Now That’s What I Call Quite Good: The Rewrite

the rewrite indexMarc Lawrence proves that under his guiding hand his stories are better executed.
Fans of films that are earnest (but not soapy) get their wish.

Is there humour in soaps? I have no idea and would wisely leave it to the experts. Instead, ponder on what it would be like to work with Elizabeth Bennet. If I had a dream where I was a character in ‘Sliders’, I would pick a parallel universe that was purely family friendly. As the season 4 opener of ‘The Good Fight’ reminds me…it’s likely not what I would expect. As a trade-off of the world being family friendly (no more human trafficking, poverty, overpopulation…), there probably would be things in this world that I would miss. Unless it plays out, I don’t think I would have guessed what would have been lost or gained. It would be delightful if someone just passed me in the street saying: “Hey! Did you see ‘Frozen II’? How hilarious was Olaf’s in a ‘crystal luau’ outfit?”

The first few minutes of the film is a montage of rejections (which aren’t that soapy at all). A writer desperately looking to get back his groove again. It doesn’t happen though, as he isn’t able to offer what the market wants: something fresh (particularly including ‘kick-ass girls’). We learn later that he has also fielded rejection in his personal life, which doesn’t help the idea wheel cranking. The inciting incident: The lights go out in the house of screenwriter Keith Michaels (Hugh Grant) while in the process of declining a job that would likely keep him afloat until the next project.

Apparently losing power indefinitely is enough to be able to accept a job he loathes (teaching writing) and as soon as he arrives, he does exactly as planned: do as little as possible. While it’s likely that Keith was planning to just randomly pick students from the screenplay pile, an idea forms: at least he can include some ‘eye candy’ during this miserable time in his life. It is also a mystery why he included two male students, since…you know…he doesn’t care anyway.

The surprising thing while looking through existing reviews of the film is more than one refers to Marc Lawrence as a ‘Writer/Director’. While that is true of this film….and in general….it is not true in his screenplays that have featured Hugh Grant. Stating it in that way makes it seem like Marc had creative control (or at least as much as a director can) during his last collaborations with Hugh. It’s the first time Marc has directed Hugh. This is the reason why I believe that ‘The Rewrite’ is so much different than the other three.

The result is a film that is fit for me as a viewer compared to others not directed by him. Just like me liking just one of Nicole Holofcener’s films, I still am looking forward that her next one would delight me the same ‘Enough Said’ did. Why did I keep hoping there would be at least one from Marc? Well, I think it was more of looking at Hugh’s choices and ‘About A Boy’ was a delight. So now Marc is ‘proven’ as a possible choice for films (and proven to be a capable storyteller) because of this one, when I found out that he had a hand in writing ‘Noelle’ (odd….but maybe just the right fit….if this went through the Pixar process), I made a mental note to watch it if given the opportunity.

Typically I would not keep watching a film with an unlikable protagonist….but somehow…Marc keeps Keith from crossing that line. Yes, Keith doesn’t understand the whole (inappropriate relationships…thing…and though this has been released well before the #MeToo movement has taken hold)…and doesn’t seem to have a moral centre…. He doesn’t come across as entitled or arrogant in any way. So even if he is reluctantly (maybe more unknowingly?) pulled into a self-improvement arc by crossing paths with Holly (Marisa Tomei)… I somehow still see him as just someone misguided rather than someone who is hell bent on ruining his life by drinking excessively when in the process of making a first impression. Unlike in 1993’s ‘Groundhog Day’ where Phil (Bill Murray) doesn’t have a choice and the story forces him to be a better person.

Is Karen a particularly a tough view towards older millennials (As the film was released six years ago)? I agree that it’s a convenient arc…yet…it isn’t far from the truth: there are University students that don’t see an issue with having a relationship with their professor as evidenced by an episode of ‘Beautiful Anonymous‘. The film quintessentially shines a light on how to look at drastic detours. Because after all….it makes for a good film.

A minor miss (which I really didn’t require to enjoy the film) is giving us a glimpse of Jerry. Is he really as unexciting of a partner? Only she and Keith have an idea. And we are left again to judge him based on that. So, for the argument that Keith couldn’t offer anything, it could be more that they have the ability to inspire change in each other. Wouldn’t you want to investigate the possibility of the guy who helped you ‘level up’? I certainly would.

The film itself holds another highlight for me as Marc’s son Clyde wrote the score for the film…and I now wonder if that is who he consulted when writing ‘Music and Lyrics’. The idea that Marc was quite instrumental in his son’s journey as a composer (though more of a songwriter now due to him forming a band simply called ‘Lawrence’ with his younger sister Gracie) adds to the viewing experience.

One reason I enjoy Mike Birbiglia’s performances is he pokes humour without harbouring anger (okay…maybe sometimes) compared to other comics who employ more of a passive-aggressive strategy towards their set. In that, Marc Lawrence is more of the former setting up our protagonist, Keith Michaels (Hugh Grant), utter the word ‘svelte’ and another co-worker referencing it when one of the ‘clashes’ with the antagonist happens.

Although it doesn’t get discussed much, the craft of writing itself was nicely executed. Of course it isn’t that intensive, and isn’t enough to carry me to something I can hand over to producers and agents. That’s okay because that isn’t really the story, and it does a good job of reminding writers about how to start and finish a screenplay… and it was a good reminder to me of the important parts of the story.

The performances aren’t a slouch and Marc enables his performers ‘own’ their respective niches – though the award for scene stealing goes to Chris Elliot because he clearly can hold his own against these greats (Allison Janney and J.K. Simmons) and even acts as a catalyst to lift up the game of Hugh. Alison echoes a bit of her CJ persona, but somehow more guarded. The reveal during one of a faculty mixer of her intent to ‘hate on’ Keith was particularly delightful.

More cynical viewers might see that the whole film is just an attempt to be ‘Politically Correct’ (PC for the Z-Generation), and that our protagonist is forced to change. In a sense, he’s better off if he does. But it’s not the sort of arc that Yet the character who should be most ‘PC’ of them all, Karen Gabney (Bella Heathcote), turns out to be similar to the Binghamton newcomer. She later admits that Keith wasn’t her first instance of stepping over the line.

Having caught this one on the telly recently, filmmakers can take a cue on the upside of adding scenes not just as an epilogue, but during the end credits crawl. What usually happens….is that the networks cut out the end credits…or just speed through them. Those epilogue scenes actually bring a bit more of closure to the film (As alluded to the commentary in ‘Suddenly 30’). Especially for viewers like me who appreciate snippets of what happens after the ‘fade out’

The climax doesn’t involve shouting… or insults… even fisticuffs…. Yet it sells it enough that we know that Keith needs to get though this in one piece…so he’s closer to his calling. And we also get an answer as to how judgemental Elizabeth Bennet could be (I know Keira Knightley playing Mary Weldon could work, but this is an instance of Allison Janney playing a role so well it’s going to a struggle to imagine someone else doing the job and not ruining the ‘magic of the casting’). I’d recommend the film to those who enjoy earnestness, humility, and subtle humour. Also, if you have a screenplay that’s been sitting in your nightstand drawer and calling out to you to be finished, but you just have no idea what to write next.

Leigh Lim.
https://twitter.com/LeighLim / https://leighlim.tumblr.com/ / https://www.instagram.com/laysnotes/

Related Link:
Leigh’s review of the Hugh Grant film About A Boy.

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