were crafty survivors, which made it hard to buy that they could be so easily manipulated by Joel. Joel’s ability to orchestrate events so perfectly, and Donny’s and Rosalind’s willingness to fall in line undercut any rising tension the situation presented. I never had any doubt that Joel would succeed. The writer had to rely on external elements (tornadoes, red necks, the police, etc.) to create obstacles. Given what was going on in their own lives, neither Donny nor Rosalind seemed overly concerned that this child turned both their lives upside down. They treated it more as an inconvenience. It made Donny, especially, come off as somewhat passive. Even though Joel had something on both Donny and Rosalind, it would have been nice to see them at least attempt to wrest control of the situation from him, or attempt to change the equation in some way. Instead, the focus is on the surrogate mother-son/father-son relationship that develops between Rosalind and Joel and Donny and Joel, which was pretty predictable and unsurprising.

Without giving it away, the twist ending explained a lot about Joel’s motivation and determination (If not his uncanny ability to pull off his plan), but at the same time it left a bad taste in my mouth. It was sort of the dramatic equivalent of “suddenly everyone is hit by a speeding truck.” Had Donny (And the audience) discovered Joel’s secret early on, not only would it have explained his willingness to go along with all this, but it would have allowed Donny to have more genuine internal conflict as he balanced his working life with Joel’s needs. But as written, it felt like a sentimental cheat. It’s effective, but ultimately it’s unearned emotion.

There were a few minor glitches, which momentarily took me out of the story. The early scenes in New York felt particularly inauthentic. I’ve lived in New York most of my life, and I’ve never heard of a “Little Senegal” section of Harlem. I’m not sure there are enough Senegalese residents here to warrant it. There is no Superior Court in New York. We have the Supreme Court, the Appellate Division, and the Court of Appeals. I don’t know what the writer meant by a “jury-rigged boom box.” I assume she meant jerry-rigged, but I still don’t know what that means in the context it was used. And a pet peeve of mine is people who use the term “holds court.” The correct term is holds FORTH. A minor point, but it bugs me, like when people spell definitely with an “A.”

Finally, I want to say that I really like Jennifer Aniston. She’s attractive, appealing, a deft comedienne, and in films like “The Good Girl,” she has shown serious acting chops. Picturing her as Rosalind was easy. She has taken some critical hits of late for her choice material. She is listed as a producer of “The Senator’s Wife,” so she’s even more invested in this choice. Will it be the one to turn critical opinion around? I don’t know. I’m the guy who proclaimed that Drew Barrymore would win the Oscar for “Riding In Cars With Boys.” But if you pin me down, I’d have to say probably not, for all the reasons stated above. As they say on American Idol, song choice is important.

Back to The Senator's Wife

7 comments:

Mickey Lee said...

David

Sure, don't you know "Little Senegal"? It's right there next to "Little Vanuatu." Great restaurant there....

I haven't read the script (sorry, MM) but that "Superior Court" thing really bugs me. Pretty scary when a professional writer can't do the basic research (like, say, watch one episode of "Law & Order").

James said...

"I also felt a bit manipulated, dirty even."

That was my biggest issue with the script.

"The twist ending explained a lot about Joel’s motivation and determination (If not his uncanny ability to pull off his plan), but at the same time it left a bad taste in my mouth. It was sort of the dramatic equivalent of “suddenly everyone is hit by a speeding truck.”"

I'd personally go one step farther. It's like them getting hit by the truck, getting up, crossing the street, to be hit by another truck, and then that truck throws it in reverse to make sure the damage is done.

GimmeABreak said...

Hope you're happy, MM. Muhlfelder won't be able to do any TS reviews for at least two weeks because he used up his word quota on this one! hehe

bob said...

David is in a creative rennaisance right now. He'll be fine Pat!!

Mystery Man said...

Thanks so much, David. DefinAtely a superb review. Hehehe...

I connected most with your paragraph on Young Joel. I completely agreed. He reminded me of Max Fischer in Rushmore. You can buy into contrivances like that in a quirky comedy, but not so much here. Once they got to that roller coaster ride that no longer worked, it felt to me that the plot had run out of steam, and I was just waiting for the inevitable ending. And your comments about the external elements and the other characters failing to wrest control out of Joel is dead on. Just a great review.

Thanks so much, David.

-MM

David said...

MM

Thanks for asking. And Mickey Lee, good point about Law & Order. How many times do they super "Supreme Court" in a single episode. Little Vanuatu? You slay me.

Mystery Man said...

I'm really proud and happy to have you as a part of this.

-MM