Saturday, February 14, 2015

Writing - Adapted Screenplay

Happy Valentine's Day. The most important part of a relationship is to hate the same things.
    Writing - Adapted Screenplay
  • American Sniper written by Jason Hall
  • The Imitation Game written by Graham Moore
  • Inherent Vice written for the screen by Paul Thomas Anderson
  • The Theory of Everything screenplay by Anthony McCarten
  • Whiplash written by Damien Chazelle

This tweet is a better story than American Sniper - lack of ending punctuation, capitalization of Calorie, and all. American Sniper absolutely refuses to build any believable characters. Chris Kyle's girlfriend for forty seconds at the beginning of the film telegraphs her feelings as subtly as any character with the line, "Why do you think I did this, huh? I do this to get attention!" His next love interest goes from "I'd never date a SEAL" to saying her vows in under seven and a half minutes. It's almost like she's a plot device and not a character. Oh. She exists as Jason Hall's twisted image of the perfect woman: she bends her will to a man's, exists for sex and making babies, and is allowed on screen only in the presence her husband in order to further his character without selfishly wasting time on herself. The main antagonist in the film isn't anything so intelligent as Kyle's demons or whatever might be stopping him from being a lauded sniper. No, it's an opposing sharpshooter, and here's everything we know about him: Syrian, Olympic gold medalist. Further, every non-American person of color is a "savage." Propaganda like this is exactly the sort of thing that leads to the Chapel Hill shooting the other day. Kyle's girlfriend in those opening minutes says, "You don't have to fucking punch everyone." Jason Hall could learn a thing or two from her about subtlety.

Graham Moore deftly weaves three tales of Alan Turing's life together into one beautifully cogent piece. I touched on it in the film editing piece, and I still feel the same all these (5) days later. Where all this could easily have felt disconnected, all three stories dovetail incredibly well and inform each other. Each timeline is made stronger by the ones around it. While the overarching story is well crafted, the details seem to fall apart. Turing's homosexuality seems almost force-fed to us as the film carries on and becomes one of the greatest points of note in the closing frames, which is notable as, while it's an informing part of the story, it's never the major story until the epilogue. Keira Knightly as his "love interest" neatly disappears from the screen for whole swaths despite her character being about the only thing that gives Turing any humanity. The Imitation Game mostly succeeds in light of major characterization issues.

Paul Thomas Anderson usually works on a slightly different wavelength from me. While I enjoy his films, I'm not entirely sure I appreciate them. That's never been more the case than with Inherent Vice. I honestly probably need to watch it a couple more times to really suss out my feelings on it. It is, obviously, incredibly pulpy. I'm not sold that it is a good thing, but I'm willing to give Anderson the benefit of the doubt. The narrative is also fairly indirect which might just be poor writing. My suspicion, though, is that it's supposed to make about as much sense as it does to the lead, who is pretty high, pretty much all of the time. If that suspicion bares out on a subsequent viewing, it would render null some of the greatest issues I have with the screenplay. Alas, I haven't the time.

You'd be forgiven if you thought this movie was a biopic about Stephen Hawking. You'd even be forgiven if you thought it was about Jane Wilde Hawking from whose memoir the screenplay was adapted. No, it's very clearly barely even a biopic, but rather a romantic drama whose characters happen to be shallowly based on real people. If it were a biopic of Hawking, we would have been treated to more than a casual glimpse at the science that made him famous. If it were a biopic of Jane, we would have seen just how dirty and tortured their relationship was. No, this is a clever to the point of sacrilege reimagining of a romance that never existed in the way we see. Has Anthony McCarten accomplished greatness by whitewashing the complexities of both scientific learning and humanity into a flimsy and saccharine yet darling love story?

It's unclear what Whiplash is adapted from since Damien Chazelle says it's based on his experiences in high school band. Nonetheless, it's here. Chazelle spins interesting characters on the screen and gives them a real tension between each other. The main character's budding romance is treated intelligently when he abruptly ends it, and while she is obviously a device to explore Andrew, it feels about as usefully done as such a thing can be. Likewise, his instructor's continual homophobia serves a very real purpose of illustrating the character's vileness. Chazelle has said that he intended there to be ambiguity over whether the instructional pressure is valid or not, but the end of the film suggests a much clearer answer. The two main characters are strong, but the film as a whole feels irresponsible and, well, not adapted.

Other than Paul Thomas Anderson, all the nominees have roughly zero feature film writing credits to their name, and it shows. Oh, gravy, does it show. With two films circling two of the greater scientific minds of the twentieth century, I really looked forward to equally interesting, adventurous, intelligent, or bold takes. Instead we're mostly treated to watered down, whitewashed characters without any of their real-life faults. Other than Whiplash, it's almost as though we're supposed to be endeared with our racists and misogynists. And there, while we are supposed to fancy him, we're supposed to respect and appreciate him. No, even without really understanding what Inherent Vice was about, I have to side with it because doing anything else would be intellectually irresponsible.

Will win: Inherent Vice
Should win: Inherent Vice

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