How to Make Love Like an Englishman
Author: Matthew Newman
Writer’s Potential: 7
Logline:An alcoholic English playboy trying to raise a son in America needs to get his life together in order to stay in the country.
Synopsis:RICHARD HAIG grew up with the kind of father who had a relentless appetite for booze, cigarettes, and women. By age 14, his father was drinking with him and buying him condoms. Richard wanted to follow in his footsteps, growing up to be an English literature professor with all of his father’s bad habits. Now in his late 30s, he gets involved with KATE (20s), an American student. Kate takes Richard to meet his mother at the Savoy, but she’s chronically late, so Richard has a drink at the bar. Singing along with a Beastie Boys song catches the attention of an attractive American woman around Richard’s age. They flirt a bit, but it turns out this is OLIVIA, Kate’s mother. Once Olivia discovers who he is, she immediately disapproves. This is made worse when Kate drops the bombshell to both Richard and Olivia that she’s pregnant.
After their lunch, Richard decides, for the sake of the baby, he’ll stick with Kate. Kate’s father got her a post-collegiate job in Los Angeles, so she suggests Richard find a job at UCLA. Richard does not want to leave England, but he does. LUDO, there baby, is a chubby one-year-old when Richard takes him to the Ivy and he says his first word: “Mama.” He says this because, outside, baby Ludo sees Kate riding in a Hummer with a dopey guy her own age. Richard glances back just as the Hummer is disappearing from view, assumes this is the word Ludo was trying to say, and excitedly calls up Kate, leaving her a VoiceMail describing the entire story. The Hummer/mama “coincidence” upsets Kate, who confesses her affair and announces she’s leaving Richard. Richard decides she can leave him — but he’s not leaving Ludo.
Five years later, Richard’s an overweight, unshaven, hungover, chain-smoking mess living in the guest house of Kate’s mansion. He sleepwalks through his UCLA courses, only lightening up when he picks Ludo up from school. He takes Ludo, now seven, to the Sport Chalet to pick out a birthday baseball mitt. They attempt to play a game of catch inside the store, but Ludo throws a wild ball, knocking down a surfboard on display and causing a domino effect with all the other boys. Richard grabs Ludo and runs, barely eluding store security. Ludo’s thrilled by the adventure. Richard takes Ludo back to Kate’s mansion, where they find a brand new Range Rover parked next to the Hummer. Richard and Kate snipe at each other, upsetting Ludo. Richard and a colleague, ANGELA, grade papers when an attractive student, SUMMER, approaches and flirts with him. PROFESSOR PARROTT, the Department Head, reminds Richard of a party he’s throwing and also gives Richard the opportunity to give this year’s Dean’s Speech, which, if he impresses the dean, will finally get him tenure. Richard feigns excitement.
In the guest house, Richard is visited by BRIAN, Kate’s vapid banker boyfriend. They snipe at each other as Brian presents him with a letter from Citizenship & Immigration Services (CIS). Richard and Kate have to interview with the CIS and prove their marriage or Richard risks deportation. Richard has some dental work performed and is given medication that can’t be mixed with alcohol. At Professor Parrott’s party, Richard downs the pills with a glass of red wine. As Parrott delivers a dull speech, Richard excuses himself to the bathroom. Summer notices, follows him. They start having sex — but Angela catches him. She drags him out of the party. He hops into his car and, intoxicated, slams into Parrott’s, knocking off the bumper. Richard leaves in a hurry and is pulled over. The next morning, Kate and Olivia arrive to bail Richard out of jail. Kate announces that Olivia’s staying for the week to help look after Ludo while Kate and Brian go out of town. Richard is unenthusiastic. At Ludo’s birthday party, Kate presents Ludo with Richard’s gift — two baseball mitts (one for Ludo, one for Richard) and a ball, along with a sweet note from Richard. Ludo is suitably touched — until Brian rushes in presenting a motorized kiddie Hummer. Ludo drops Richard’s gift as he and his friends rush to the little car.
Richard goes back to the guest house to drink. Kate comes to yell at him, threatens that she won’t play nice at the CIS interview if he keeps misbehaving. Richard goes back to the party, and Ludo sincerely thanks him for the gift. Richard visits an immigration lawyer, ERNESTO, who tells him that Kate is key to his success, but Richard should still make an effort to show good moral character — go to AA meetings before the court orders him to, get tenure, and patch things up with Kate. He has two weeks to do all of these things, and Kate has just left town. Richard gets off to a rocky start, having to take the bus to work. It’s late and slow, making him late. Professor Parrott notices. He goes to an AA meeting, where he ridicules everyone (including WENDY, the meeting leader, and MARIA, a newbie). The next day, getting a ride with Olivia (whose driving he mocks), Richard notices her classy taste in literature. He’s still late to work, though, and Parrott notices once again. Olivia goes for a walk and a cup of coffee and encounters a low-brow novelist, HOWARD. Howard drives her home, where Richard sees him. Richard’s unimpressed.
At another AA meeting, Ernesto calls up Richard to warn him he’s under a full-on CIS investigation, meaning an agent is following him. Now he has to actually be upstanding, not just fake it. Richard glances around the meeting until he finds BOB, a new, dark-suited man who privately shows Wendy something in his wallet. Richard decides to speak, talking about what a fine, upstanding citizen he is. Wendy needles him with questions about why he’d drive drunk. Choking on it, Richard admits he’s an alcoholic. Olivia gets a call from her lawyer. She’s divorcing her wealthy husband (and Kate’s father), and he’s threatening to invoke a prenuptial agreement that will leave her with nothing. She’s so devastated, she barely has time to notice Ludo running out of the house. She follows him to the guest house, where he cries to Richard about a nightmare. Ludo wants to move in with Richard. Richard says that’s not fair to Kate, but they’ll have a sleepover on Fridays. Ludo likes this compromise. After witnessing this, Olivia admits he’s a good father.
Olivia offers Richard some wine, and Richard talks to her about AA. Olivia admits she was in AA and suggests to Richard that he get a sponsor. At one point, she bends over and accuses Olivia of checking out her ass. He wasn’t, but he makes a big show of trying to get her to bend over again. Richard confesses he wishes he’d met her years ago, then kisses her. She pushes him away. The next morning, Olivia and Ludo are surprised when Richard doesn’t show up for breakfast. She drives Ludo to campus, and they watch Richard teach. He’s knowledgeable. Olivia and Ludo drag Richard to Universal Studios. He starts to enjoy it. That night, he notices he’s out of wine. He goes to the main house to get some just as Howard calls to ask out Olivia. They discuss Howard, but they’re interrupted by Howard calling again. Richard invites her back to the guest house. They flirt, and Olivia complains about her divorce. They end up sleeping together.
The next morning, Kate and Brian come back early. Richard spends the whole day in fear, thinking Olivia will tell Kate or she’ll somehow find out. Turns out, she’s angry at Brian for some reason. After Olivia’s date with Howard, Richard confronts her about them. She complains about how much she gave up for her husband, and Richard complains about how much he gave up for Ludo. Olivia promises not to tell Kate and leaves. After Richard’s last AA course, Wendy won’t sign his court waiver because Richard spent the whole time mocking them. He insults Richard some more, then begs Maria to have a drink with him. Richard stumbles to the mansion and falls flat on his face, causing his nose to bleed. Kate goes to get some tissues, giving Richard the chance to confess his love for Olivia — it was not a mistake. By this time, Kate has returned from the bathroom and overheard. She’s livid. Ludo comes to Richard and tells him he wants to teach English when he grows up — he wants to be just like Richard.
Richard writes his Dean’s Speech. Kate forces Olivia to leave. Professor Parrott introduces Richard for the speech. He’s surprised to find Olivia in the audience and stumbles. At first, his speech praises Byron, but he gives it up and ad-libs a speech savaging him. The crusty dean leads the applause. Angela congratulates Richard on getting tenure. Olivia tells Richard she came to see the speech to tell him goodbye. Before she goes, Richard tells her to stand up to her husband — don’t sign the agreement. Richard goes to another AA meeting (Maria is noticeably absent), this time confessing that, while he’s not an alcoholic, he is an asshole, but he’s trying to change. Wendy claps for him. Richard, Kate, and Ludo go to the CIS interview. At the absolute last second (literally in the parking lot), Kate decides she’s not going in. She takes Ludo and goes, leaving Richard and Ernesto. Ernesto hopes they can make it on moral character, but then Richard catches a glimpse of the interviewer — Maria. Olivia meets with her husband and their lawyers and refuses to sign the settlement. Richard has to return to England. Over the course of a season, he climbs out of his rut — stops drinking, starts working out, tries to have a good time. He talks with Ludo over iChat. Richard’s father dies. It prompts him to write to Kate, telling her she was right about everything; the cycle must break with Ludo. He asks Kate to come and see her, where he admits they shouldn’t have married, it never would have worked, but he loves Ludo and wants to be with him. Kate gets a call from Ludo, and Richard realizes he’s already in England. Kate transferred to London, and Olivia came, too. Kate even lets them date.
Comments:I never thought I would say it, but this is a screenplay that would benefit greatly from lowering the stakes. It has several good, emotionally rich ideas at its core — the Richard-Ludo bond and the grim parallel between Richard and his own father, and the romance with Olivia and its parallel to her own husband and Kate — but there’s so much going on, everything gets lost in the shuffle. Richard’s biggest emotional moment, the realization that his son wants to follow in his footsteps (just as he followed in his father’s), should be pivotal, but it barely registers, an eighth-page scene crammed between a thousand other subplots.
The immigration thing serves only to give Richard a reason to fight to stay in the U.S. The AA, tenure, and Kate problems serve only to give him reasons to fail. Although immigration gives Richard an artificial motivation that, eventually, leads him to find his real motivation, balancing all these subplots requires so much story space, there’s no room for the real meaty material in the complex family dynamics. The writer has a good grasp of psychology and the cyclical patterns in families, but because he spends so much time with the machinations of the plot, characters like Kate, Brian, and Howard end up getting short-changed in terms of depth and development. Although the dialogue has a sharp wit, these characters should have much more nuance; if it means less of Richard mouthing off at AA meetings, the story won’t suffer.
Richard’s artificial motivation could easily come somewhere equally threatening to Richard/Ludo but much less narratively important (maybe he’s fighting to keep his job altogether, not just get tenure, and Kate intends to throw Richard out of the guest house if he can’t keep his job). The way the immigration subplot is presented, even beyond just taking up too much valuable time, strains credibility. He’s a stable, well-educated college professor with a seven-year marriage, a wealthy wife, a well-adjusted son. At a time when illegal immigration is a hot-button issue with a lot of media focus, it’s hard to believe that CIS would devote so much time and resources to somebody who clearly hasn’t “snuck” into the country. I know they do (I have a sister-in-law who struggled with similar issues after marrying a U.S. citizen), but it almost feels like a “truth is stranger than fiction” scenario.
The third act also goes a bit off the rails, as the writer tries his damndest to resolve every single subplot and bring us the happy ending. The last few scenes are truly baffling, as Richard writes an emotional letter telling Kate she was write to keep him away from Ludo, then immediately begs to spend more time with him, and then all of them enjoy a wacky “you’re dating my mom after having a kid and marrying me!” in the last scene. Again, it all goes back to trying to keep too many plates in the air. Unfortunately, the most important plates are the ones that get broken. The resolutions to Richard’s struggles with Kate, Olivia, and Ludo end up rushed and unsatisfying. If the writer scaled back, this could be a really nice romantic comedy.
It’s a comedy, and it’s funny, but aside from a few broad physical gags, the writer confines the humor to a very dry wit that doesn’t always work with American audiences. Still, it presents a certain “fish-out-of-water” element that ought to be appealing on both sides of the Atlantic.