An Inconvenient Plot
Okay, so, there were two guys playing golf. They both hit tee shots. One ball went one way, the other went the other way, and neither landed anywhere near the fairway.
They decided to split up and meet at the green.
The first guy found his ball buried in a field of Buttercups. He pulled out his 7-iron and started whacking away at the Buttercups to get his ball out (but having no luck).
Well, SUDDENLY, Mother Nature emerged from the ground and said to the man, “Excuse me. I created this beautiful field of Buttercups and now you’ve ruined them! You’ve no respect at all, and I’m going to punish you for this. Since these are Buttercups, your punishment is that you cannot have butter for one year.”
“What about my buddy?” he said. “Are you going to punish him, too?”
“But of course I am,” she replied.
The man looked at his buddy, laughed, and went back to whacking the Buttercups.
“What do you find so funny?” she asked.
“My buddy over there – he’s in the Pussywillows.”
And that little joke, my friends, is better than 105 pages of M. Night Shyamalan’s latest drivel of hack screenwriting called The Happening.
But screw Shyamalan. Here’s a picture of Zooey Deschanel:
“Someday… you’ll be cool.”
THAT, Mr. M. Night, is exactly what you should be telling yourself.
It’s amazing how far this man has fallen. He was livin’ large following the global phenomenon that was The Sixth Sense. Newsweek put him on the cover and declared him to be “the next Spielberg.” Everyone heaped praise upon praise upon him. He believed every word, too. He told Esquire he knew the exact recipe for summer blockbusters.
By the way, The Sixth Sense wasn’t his first film. His first film was Wide Awake, which lost its funding in the middle of production. Then he banged out Praying With Anger, the story of an Indian-American who returned to his homeland, India, to go to college. No one saw it. Then he finished Wide Awake, which told the tale of a fifth grader who lost his grandfather and searched for God. Everyone hated it. Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly said, “Wide Awake has no higher power, no dramatic conflict, no characters, no scenes. It's a series of wispy anecdotal fragments Scotch-taped together by (the young boys) lispy-cute narration.” He gave it an “F.” That whole debacle was so humiliating to Shyamalan that he has since disowned the film.
He then took an assignment job writing the Stuart Little script, which actually got greenlit miraculously enough, and it was at this point, the story goes, that Shymalan really dug deep and came up with something big to wow the world and finally realize his dream of becoming a real, live, honest-to-goodness FILMMAKER. It took something like 7 drafts before he came up with the big twist at the end, and that story was, of course, The Sixth Sense. Disney bought the script for $1.25 million, which included director duties. Joe Roth pushed Bruce Willis into doing it, and the rest is cinema history.
Except history is now writing about Shyamalan's creative decline.
Oh, look. Someone morphed Shyamalan’s face onto Michael Jackson’s body. How funny.
Quickly, let's go through his decline:
Unbreakable was decent and had a plot that actually advanced (unlike The Sixth Sense, which was all smoke & mirrors until we got to the big revelation). While it had its inspired moments that were, indeed, worthy of repeat viewings, let’s face it, the ending was anti-climactic and less than satisfying.
Signs is on my personal list of worst endings ever. I mean, COME ON. The aliens die from being exposed to WATER? Are you kidding me? Why would they come here in the first place? The earth is predominantly COVERED in water. They didn’t notice that FROM OUTER SPACE? What? They had no windows in their big space ship? For God’s sake, they should’ve turned back by the time they got to the moon! I mean, these aliens are capable of SPACE TRAVEL but they don’t know how to create a damn waterproof suit? Pfft. Whatever. He’s slacking.
With respect to The Village, I believe everyone on the planet hates it. I haven’t spoken to everyone about it yet, still working on that, but I’m pretty sure they all hate it. Ebert called it “a colossal miscalculation, a movie based on a premise that cannot support it, a premise so transparent it would be laughable were the movie not so deadly solemn. It's a flimsy excuse for a plot, with characters who move below the one-dimensional and enter Flatland.” I got news for you, Ebert. His characters have always been one-dimensional, but we never noticed because we were so focused on the plot twist.
And then there's Lady in the Water, which deserves some special attention. Before Night could even get this project off the ground, he threw a gigantic, childish tantrum at Disney because Nina Jacobson had “concerns” about his script. Apparently, at a dinner in Philadelphia, she delivered a frank critique and told him that she and her boss, studio Chairman Dick Cook, didn't “get” the idea of his story. Shyamalan was “heartbroken.” Things only got worse when she lambasted a scene ridiculing a film critic and told Shyamalan that casting himself as a visionary writer out to change the world “bordered on self-serving.” Well, that was it for him. He left the studio in a giant fit. He got his script sold to Warner Brothers AND orchestrated to have a 278-page hardcover book, The Man Who Heard Voices: Or, How M. Night Shyamalan Risked His Career on a Fairy Tale (buy it now for the low, low price of $6.99!), written to stick it real good to Nina Jacobson and get released one day before the premiere of Lady in the Water.
The film was released and bombed and Shyamalan was quite literally torn limb from limb on the web. First, there was... oh, wait a sec...
Zooey, honey, please cover your ears.
First, there was Sir Lancelot from Aint it Cool News who wrote, “Lady In The Water is a diarrhea splat of storytelling so haphazard, ideas so undernourished, dialogue so banal, and characterization so criminally lifeless that if you'll be able to lift yourself out of your torpor you will be truly amazed. You will be truly amazed because here is a young filmmaker who has, in one fell swoop, transformed himself from a flawed and fortuitous studio darling into an irritating film school geek with no right to advancement. I can only assume the Warner Bros suits were so stunned by the celluloid catastrophe that developed in front of their eyes day by day that they forgot that it was their job to rein in this monstrous piece of self-indulgent crap.”
The critics had a thing or two to say, as well. Jim Emerson (subbing for Ebert at the time) wrote: “But any con man or storyteller must, at the very least, convey to us the sense that he buys his own con, and Shyamalan is too afraid to commit. The low star rating isn't just for pretension or ineptitude, its for hypocrisy and cowardice, too.” The New York Post called it, “An act of spectacular (if unwitting) self-immolation.” Here’s Cinematical: “Shyamalan tries here to take a storyteller's approach to telling what should be a visual tale, thus violating one of the chief tenets of filmmaking: Show, don't tell.” Entertainment Weekly: “Shyamalan's most alienating and self-absorbed project to date.” New York Observer: “Hollywood cannot pollute the ozone with anything more idiotic, contrived, amateurish or sub-mental than Lady in the Water.”
Say, has anyone noticed that Shyamalan’s creative deterioration is in direct proportion to his inflating ego? Just an observation.
Newsweek, which had once proclaimed Shyamalan as “the next Spielberg,” had to finally acknowledge the giant egg on its corporate face and wrote: “What remains to be seen, though, is how [Shyamalan] will react... ‘Will he be one of those guys who self-destructs,’ asks an Oscar-nominated producer, ‘or will he pick himself up and reinvent himself?’ The solution, most suggest, is for him to break out of his self-imposed cocoon. ‘The smaller you make your world, the less of an artist you can really be,’ says an indie exec. ‘Look at Stanley Kubrick. If you see 'Eyes Wide Shut,' it's clear he hadn't left the house in 20 years.’ Others think Shyamalan should take a break from writing screenplays. ‘He could direct some big, great script that a studio is trying to get to someone like Spielberg,’ says the agent. Interesting thought, but this time let's leave the real Spielberg out of it.”
Okay, Zooey, give me a smile.
Thanks. I love your smiles.
So now we’ve come full circle. It’s as if we’ve returned to the early days when Shyamalan was a nobody with two failures under his belt and he had to dig deep to come up with a story to wow people all over again. And we finally got to see what it would be. Last January, Boy Wonder came to Hollywood with his new script under his arm, which was called The Green Effect, the very draft I write about today. Every studio in Hollywood rejected it and sent him packing to Philadelphia.
And with good reason. It was, first of all, so poorly written, it was embarrassing. “We see,” “we hear,” in almost every action line. Obviously, WE SEE, M. Night, it’s a damn movie. That's the WHOLE POINT, isn't it - TO SEE? You’d think a five-year-old wrote this script. But let’s talk story. In his plot, (just like the photo at the top AND the stupid joke), Mother Nature has decided to throw a tantrum regarding mankind’s disrespect for the planet (and little things like Buttercups and Pussywillows), and the plants of the earth have begun releasing dangerous toxins into the air to kill the majority of humans. But not the animals. Just the humans. (She’s a smart one, that Ms. Nature. Or is it Mrs. Nature?) Anyway, there’s no place humans can go to hide. Because it’s all in the air. And thus, all we get in the script is about 70 pages of... people… running… from… air.
* MAJOR SPOILERS *
The biggest mistake in the script is that concept and message took precedence over characters. We’re given a weak protagonist in Elliot (played by Mark Wahlberg) who has this forced, contrived conflict with his wife, Alma (played by the lovely Zooey Deschanel). We were never given the real reason behind their conflict either. It’s just thrown in there without any thought at all. Plus, like many male leads in Shyamalan’s films, Elliot is passive, timid, and weak, although in the end, he does figure out the solution to the toxins-in-the-air problem. According to Elliot, the plants are like mood rings. When they don’t like the energies humans give off, they will now release toxins. Oh. That sucks. And in the climactic third act, Elliot and Alma, who have been separated and are trying to reunite, courageously choose to step out into the open air (??) and channel as much positive feelings for each other as they can – dare I say, love? - and then they just… live.
I think what bothers me most about the script beyond the ridiculous ending and innumerable plot holes and weak characters, is that the concept itself was rooted in ego and designed to invoke praise for Shyamalan. “Oh wow, isn’t he an amazing filmmaker? He used no special effects and made us all afraid of AIR! Isn’t he incredible?”
No, because in screenwriting, CHARACTER will always be king.
Last March, Shyamalan returned with a revised script (re-titled The Happening) and 20th Century Fox signed up to distribute his film. Believe me, no revision can fix this inconvenient plot.
At least, don’t hold your breath.