Father of Invention
Author: Jonathan D. Krane and Trent Cooper
Writer’s Potential: 7
Logline:After being released from prison, a disgraced infomercial entrepreneur tries to rebuild his fortune, redeem himself in the eyes of the public, and reconnect with his daughter.
Synopsis:ROBERT AXLE (50s, resembling a vagrant) is released from prison. A montage transitions between the glamorous life of 1995, when Axle was a wealthy “fabricator” who created items like the “Coffee-Grill” (part coffee pot, part panini press) and the “Mace-Cam” (a mace container with a digital camera to photograph assailants). He starred in infomercials with his daughter, CLAIRE, and lived in a huge mansion that was little more than a shrine to himself. It all went bad when he rushed a “Gripper-Clicker” to market. Designed to allow people to exercise while using their TV remote controls, it had a flaw that eventually resulted in the loss of thumbs and middle fingers. Now, Axle takes the bus to meet his PAROLE OFFICER at a seedy donut shop. The P.O. reviews Axle’s file, marveling at the charge of “Depraved Indifference to Human Life.” He encourages Axle to take a job at FamilyMart, a big-box store whose ex-con rehabilitation program is second to none, and sends Axle off with $120.
Axle visits his wife, LORRAINE, looking for his things. Lorraine tells him that what she didn’t give to charity, she threw in the trash. She introduces Axle to her new husband, JERRY, a forest ranger. Despite Axle’s initial dislike, Jerry’s a nice guy. He drives Axle to a secret storage locker full of his old things. Axle arrives at Claire’s apartment and is mistaken for a hobo by her roommates, PHOEBE (35, angry lesbian) and DONNA (20s, perpetually optimistic). Claire catches sight of him and is disgusted. She goes into the hall to talk to him. Axle asks to move in with her. She refuses. Axle reminds her that he owns the building; Claire reminds him that he lost the building to Lorraine in the divorce. As a consolation prize, she leaves Axle with a pink raincoat to protect him from the elements. Axle goes to a nightclub and tries to turn on the charm with some beautiful women. He strikes out. He recalls a happier moment, back in 1990, when he first got the call that someone wanted to invest in his Coffee-Grill. He shared the excitement with Lorraine and Claire, then 7. In the present, Claire picks up Axle at a homeless shelter and says he can stay with her from one month, at which time he needs to get a real job and move out. She also forbids Axle from interfering in her job, running a Center for Women. Axle agrees.
The next morning, Donna and Phoebe introduce themselves properly. Phoebe instantly dislikes Axle, and Axle instantly dislikes Donna. He tells them about starting at FamilyMart. Phoebe ridicules him, but Axle firmly believes within three years, he’ll be running the company. Donna likes his spirit. At FamilyMart, Axle stares wistfully at his old products, all of which are still sold without the Robert Axle name on them, when his boss TROY COANGELO mocks and berates the former star. Troy informs Axle that ex-cons represent a risk to the company, nothing more, and he’s just waiting for Axle to slip up so he can fire him. While Claire tries to coach a woman through a job interview, Donna Googles Axle and shouts hideous facts about the Gripper-Clicker. She wonders how it managed to chop off two fingers at the same time. That afternoon, Axle tries to impress Claire by hanging a large painting that’s been leaning against the wall. Claire’s infuriated — she didn’t want it hung, but now it has to stay up to block the hole in the wall. Axle realizes Donna is hiding in her room because her father is afraid of her being alone with criminals. Later, Axle tries to repair his painting-hanging mistake, but he ends up falling off the ladder and knocking fish food into Phoebe’s aquarium. In his frantic attempt to scoop the food out, one of the fish ends up on the floor. Phoebe gives him two options: face or nuts. Axle picks “face,” so Phoebe punches him in the groin.
Axle, distracted from his mopping duties, marvels at all the combined products available these days: tongue-dissolving strips, upside-down ketchup bottles. Axle pitches the idea for a novel new cell phone, which a customer informs him is merely a Blackberry. He doesn’t notice a little old lady walking toward the wet floor. Troy, after scolding Axle, tries to run and help the old lady. He ends up slipping, breaking his leg. He first Axle. Depressed, Axle sits in a park, trying to find inspiration. Instead, children ridicule him and a frightened woman attacks him with a Mace-Cam. Axle goes home, takes a long look at himself in the mirror, and decides to cut his hair and shave. Phoebe plays Guitar Hero, taking it very seriously. Axle mocks the fact that it’s just a plastic guitar. Phoebe challenges him — if she wins, she’ll dress him in something fashionable. Axle agrees — if he wins, she and Donna move out for the rest of the month. Meanwhile, Claire takes laundry to Lorraine’s. Discussing Axle, Claire thinks Lorraine is jealous that he chose to stay with Claire. Trying to change the subject, Lorraine offers to write Claire a donation check for her Center. Claire knows Lorraine is broke and won’t accept the money. Lorraine’s so ashamed, she locks herself in a closet. Claire and Jerry are forced to coax her out by holding a charity fundraiser. Back at the apartment, Axle beats Phoebe. She challenges him to two out of three, but he forfeits. The next day, Axle insists on tagging along when Claire rides her bike to get coffee. He follows her on Donna’s childhood bike. He tries to engage her in conversation and learn more about her, but Claire’s aloof. After awhile, Claire softens and reminisces about good times from her childhood.
Phoebe and Axle go to a thrift store. She picks out some new clothes for him, but Axle thinks they make him look like a lesbian. Phoebe prefers “gender neutral,” but that doesn’t make Axle feel better. On their way back to the apartment, a frantic mother holds an empty leash. She tells them she’s lost her son. Axle’s baffled that she’d lead her son on a leash. Phoebe finds the boy around the corner, watching TV on an iPod. Axle is struck with inspiration. He waits for STEVEN LESLIE, his former business partner, to arrive for work, and pitches his idea: a “wireless leash” for parents that’s marketed to kids, by putting a GPS into a super-cool electronic gadget. Kids will drool over it, and parents will shell out the money for security. Leslie thinks it’s a great idea and offers Axle money for it. Axle doesn’t want money; he wants their partnership back. Leslie tells him that’d kill their business. Axle storms out, saying he’ll find investors.
Axle calls up all sorts of investors, but they all turn him down based solely on the name. Eventually, Axle starts using Troy Coangelo’s name. He manages to get a meeting, on the condition that he bring a working prototype. Back at FamilyMart, Troy is high on painkillers when Claire approaches, looking for Axle. She has an invitation to the fundraiser. Troy tells Claire he fired Axle. Claire insults Troy, then leaves. Troy is smitten. Axle goes to a retirement home and meets with SAM (80s), formerly his top engineer, now a little senile. He pitches the idea, and Sam says he can get a working prototype for $5000. Axle pitches the idea again, to shallow loan officer NEIL. Neil thinks it’s a great idea, and $5000 is extremely cheap for a prototype. Although lending money to an ex-con is risky, Neil thinks the reward is worth it. He goes to ask his boss. Axle watches him, notices the boss’s thumb and middle finger are missing. He knows he’s sunk.
Axle goes to a national forest to ask Jerry for the $5000. Jerry reluctantly admits that he and Lorraine are strapped. Axle can’t believe they could spend $362 million in 11 years. Jerry tells Axle he’d be surprised. Jerry says most of it goes to philanthropy, and they have a fundraiser tonight. Axle ridicules the notion of philanthropy but is stricken with guilt when Jerry says it’s for Claire. Axle flashes back to buying Claire a pony for her birthday in 1995. Axle’s so preoccupied with work, he doesn’t even pay attention to the color of the horse. In the present, Claire schmoozes at her black-tie event, held at an aquarium. Axle sneaks into the fundraiser and gives a rousing speech attempting to compare aquatic life to women. The wealthy patrons snicker at him, and Axle leaves in shame. Claire follows him outside, proud of him. Axle refuses to go back inside. The next morning, Axle meets with his P.O. He knows Troy fired Axle from FamilyMart and warns Axle that most criminals who fail to find steady employment end up back in prison. Axle returns to the apartment and discovers Guitar Hero is gone. He alerts Phoebe, who realizes her ex-husband stole most of her electronics. She drags Axle with her to retrieve them. Claire goes to the bank to deposit the fundraiser earnings. It’s a grand total of $37,520 — not much. Adding insult to injury, Lorraine’s $25,000 bounces. Phoebe rolls up on her ex’s house. Three men — one of them the ex-husband — wait inside the house. She tells Axle to go inside while she waits. Axle argues with her. Eventually, they go in together. It goes smoothly until they get outside — her husband and his friends are waiting. Phoebe and Axle fight with them, but they manage to get away with Phoebe’s stuff. The intensity causes Axle and Phoebe to kiss.
Later, Claire comes home to find Axle and Phoebe all smiles. She’s jealous of their sudden closeness. Troy shows up at Claire’s apartment, ostensibly to bring Axle’s meager check but actually to flirt with Claire. Claire asks Troy out, just as Donna leaves to go to Lorraine’s for the evening. Now Claire’s pissed. She insists all of them — including Troy — go with Donna. Donna says her parents are divorcing, which is why Lorraine invited her — alone. Claire is apologetic, but this news makes her more insistent that they all go. At the mansion, Axle slips away while the others play a board game. He calls Sam and asks if the prototype is finished. It is. Axle returns to the game, but he and Claire get into an argument. She unloads her pent-up aggression — about him belittling her, forcing her to become his infomercial sidekick. Axle leaves, enraged. Claire is racked with guilt immediately. As Axle waits for a cab to pick him up, he flashes back to 1990. After a failed pitch meeting, young Claire tries to cheer Axle up by giving him a drawing of a father and daughter holding hands. Axle tells her that he has to get a real job. Claire tells him he has a real job — he’s a fabricator. Axle is inspired by her words. They hug. In the present, Axle rides Donna’s bike to a Mailboxes, Etc., where he picks up a mystery envelope. He goes to the nursing home, and Sam shows him the prototype — he has three different styles, all amazing. The next day, Axle tries to blackmail Troy for firing him without cause. He tells Troy he’ll forget about it if Troy lets him in after-hours so he can use the electronics in the FamilyMart repair center. Troy threatens to call Axle’s P.O.
In the parking lot, Troy has a change of heart. FamilyMart has been screwing him for years, and nobody even cares about his broken leg. Troy agrees to meet Axle at midnight. Axle goes back to the apartment, where Phoebe asks about the kiss, and why Axle felt her up, and more importantly, how her breasts felt. Axle praises Phoebe’s intellect and wit, then adds her breasts felt nice. Axle uses Troy’s tools to perfect Sam’s good-but-untested designs. Axle asks Troy to blow off work tomorrow to pick the idea on Axle’s behalf. Troy says that’s not such a good idea — he gets nervous trying to sell things to people. Axle builds Troy’s confidence until he agrees. Late at night, Axle arrives back at the apartment to find Claire waiting for him. She’s bought a vintage sport coat for him to wear at his pitch. Axle apologizes for bombing at his fundraiser. Claire says they would have never made enough to keep the Center open. They reminisce again. Axle tries to hug Claire, but she’s “not really a hugger.”
The next morning, Axle gives Troy a pep talk but realizes he’s completely out of it. He took a few Xanax on top of his pain pills. Troy tries to pitch to MATT JAMES, head of the venture capital firm, but it’s a disaster. Fortunately, Matt recognizes Axle — and, despite the Gripper-Clicker incident, sort of worships him. Matt confesses that Steven Leslie pitched the exact same idea, but he realizes Leslie stole it from Axle. Axle convinces Matt to take a gamble on the original, that they can bring it to market before Leslie. He comes back to the apartment in the mood to celebrate. He has a six-figure advance and is on top of the world. Phoebe, Donna, and Claire are not: “someone” got a credit card in Donna’s name and ran up $5000. The card was sent to the Mailboxes Etc. around the corner. Pissed, Claire kicks Axle out.
Months later, Axle is staying at a luxury hotel, driving a Mercedes, and supervising the design and test-marketing of the “Watchdawg” as they prepare for launch. Claire works at the neighborhood coffee shop. Lorraine and Jerry have sold their mansion and announce plans to retire to Florida. They sell the apartment building to Claire for $1. They extend an invitation, on Axle’s behalf, to the Watchdawg launch. Claire isn’t interested. Axle asks Phoebe to give a small gift box to Claire. Phoebe refuses. Angry, Axle throws the gift in the trash on his way out. Phoebe has a change of heart, pulling the gift out of the trash. She gives it to Claire, who refuses to open it and chastises Phoebe for the “kissing” incident. Phoebe tells Claire that this isn’t about Phoebe and Axle — it’s about Claire and Axle. Claire recalls the incident in 1990 where she cheered her father up after his failed pitch meeting. Picking up where the first flashback left off, Steven Leslie happens to walk by and catches sight of the prototype Coffee-Grill. He’s impressed. In the present, Claire opens the gift. It’s the drawing she made for him in 1990.
The Watchdawg crew prepares for launch. Axle gives a stirring speech to a packed audience — with a streaming Internet simulcast — about what the Watchdawg is. It’s more than a gadget — it’s a way for parents and kids to connect in a world where the disconnect between children and adults seems to grow every day. Claire wells up in tears. As the speech concludes, Axle steps off the stage and walks victoriously off the aisle. He turns himself in for credit card fraud and identity theft, but his P.O. speaks on his behalf, so the judge sentence Axle to 12 months of house arrest — except he doesn’t have a house. Claire’s seated at Axle’s defense table. She announces he’ll stay with her. On their way to the apartment, Claire says she’s reopening the Center, on a smaller scale, and using the apartment building as headquarters. Also, she received a bunch of phone calls from Matt, who desperately wants to continue working with Axle. At the apartment, Axle apologizes to Donna. Phoebe gives Axle the “face or nuts” option. Axle tries to block both, so Phoebe kisses him. Troy stirs on the couch. Claire has decided she’ll date him if he kicks his pill habit. The whole group plays board games together, having fun.
Comments:At its core, Father of Invention attempts to tell the story of a fractured father-daughter relationship. When it’s telling that story, it succeeds spectacularly well. Unfortunately, the writers get sidetracked with too many extraneous characters, causing it to lose focus on what works in the story. As written, it merits a pass.
Axle and Claire are fantastic characters — fully developed, engaging, and funny. If the script focused on them 100% of the time, it would be great. Every supporting character is weakly defined and distracting. Donna and Phoebe mostly serve as the generic “angel and devil” perched on Claire’s shoulders, Lorraine is a cliché-ridden caricature of a rich divorcée, and Troy serves no purpose after firing Axle from FamilyMart. The writers try hard to make each of these characters essential to the story, but it always feels forced and artificial instead of a natural, interesting progression.
The main storyline is rock-solid. Axle’s fall from grace, release from prison, and attempts to “reform” in the first act are consistently hilarious. The second act moves into weightier territory, as Axle tries to reconnect with Claire semi-successfully. The writers layer enough obstacles and complications to keep the story interesting, and Axle’s redemption in the third act is stirring and heartwarming. However, the writers shoehorn subplots revolving around Donna, Phoebe, Lorraine, and Troy that are not nearly as successful. These ultimately overwhelm the main story, ruining what could have been a great script.
It’s possible that the right actors in each role can make the supporting players feel like more than distractions. Also, with judicious editing, the unnecessary subplots may not overshadow the main story. However, without major work, this script will remain a pass.