Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Laura Deerfield Reviews “The Senator’s Wife”

Say “Hello” to our very good friend, Laura Deerfield.

She’s known as
potniatheron on TriggerStreet (and she’s steadily approaching 100 script reviews). She runs a blog called Visual Poetry and can be found on MySpace under visual poems and empress cat (where you can read and hear her poetry). She’s a quite obviously talented and very smart girl and I've grown to really value her opinions. (You should read her comments under the Frog Princess post – just great).

I love her background: “I've been writing poetry since I was a child, and studied it in college at Naropa University with some amazing people such as Allen Ginsberg. I've gravitated toward film, because it is the poetry of our era - a complex language with which we tell our stories... and, well, I am a total movie junkie.”

Here's my favorite part: “I am also a novice bodybuilder, massage therapist, and former chef. I've lived in several states, and spent 3 years in Prague. I've been to grad school, been a homeless illegal alien, studied shamanism with a Native American pipecarrier and studied magick with a brilliant kook. I've survived the abuse and the death of my husband. I've spent a few months living as a man, and ended up learning more about myself as a woman. I've walked 60 miles in 3 days in my mother's honor and memory.”

She’s currently developing an erotic thriller/horror script with a partner who has a small prodco in Spain, and she has a Rom Com that she’s re-writing.

Thanks so much, Laura. It’s great having you around.



From the opening sentences, this script was pushing me out of it - and I had to work to give it a chance. I'm glad I did, because there were aspects I liked. There is strong potential here - but I feel like it's not there yet. As it stands, this would make a lukewarm film.

That opening description of the sky, which I suppose was meant to foreshadow the tornado later, was so melodramatic that it was off-putting. I honestly can't imagine what kind of an image would make me, as an audience member, think of ancient gods. The language and tone doesn't suit the story we have either, so it's not just a matter of setting the mood for the reader.

The actions, however, of people placing sandbags and boarding up shops, is effective. The introduction of Rosalind herself is quite good... but the way her VO is broken up felt awkward. To show everything that was described between phrases of her sentence would necessitate an unnaturally long pause.

Still, I was intrigued enough by her to want to know more.

The jump to NY threw me a little... but not too much. The character intro for Donny is very strong. Gives us a clear idea of who he is, what he's about, what to expect from him. Establishes the importance of his book, and the seriousness of his business.

In the introductory description of the restaurant, "Wolof" stopped me dead in my tracks. Sure, I could guess it was a language, but it wasn't especially clear. Felt like the writer showing off a researched detail.

Joel is clever, and witty, and fun - and I don't believe for a moment that he's ten, or that it would be that easy for him to take advantage of Donny. But the idea is interesting enough that I roll with it, curious to see where this is going.

I'm glad that Donny's not moved by the kid with cancer... because I'm not either. It's not that easy. Just putting a kid in a hospital bed doesn't get my sympathy. In fact, it makes me feel manipulated.

And I feel much the same through the rest of the screenplay. I bounce between appreciation for clever bits of business and nice characterization (I love the moment with the cigarette in the bathroom, and the clogging scene) and annoyance –

at the kid who rarely acts like a kid. He's not even just precocious, he simply feels like he's much older.

at the adults who are supposedly clever, streetwise and experienced who are easily manipulated by the kid. I want Joel to be able to manipulate them, but make it harder.

at the passivity of most of the storyline. Very little happens as a result of our character's actions, mostly they react. I especially wanted more from Rosalind. I can feel her, on the verge of being strong, but she never quite takes control.

at description that is either unfilmable, or oddly self-conscious, or just plain incorrect... like "Pompeian images of epicurean life." What do those look like? I know what Pompeii is. I know what epicurean is. But imagining these images takes too much effort, and stops me in my tracks. And the description of the senator tossing his laundry in a dumb waiter. Well, he might do that - but a dumb waiter usually goes to the kitchen. It's like a mini elevator, with shelves - to deliver food from the kitchens to the rooms... what she meant to describe was a laundry chute. A small detail... but again, it stopped me dead in my tracks.

at unnecessary complications in place of complications originating from the characters.

at predictable sequences. (Gee, she's being manhandled by the redneck - and we haven't seen Donny in a minute - wonder if? Yes, he punches the guy. Because our little lady doesn't know any self-defense moves, apparently.)

There were a couple of unexpected twists to the plot at the end. The first, I had guessed partially - because of the character's similarity, and the bonding between him and Rosalind. The second, felt manipulative and sudden. It was too big and too out of the blue - it was dropped in our laps and then, boom, the story was over.

I suppose I'm being terribly critical here, but I didn't dislike the screenplay. In fact, I liked it enough to be frustrated that it consistently fell short of its potential. I think that Rose Dawn/Rosalind could be a dynamite character, but she needs to be pushed harder.


Laura Deerfield said...

One thing which occurred to me after I wrote this: I wonder if knowing who would play the role had any effect on the writer's execution of that role.

I mean, if you do a character outline of Rosalind - she has the potential to be edgy. She came from poverty, learned to take care of herself, and had the determination and the skill to overcome that and create a new life for herself.

But then you have someone nice playing the role - and suddenly, even if only subconsciously, you want your character to be a bit nicer. And it gets harder to put her through hell.

Honestly, if done right, Rosalind could be a scary and intimidating (and fascinating) woman... you could do away with Donny entirely and have the kid confront her, and engineer some excuse (like stealing something valuable of hers as he does Donny's) to make her go with him.

The reporter can provide a good threat. He could even follow her. Her confrontation with her past should be much more uncomfortable, and as the kid sees her start to accept who she used to be, he can start to consider opening up to her.

If we have some indications that he's not well along the way, and him trying to hide his illness - then you could even have him be dying and make that work. Knowing that might be enough to make Rosalind leave behind her life as the Senator's wife to take care of him. of course, we'd have to see first that she cared about that life.

I just think that we need to be much meaner to her, and she needs to be much more of a hard-case - and then watching her slowly crack will be fun!

Mystery Man said...

Hey Laura,

I loved your review! There was not a word you wrote that I disagreed with. The removal of Donny and making a reporter a threat are superb suggestions. If you know a girl like Jennifer will be in that role, you do have to consider her "image" to a certain degree and what her previous roles have been and adjust accordingly so that she's doing something different in a new movie.


Mim said...

Her image? Did you see her in Derailed? I would love to see her in more roles like that. She needs to show she has that kind of depth in more films.

I know she and Brad had bought the rights to The Time Traveler's Wife, but it might be in limbo now that they're no longer together. After seeing her in Derailed, I'd be interested to see what she makes of being a time traveler's wife.

And Laura's right. Rosalind could be a much meatier role: a much deeper role. Perhaps Jennifer saw the potential in Rosalind and hopes to bring it out.

Mystery Man said...

I completely agree. Rosalind could've had so much more depth than she did.

Ahh, yes, I saw her in Derailed. She was good. I wasn't terribly impressed with that movie.

But generally speaking, sure, if you know that a particular actor is going to be playing a lead role, you have to consider the "image" of that actor and the previous roles that individual has been in to ensure you're showing the audience something different.