Monday, December 28, 2009

Issue #6: Final Draft (2007)

I actually watched about 10 minutes of this film a few months ago when I stumbled across it on television. The description in the cable guide said it was about a writer who locks himself in his apartment to force himself to meet a deadline. At the time I myself was standing in the shadow of a looming deadline and so the concept was both intriguing and nauseating. 

The description made no mention of a clown. If it had you know I would have been glued to the couch. But no clown made an appearance during the time I watched, and so I remained ignorant. It wasn't until I saw the DVD cover that I realized what I'd missed.

As you can see from the cover the clown in question has had a bit of an accident that has left his face badly burned. Here's what happened. When Paul Twist (the main character of our movie, who is played by James "Dawson" Van Der Beek) and his brother Jack were little boys their parents took them to the circus. Being a circus, there were clowns. One of them came up to Paul and Jack and did some amusing little tricks. Balloon animals. Squirting daisy. That sort of thing.

Then he did his most amazing trick, which was to suck some kind of flammable liquid (let's pretend it's gasoline) into his mouth and then spit it at a burning torch. No, I don't know why you would do that in front of a bunch of kids either. Seems to me you're risking pulling a Cheney and finding yourself on the losing end of a lawsuit. But it doesn't matter because the clown messed up and set his own head on fire. No, they don't show it, which is a pity. Well, they do show it, but it's more like someone superimposed video of flames over the clown's head in that "we're the SyFy channel and don't exactly have a big budget for special effects so deal with it" way. Not that the film was made for the SyFy channel, but you know what I mean. It could be better.

Anyway, Paul and Jack thought this was all part of the act and laughed like crazy until the clown started screaming. Then they just stood there and watched, which you might look down on them for but you have to remember that they were kids and that most of us when confronted with a flaming clown would probably do the same thing. I mean it's not like that's something you see more than once or twice in your life, so when you do you need to take advantage of the opportunity. (And if you have a camera with you it's your absolute responsibility to capture the event. Remember, photojournalists don't take sides, they just record history.)

So Paul was traumatized by seeing Punchy's head turn into a fireball. More recently he's been traumatized by his wife throwing him out. Her name is Kate. And some time ago he was traumatized by the death of Jack, who was supposed to be a big-time baseball player but who tossed himself off a building instead, possibly because he never got over seeing Punchy go up in flames.Whatever the reason was, Paul apparently blames himself.

Now Paul is holed up in a loft owned by his friend David. David is an actor. He starred in the one film Paul has managed to get produced, which is called Screaming Against the Wind. I know, I know. Just go with it.

Anyway, since neither Paul nor David has had much luck. They spend most of their time having coffee and talking. Mostly they talk about the screenplay Paul should write but isn't because he's blocked. You may be interested to know that the actor who plays David (Darryn Lucio) wrote the script for Final Draft, but James Van Der Beek is way more adorable and people actually know who he is so he gets to be the lead. But Darryn doesn't seem to care very much and is probably thrilled to just be working. Or maybe he does care, because he seems a little high strung, like he might at any moment throw his cup of coffee on James and scream, "Screw you, Dawson! I should be playing Paul!"

Like I said, Paul is having a hard time writing. Then he gets the brilliant idea to write about Punchy.

"Why clowns?" David asks, and Paul delivers the best speech in the movie. It goes like this:

"People are scared of clowns, right? Why? Clowns are colorful. They're supposed to make us laugh, not frighten us. Well, maybe it's because when you laugh at a clown it's at their expense. Maybe clowns deep down don't like this so much. Maybe they've been coming back from the dead killing people who laugh at their misery since . . . whenever."

Poor grammar aside, this is a lovely summation of why clowns freak so many of us out. And it gets better. Not only do clowns kill us, Paul suggests to David, they then make our deaths look like suicides so that no one ever suspects them. David takes all of this in and concludes: "So all suicides are murders committed by pissed off clowns?"

Now I would argue that this is stretching things a bit. I am perfectly willing to accept that some deaths that appear to be suicides are actually clown murders, and even that
all murders by clowns are disguised as suicides, but not that all suicides are really clown murders.

Do you see what I mean? I know it's hard to wrap your head around. Maybe this Euler diagram will help.

[Side Note: My apologies to Mr. Joe Guffrie and Mr. Ed Jones of Poland Central School. You were right, math can be useful.]
Moving on.

A little bit later David goes out to Hollywood to "see some people" and comes back with good news -- a producer friend is interested in Paul's idea for a movie about a clown who comes back from the dead to take revenge on everyone who's wronged him. There's just one problem. The script has to be done in 18 days.

I have to interrupt here and say that if you ask me 18 days is totally enough time to write a script. Assuming your script is maybe 120 pages long that's 6.66 pages a day. Which just proves that all movie scripts are inspired by Satan, but that's a whole other story. And let me add that I've written an entire novel in 18 days. I'm not proud of it, and I'm not saying it was a
good novel, but I've done it, so I think Paul should just suck it up.

Now you know why Paul is locking himself in his apartment. Actually, why he's having David lock him in the apartment. David is living somewhere else, by the way, and is trying to sell the loft. When he wants to be a dick -- which is most of the time -- he reminds Paul that it's really nice of him to let Paul live there for free.

Locked in and with the clock ticking, Paul starts to write. Slowly. Mostly he wanders around in an old sweater and plays basketball in the loft's giant living room. Also, he drinks a lot of coffee. Surprisingly this doesn't affect his ability to sleep, and he frequently drifts off and dreams about Punchy.

I need to back up a bit here. Before Paul locks himself in he makes a trip to the corner grocery store for some Hostess products and Red Bull. He lives in a bad neighborhood and outside the market he meets two little delinquents who ask him to buy cigarettes for them. Because he knows that cigarettes are a gateway drug he says no. But a few minutes later someone else comes by -- a hulking idiot with a mullet. The kids ask him if
he'll get them cigarettes and he says sure and takes their money.

I'm bringing this up for a reason. See, Paul turns around and stares at Mr. Mullet, who is wearing one of those work shirts with his name stitched on it. And his name is Hunter. We know this because we were paying attention when he stopped to talk to the kids. Only when Paul looks at the shirt it says Rusty. This upsets Paul for some reason and he hurries out, leaving us to wonder if we're just imagining things about the shirt or if the continuity girl was asleep on the job. Then Mr. Mullet leaves. Only he hasn't bought the cigarettes for the delinquents and has no intention of giving them their money back. They don't appreciate this and say something rude, to which Mr. Mullet responds by punching one of them in the head. That's when we notice that his shirt says Hunter on it again and think,
What's up with that?

We'll get to that. First Paul has to have a lot of nightmares about the clown, one of which involves him (Paul, not Punchy) lying in a bathtub with a lot of blood on the floor. In real life there happens to be tacked to the door of the bathroom a small print of Jacques-Louis David's "La Morte de Marat," and if you know anything about that then you might suspect you know how things are going to end up. And maybe they do, and maybe they don't. We'll see.

Okay, so Paul is trying to write. Only first he has to go through a box of stuff in which he finds 1. A photo from his wedding day, 2. A yearbook in which the photo of a boy is circled and a certain naughty word is written over and over in black marker, and 3. A videotape of one Christmas when Paul surprised Kate with a puppy and she was a complete wench about it and wouldn't even pick the puppy up. Which says a lot about her and makes it not at all sad when she dies later on. (Please. Like you didn't know she was going to die.)

When Paul gets to the end of the tape it goes all staticky, but then another picture comes on. It's Jack! He says something I can't remember and Paul cries and has more coffee. The point is, it's creepy. You know, because Jack is dead and all.

Now Paul switches from coffee to whiskey, because drinking always helps. And he has a breakthrough about his script. He decides to make Punchy's victims people from his own life, people who have wronged him in some way and who therefore deserve to be whacked. If you ask me this is a fine idea. I have employed it once or twice myself and I can assure you that it is most gratifying to, say, take an enemy and pitch him off a cliff into a pit of rusting farm implements.

Paul chooses five people to off: His ex-wife (Kate), Rusty (who it turns out is the kid in the yearbook and who ruined Paul's life in high school by rubbing dog doo on his face at the prom and who now probably looks like the guy with the mullet Paul saw at the market which is why Paul freaked), Michael (Paul's former best friend who did something inexcusable and no it isn't sleeping with Kate which is what I thought too), and David. I know that's four. The fifth is Miss November, whose calendar Paul has hanging on his wall. He has nothing against her but he needs to have a hot girl who gets killed and she'll do.

The rest of the movie is basically Paul decompensating while he writes his screenplay. He drinks some more, he has more nightmares, and you're never quite sure what's really happening and what's made up. One by one his characters/enemies show up. He argues with Kate about the puppy. He argues with Michael, whose great crime it turns out was telling Paul that his script sucked. He argues with Rusty, who does everything in his power to distract Paul from writing. Only of course none of them are really there, which makes his behavior a tad disturbing.

The only person Paul doesn't argue with is Miss November. Instead he has sex with her, which really is the only thing he
can do, isn't it? I mean she's wandering around in her teddy all the time, batting her eyes and tossing her hair. It's not like he could sit her down and have a chat about the existential philosophers or the Arts and Crafts Movement.

I know you're wondering,
What about the clown? Okay, well, see the clown shows up whenever it's time to kill someone. And at first this is pretty neat. Punchy does the first two folks in and it's all very, "You go, Punchy!" But then Punchy starts to become more and more independent of Paul. He starts calling the shots, which freaks Paul out. He particularly freaks out when he's having sex with Miss November again and Punchy decides to commit coitus interruptus by slitting the girl's throat.

By now you may be a little suspicious about Paul's mental state, and I don't blame you one bit. You might also be thinking, "Hey. This reminds me a little bit of
He Who Gets Slapped, the film Mike wrote about last week. Wasn't that guy named Paul too?"

Which is exactly what I was thinking when I watched it.

Think about it. Paul Twist is "slapped" by five different people. Well, four. Miss November never did anything to him. But Kate, Michael, Rusty, and David did. All of them have humiliated him in one way or another, just like the other Paul -- Paul Beaumont in
He Who Gets Slapped -- is humiliated by his wife and a former friend. And just like Paul B, Paul T creates a clown persona to help him even the score.

If I knew Darryn Lucio I would totally ask him if this is what he was going for, although he'd probably deny it because no one wants to be accused of copying another writer. But maybe on his deathbed he would admit it, like when Orson Welles told us Rosebud was a sled or when my friend Joe's mother admitted that his father was really a plumber named Al and not the guy he'd called Dad for 52 years.

With everyone dead except David (which Paul doesn't seem to notice and which is a tiny flaw in the story) the script is finished and Paul prints it out and stacks it neatly on his desk. Then he goes into the bathroom. He gets in the tub and picks up a pair of scissors. Punchy comes in and watches him. "Le Mort de Marat" comes to mind.
I wonder if he's going to . . . we start to think.

Then David appears -- which explains why he wasn't killed and I suspect happened when Darryn Lucio got to the end of his script and realized someone had to be alive but didn't feel like going back and rewriting things -- and breaks all of the locks off the front door. He rushes in, runs from room to room looking for Paul, and ends up in the bathroom. Then it's all Paul! Paul! Paul! Why! Why! Why! And so on.

The movie ends with David getting in the elevator. In his hands hands he holds the script for
Punchy the Clown.

Only guess who's standing right behind Paul in that elevator?

That's right.

I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed Final Draft. It helps that James Van Der Beek looks great with a beard and glasses and you can imagine walking in the woods with him and your two Labradors. And it probably helps that as a writer I can totally relate. Whatever. I had a good time.

Favorite Line: "I'm not going to be that friend that pulls out his nipple every time he thinks you might be hungry."

Rating (out of 5):