Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Pat Reviews “The Senator’s Wife”


Many of you know our very good friend Pat (“GimmeaBreak”). She has been a great and intelligent contributor to our subtext study, character depth study, and just about every other topic that we’ve explored here.

Like our previous reviewers, she too, has been recognized on
TriggerStreet as “Reviewer of the Month.” She has three stories under her name that have shot up into Top Ten status and a new fourth story called Schism that seems to be headed for similar accolades.

She’s very honest, and I so appreciate her time and thoughts.

-MM

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STRUCTURE:

Act I – three main characters introduced: Rosalind, Donny and Joel. Rosalind’s goal – to get her husband elected. Donny’s goal – to get his book back. Joel’s goal – to get Rosalind to visit Ian. Don’t know which one’s the protag – all three? No antags apparent yet. No idea about the theme. None of the characters are particularly likeable either. Not sure what the opportunity turning point is. Joel filching Donny’s book (and the trip to Florida) could be one but that happens a little late in the act. Rosalind hasn’t made any remarkable decisions through this point and is “rescued” at the end of the first act by her husband so that narrows the possibility that she’s an active protag. Donny hasn’t made any unforced decisions yet, either. Everything he’s done is a result of Joel’s blackmail. Joel is the only one so far to have made any affirmative decisions or taken a proactive stance.

Act II – the “change of plans” turning point should be a decision made by the protag that takes him/her in a new direction. There’s a change of plans, for sure, but it’s Donny throwing Rosalind into the Neon’s trunk that changes her plans, not a decision she, herself, made. Again, she’s not an active protag. Things happen to her and around her – she just reacts to circumstances. Midway through the second act, there should have been a “point of no return” where the protag decides that there’s no turning back, that she has to see the thing out come hell or high water. I can’t find anything that resembles this turning point. There’s a point where Rosalind thinks about leaving but Donny pulls her out of the cab rather than Rosalind taking the action. Also, near the place where the second act should end with the major setback, it looks like the thugs may get Rosalind but, again, someone else rescues her. From a beat point-of-view, Rosalind learning of Ian’s cancer feels like the end of the second act but it doesn’t coincide with any goal that Rosalind has expressed until only a page before the disappointment.

Act III – this should be the protag’s final push toward goal achievement but this act doesn’t play out that way. Rosalind gives up on the Ian thing and returns to her husband. Donny gives up on the Big Guy and the diner just before the cops take him down. Joel is hauled away and returned to the orphanage. We learn that Arthur wins the election without knowing if Rosalind’s past was ever publicly revealed. All we get is a brief “we’ve separated” comment from Rosalind. She learns that Joel is her son, not Ian (something this reader knew all along), and that Joel dies of cancer. Rosalind bails Donny out of jail and the two stroll off into the sunset after Joel’s funeral. The end. The climatic turning point doesn’t even involve the protag – it’s Joel’s revelation that Donny’s book is still back in the diner.

STORY:

I was disappointed. The setup – a hard-hitting senator’s wife working to get him reelected and the possibility of a mob-enforcer derailing the plan – was intriguing but wasn’t really carried through. It morphed from what had the potential to be a dramatic political thriller into a melodramatic, MOW for Oxygen or Hallmark. The B-stories, something to do with the backgrounds of the cops, the judge that owed a ton of money to the mob and Donny’s unpaid debt, were never really explored or resolved (especially Donny’s bit – he can’t just show up unharmed at the end of the story without letting us know what happened to all the money he owed to the big guy). Much of it bordered on illogical and unbelievable, too. The Joel character never played like a 10-year-old, I couldn’t buy that a man running for U.S. Senator didn’t know his wife any better than Arthur “knew” Rosalind, and that Arthur’s opponent didn’t have the wherewithal to get the dirt on his opponent. There wasn’t much in the way of reversals – it played out just like I knew it would.

CHARACTERS:

During the first few pages, two things came to mind: Hillary Clinton and the movie The Contender. I don’t like Hillary but I was able to put that dislike aside. I’m a huge fan of The Contender and hoped this character would be as intriguing as the Joan Allen character. Sadly, she wasn’t. As a protag, she wasn’t active. Things happened to her. Decisions were made by others. There wasn’t a clear antag, either. Joel and Donny helped Rosalind come to grips with her true self, they didn’t impede any of her goals (whatever they were). Rosalind had an arc of sorts – she came to an acceptance of her roots – but I suspect that it was an acceptance forced on her by her husband as a result of her dishonesty. Nowhere does the story hint that Rosalind left Arthur because she couldn’t play the part anymore. Again, another instance of the protag’s life being moved in a direction by actions other than her own.

DIALOG:

Serviceable for the most part. Again, as mentioned earlier, Joel didn’t speak like a 10-year-old but had a unique voice. Same with Donny and Rosalind. It was easy to identify the speaker without knowing the name. One note – the “little fucker” reference toward the end needs to be removed for TV.

FORMAT:

No concerns other than those mentioned in the reading notes.

CONCEPT:

A girl from the wrong side of the tracks makes good but find true happiness only when she returns to her roots.

READING NOTES:

- p 1 – Gack, I hate it when I see a V.O. narration on page 1.
- Odd capitalization is a bit confusing
- p 3-4 – courtroom scene unrealistic
- Rosalind reminds me of Hillary Clinton.
- a number of formatting conventions ignored. Ex – unfilmable asides, unfilmable descriptions, numbers in dialog not written out, etc.
- Joel doesn’t sound remotely like a 10-year-old kid
- twelve pages in and I haven’t a clue who I’m supposed to be rooting for. Both of the main characters introduced – Rosalind and Donny – have been given equal screen time and both are thoroughly unlikeable so far.
- the more the story goes on, the more unbelievable it becomes primarily as a result of the Joel character. If he were 13 or 14, I could buy it but 10 is too young.
- if a bunch of 10-year-old kids could discover this stuff about Rosalind, why couldn’t the hired guns of the opponent get to it, too?
- p 35 – another major character introduced?
- by p 41, I’ve grown weary of this cat-and-mouse game between Joel and Donny and the ultra-passive protag (Rosalind?) who just goes along for the ride. As a movie, I don’t see this working on the big screen and even as a made-for-Hallmark TV flick, it’s pretty uninteresting. If I had managed to stay tuned ‘til this point, I would certainly change channels here.
- p 54 – ok, I see where this is going. The parentless Joel is going to end up with Rosalind. Please don’t let me be right.
- p 70 – the ball never gets hit to the farthest row of the nosebleed seats.
- p 75 – in the diner, Donny guarded his food with his right arm, not his left.
- if it’s a suspected kidnapping across state lines, why are Florida cops still involved? Wouldn’t it have been turned over to the FBI as soon as they crossed over from Florida into Georgia?
- p 100 – Rosalind’s speech is pure exposition. Boring!
- p 104 – feels like the major setback. Rosalind learns Ian is dying.

Back to The Senator's Wife

19 comments:

Mystery Man said...

Hey Pat, thanks again.

There were a number of unresolved subplots. I, too, wondered what happened with Donny and his situation. And I think that at some point, her past should've been revealed and hit the media. It was like introducing a loaded gun, which should've gone off at some point. It was all too "safe." A great big public scandal would've mixed things up nicely, and her revealing her past to her husband and the world seemed to be a necessary resolution to this subplot with her husband, and I think we needed to see that.

I gotta say, too, that I love this concept, and I think it's workable and people would go to this. How happy they'd be leaving the theater is another matter, and this middle-of-the-road melodrama / comedy approach just isn't satisfying. You want the story to either be a flat-out comedy or take itself and its story seriously and have the courage to go all the way with it. I'd suggest they just aim for high, 4-star drama where everything's taken very seriously and there are very high, very real stakes involved in the revelation of her past. That's a great concept.

-MM

GimmeABreak said...

I agree with you that the middle-of-the-road approach didn't work. While I enjoy a good comedy, political thrillers are one of my fave genres and The Contender is in my top five. I kept hoping this would be something like that but they didn't take it in that direction. I'd be happy to help them with a rewrite... hehe

Mystery Man said...

You'd be a good one for it! They should totally turn to you!

Hehehe...

-MM

Mim said...

Good review, Pat. It's an honor to be paired with you.

GimmeABreak said...

Ah, shucks... (huge blush) (back at ya, Mim)

Joshua James said...

Can I ask a general question, MM?

Can we have a great movie where the protagonist just reacts to what happens to them?

I know the reasons for an active protag, believe me, I do . . . I simply wondered if there is a great movie in which radical shit happens to a character we happen to like?

I think Groundhog Day as an example . . . tho' one can make the argument that everything happens becuz Phil's a shit and it's only when he decides not to be a shit that life stops repeating . . . however, this is only underlined at the end . . . we have no idea why or what entity caused Phil's predictment, right?

And can I add, I get that VO's bother readers, and I know that a lot of bad scripts use VO's, but we also know that a lot of GREAT scripts also use VO's, can't we just let it go? A lot of bad scripts use the word "THE" too, and so do good ones, why wince at a simple tool of story-telling? Shouldn't you instead just judge what's done with the tool?

I mean this as no personal attack, I just hear from a lot of folks I HATE THIS (insert tech here) yadda yadda yadda when in fact there are great scripts that use that very tool . . .

Joshua James said...

I want to add, I don't mean to crap on the great analysis Pat did, I thought it was an outstanding breakdown, the questions I asked and the VO thing was just at the top of my head . . . so everything I mentioned and / asked was done so with a smile, you know?

Ann Wesley Hardin said...

I was afraid of this. You really can't give a kid terminal cancer in a romcom. Sorry. I mean, serious issues with a deft touch is what makes them stand out, but there's no way to deft-en a dying kid.

I'm disappointed. Wah!

GimmeABreak said...

My two cents on Groundhog -

Phil starts out as a semi-unlikeable scoundrel and I think we don't hate him because 1) it's Bill Murray and 2) we know he's deluded because he has no reason to be so full of himself. He's kinda like Harrison Ford was in the first Star Wars - arrogant but still likeable. (Also, having him start a tad smug and self-satisfied makes his arc so much better.)

As far as him being passive, I don't see that being the case. He spends the whole movie trying to figure out how to get past that one day. Yes, he does react to what happens to him but he has a clear goal (get out of today) and does everything in his power to achieve that goal even going so far as to commit suicide in an attempt to make it stop. He's not passive in the sense that he sits around waiting for things to happen - he tries to make things happen differently.

In the SP being analyzed, the female lead doesn't lead - she follows. That's what I meant by passive and reactive (rather than proactive).

Hope this doesn't sound snotty - I have a problem with that... :-(

Joshua James said...

Not at all snotty . . . at least, not any snottier than I sounded, tho I tried not to . . . and you're right, Phil does want something . . . tho he doesn't spend the entire movie trying to break out, he spends a lot of it enjoying the freedom (banging hot chicks, robbing bank trucks, eating food bad for him) and only really tries to break out when he reaches the point where nothing satisfies him, right?

Which is still more reactive than active . . . but I take your point.

Can you think of any good movies when the protag does just react?

GimmeABreak said...

Don't know if you're familiar with Blake Snyder but he would say that Phil's hedonistic indulgences are the "fun and games" section of the second act where the protag takes advantage of/explores the new situation created by the decision he/she makes at the end of the first act. When the "fun and games" are over - midpoint of the second act, usually - the protag makes another decision whereby he commits fully to goal achievement.

The closest I can come to in terms of a "passive" protag (or a reactive one) is Forrest Gump. Most of the story is him reacting to circumstances in the narration he gives while he's waiting for the bus that will take him to his lady love. I understand, though, that Zemekis had a helluva time getting that made.

Joshua James said...

Yeah, I'm familiar with Blake and his cat, we exchanged emails sometime back, even . . .

Still, fun and games aside, it's hard to see that Phil had an active goal then . . . first he wanted to get out of town, then out of that day and life, then he just wanted to enjoy himself, then he wanted into Andie's pants, letting go of all that and not wanting anything for himself sort of set him free of the mechanicism of the script, right?

Forrest Gump, right . . . that turned out pretty well for Zemekas . . .

Thanks for the exchange of ideas -

Mystery Man said...

Hey, I'd like to jump in on this!

First, "The Senator's Wife" - in a scenario like this particular draft where you know that the lead will be played by the lovely Jennifer Aniston, it's too risky to have that character be so passive. If I had been given this assignment, she would've been a character with enormous depth, has a lot of different sides to her, and she would've been very active in mixing up the plot. You really don't want to put Jennifer into a role that would make her vulnerable to criticism from critics and fans simply because "she didn't do anything." And that would be a fairly valid complaint here, because Rosalind practically made only one decision - to go along with little Joel and Donny, and she coasts throughout the story until she gets to that emotional climax at the end. She really needed to mix up the plot, and I completely agreed with Pat. A passive character is usually a very weak character, because they aren't doing much. An active character could have a lot of layers and depth, acting one way toward one character, another way toward another character BECAUSE he/she wants something. We learn about characters by the decisions that they make (which impacts a story) and just by how and why they try to influence other characters.

There are exceptions (thank you, Pat). On a personal note, I've read many, many scripts, and I can tell you that a passive protag never fails to annoy me.

I don't know why.

-MM

Laura Deerfield said...

A passive character can be interesting IF that passivity puts them at odds with their world. They must be passive for a reason. They must want something - and that want must drive their refusal to participate in events. What creates a connection with a characters is (primarily) the fact that they are being thwarted in their desire.

Rosalind never seems to care about anything. She doesn't seem to have any goals or wants or desires or conflicts. She doesn't seem to really care about whether her husband is elected. She seems to be mostly distanced from her past, so there's not much emotion in that. She doesn't even seem all that passionate about the idea of not being exposed. Not enough to do much to prevent it. And then when she does go home, she doesn't seem to care much about the consequences.

If she doesn't care, why should we?

Donny's not any better.


Phil in Groundhog Day reacts to his situation, and does so demonstrably, in a number of different ways. Changing his reactions and changing his goal is just fine - it's character growth. In fact, this film was used in a Buddhist Psychology course at my college as an example of the stages of growth on the path to enlightenment. (Yes, I went to a grad school with classes like Buddhist Psych.)

Donny and Rosalind seem to just shrug and go along with it. Besides, Groundhog Day was actually funny. This was not.

As for Forrest Gump, I couldn't tell you why the film worked, because I can't stand it. Hate it, in fact.

(As for VO, I personally don't hate it as a matter of course - it's just rarely done well. In this case, not only did it fail to add anything, it was stiff and awkward - and it was paced poorly - which I discuss in my review.)

Mystery Man said...

I really enjoyed reading that, Laura. Your first paragraph made me think of a scenario where, say, a group of kids decides to do something wrong, but one character chooses to be passive in the sense that he/she chooses not to participate in this thing and then finds himself/herself in conflict with the rest of the group. Is that what you had in mind? Even by this definition (of a passive protag that could work), that protag still has wants and needs of some kind and makes a choice to DO something that mixes up the plot. And we didn't see anything even remotely like that in Rosalind.

With respect to voice over, I'm not opposed to it so long as it serves the story in a way that couldn't be done in the narrative (like the voice over in Apocalypse Now), but here it was needlessly preachy. I'm almost always opposed to overt preaching like that, even if it's something I agree with, because more often than not, it insults the audience's intelligence. Besides, we've heard that same sermon about "little things" a billion times in films already, and it's just better to let the audience come to their own conclusions rather than be told what to think.

-MM

Mim said...

MM, did you perhaps mean Michael J. Fox's character in Casualties of War? He refuses to participate in the rape and murder of the Vietnamese girl and his buddies all threaten to kill him.

Speaking of MJF, I used him as an example of an anti-hero type character in Back to the Future. During the first act, he is pretty passive, and it's only because he's trying to get away from bad guys that he ends up in 1955. It's not until the second act turn that he becomes an active protag and begins his journey.

Rosalind starts off the same way. She is thrust into a situation against her will, but she never tries to exert any influence over it.

bob said...

Here's my two cents on the Forrest Gump passive protag issue.

Forrest Gump was a bright eyed idealist. Maybe it was because he was slow witted and didn't know any better. But that doesn't matter, he was an idealist.

Sometimes a protagonist's struggle to not change in the face of incredible pressure to do so is as strong if not stronger than someone who exhibits a great arc. Forrest underwent some extreme tests in his life- physical handicap, bullying teenagers, Vietnam, Losing his Jenny one time, Losing his jenny to AIDS. All of these were challenges that could break a man and cause him to be cynical about life. But not Forrest, Forrest remained the eternal optomist. He fought back the only way he knew how, by being an optimist and taking the lemons and making lemonade. And by doing so he changed the lives of Captain Dan, his mother, and his Jenny. He changed the fatalistic and self pitying Captain Dan and turned his life around by getting him to work the shrimpboats. He taught jenny to understand the nature of true love and friendship and let her come to peace with her demons by being a constant source of love in his life, never wavering, even when jenny pushed him away.

Forrest is essentially an allegory for the optimism of the american people. We overcame the bigotry of the south, the divisive war in vietnam, the 40 year crush of the cold war, and the crisis of aids and still retained our optimism. I am probably over analyzing this film, but I thought it was brilliant in it's simplicity and it's message.

As those of you who have read Fr. Max, this issue is a little close to my heart, so that's my two cents. I love this discussion by the way!!

Laura Deerfield said...

Thank you Bob, that actually makes sense.


As for the character who remains passive, who wants to maintain their status quo despite things changing around them - I was thinking of Stranger Than Fiction.

Ann Wesley Hardin said...

Well, there ya go. A character who only seems to remain passive in the face of things changing, a character who wants to maintain status quo, isn't actually a passive character.

This is a character who has made an active choice. He won't let anyone or anything change him. Though he appears to want nothing, to have no goal, in effect, his goal and want is to maintain himself, as is, against all comers.

This is an interesting character! And that's why Forrest Gump and Stranger Than Fiction succeeded. People can sense this.

But when you have a character who just lets life happen to them, never learns anything and never takes a stand (even if that stand is just to preserve status quo)...not so much. Which seems to be the problem with The Senator's Wife. From all this discourse I have a mental picture of her, and my picture is sort of like those silhouettes the police use as target practice. LOL.