Thursday, June 07, 2007

James McCormick Reviews “The Senator’s Wife”


Hey guys,

Many of you have interacted with the very smart James McCormick who runs a blog called
On the Scene. He’s been a writer's intern on The Riches, attended USC, graduated from Chapman Film School, and read / covered scripts for various companies.

Great job, James. I really appreciate your time and thoughts.

-MM

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The Senator’s Wife
By Katherine Fugate.
117 pgs.

LOGLINE: A boy blackmails an ex-con, forcing him to kidnap his best friend’s mother (The Senator’s Wife) in an attempt to reunite them.

SPEED PREMISE:

JOEL, a boy of 10, steals DONNY FLYNN’s little black book and mails it to Florida. Donny, a bookie, needs it to do business. Joel convinces Donny that the only way to get his book back is to take him to Florida in search of ROSALIND HARRISON, whom he mailed it to.

Joel’s best friend, Ian is dying of cancer. Joel is trying to reunite Ian with his mother Rosalind.

COMMENTS:

I’m not sure where to begin. This is a Lifetime movie. If that’s what the writer wanted, then mission accomplished. I hold my standards a little higher than that. As such, the comments are going to be based on why this is not a theatrical film.

The MAJOR problem with the script is that the instant Rosalind agrees to willingly participate (no longer be a victim) there is no more conflict. She agrees before page 40. This means the SECOND ACT is not addressing the central premise. As an audience member, we are dragged painfully around by the plot, which is paper thin, full of holes, uninteresting, and worse… contrived.

For example:

1) Donny could simply ask Rosalind to sign for the FedEx package and send it back to him. But he never does. That’s what I would have done.

2) Rosalind decides to leave, conveniently about the end of Act Two, for no apparent reason, when she has shown no signs of resisting prior. It makes absolutely no sense.

3) A tornado, coming out of left field. What did that accomplish? Besides stretching believability beyond belief.

It seems as if the whole script is based on the reuniting scene between mother and son, at the end of the movie, rather than the journey and what that means. No alternatives are presented.

As a result, the script feels like it has made its conclusion from the very beginning instead of finding it along the journey of the story.

TONE:

The title is The Senator’s Wife. With that comes an expectation that the story will somehow be tied to politics. But this story is not.

A big part of the misconception is that the opening scenes are dark and brooding, establishing the calm before the storm that is typical of thriller movies. When we first meet Donny he is beating up a judge (in a very cliché scenario) which reinforces the “political” content of the title.

However, ten pages in or so we meet Joel for the first time. Joel brings a new light to the script and someone for the reader to identify with, as Rosalind has had very little character development and Donny is just a thug.

For the next 50 pages or so, the tone borders on comedy, although I do not think this was intentional.

PROTAGONIST:

Like most Lifetime movies, the woman is the protagonist, even when they aren’t.

The story really revolves around Joel’s mission to reunite Ian with his mother. But the writer keeps trying to force the viewer into Rosalind’s POV. This would actually work, if there was anything that felt like it needed solving on the part of Rosalind. However, there is nothing. She is perfectly fine without child. And likes it that way.

Again the title is misleading, describing Rosalind and not Joel.

THE ENDING: (SPOILERS)

If there was any doubt in your mind that this was a Lifetime movie, the ending should clinch it.

The movie uses cancer as an emotional dramatic tool. It manipulates the audience into feeling by providing a scene that would make anyone cry at any point in the movie. Put a random mother in a hospital, searching for her son, and he is “gone” and you’d be sad too. You could open a movie on that.

However, Rosalind has shown absolutely no signs of wanting to be reunited with her child prior to this. She has been passive this whole time and when she gets there and he is gone, she breaks down. Way to go Lifetime.

This stems off the fact, that the Second Act is not addressing the premise. Instead it is just prolonging the movie, that by the point we get to this scene, I frankly just don’t care. It’s like, “Mm-hmm.” He’s gone. She missed him. Insert tears here.
Then there is the twist.

She finds out Joel is actually her son. I was a little bit insulted by this. In my mind, that is playing dirty with the audience. See that logline up there?

Watch how convoluted the premise gets if you try and add that bit of information into the logline…

A boy pretends to be helping his cancer-ridden friend, by blackmailing a bookie to kidnap the friend’s mother, to reunite the two, only for her to discover that the boy doing the blackmailing is actually her child.

See how everything is unrelated?
It also changes the premise of the movie.

Followed by another twist.

And HE has cancer.

I laughed out loud, when you find out he has cancer. Not that I think cancer is funny, mind you. It’s not. It had more to do with the fact that this was the second child in 3 pages that Rosalind thinks is her child, that is also dying of cancer. Ridiculous.

Name four or five of the most cliché, cheesy ways, to wrap up a movie. Now put them together.

FLASH FORWARD: Six months later.

The child is dead. Rosalind is at the grave.
She runs in to Donny. Who turns out to be a new love interest because…
Rosalind is divorced.
But, oh, they can talk about how happy the times in those six months we flash forwarded through were.

5 comments:

Mystery Man said...

This was a very tough review, but a good one. My favorite point that you made was that the "instant Rosalind agrees to willingly participate (no longer be a victim) there is no more conflict."

I completely agree. Once Ros agreed to go along with this scheme, there really wasn't much of a rising conflict, only a slow wait to take us to a place where we know we will eventually wind up. I think you had the opportunity for a rising conflict with the upcoming election, the threat of her secret being revealed, a public scandal, etc, but that seemed to be pushed to the background.

Thanks again, James.

-MM

Mim said...

And thank you, MM, for bringing us a review by somebody who does this for a living.

James said...

Just an FYI... that's not what a "professional" coverage looks like.

I did something a little different. I actually commented from a first person perspective and gave my own personal feedback on the script.

Coverage tends to be a little bit more bland ... and safe.

It's usually just a straight 1 - 3 page of synopsis, followed by 1 - 3 pages of very watered down comments, so as not to hurt anyone's feelings.

I really wanted to slant my comments towards aspiring screenwriters and the steps that could be taken to make it better.

Susan P. said...

These kinds of reviews are extremely useful because as I read it I automatically was reflecting on my own work and asking useful questions about it. To that end James your aim was achieved! Thank you for the time you put into it and offering it openly.

Whilst I find my own work is flailing about at the moment I *am* blessed to not introduce elements that are not carried through or do not have relevance later in the film. That was something that I got a tick for as I read your review..

Now, for those crosses.....

Susan P. said...

Hah I just realised I am 12 months after the fact..which is fine, your work holds timeless relevancy! :)