Author: Gren Wells
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Writer’s Potential: 6
Logline:A struggling business school student makes ends meet by working as a professional “beard” for in-the-closet gay men.
Synopsis:Iowa native LILY (20s) says her goodbyes to coworkers at a bank and her waitress mother before moving to England to attend Cambridge University’s business school. Awed by her new surroundings, she stumbles into CHRISTIAN (late 20s), a dashing new teacher. The chancellor, HORWELL (50s), welcomes the new MBA candidates to the school. Unkempt slacker DREW (20s) arrives late. Horwell forces Drew to dance in front of everyone. Humiliated, Drew dances. Horwell welcomes Christian to the fold. Christian asks the new students what the most important part of business is. Only Lily answers correctly: integrity. Christian is suitably impressed. Lily receives a note from the bursar’s office. She learns that her tuition money, held by the bank where she worked in Iowa, has been stolen by her boss. Lily strikes a compromise with the bursar: she’ll find a job and pay in installments.
After failing to get a bank loan, Lily struggles to sell her possessions. She ends up ¬£50 short for the weekly payment, so she takes her clothes to a “quirky” thrift store, Threads — which happens to be owned by Drew. His gay employees, ZITTO and CHICK, are unimpressed with Lily’s clothing. Drew gets a call saying his date canceled. Zitto and Chick start sizing Lily up for the job. She’s confused, until Drew tells her his parents think he has a girlfriend, but he’s single. His date is a beard — his spikey-haired lesbian pal, MEL — but if Lily’s willing, he’d much rather have a bona fide straight woman as his companion. Lily agrees to do it, for ¬£50. Zitto and Chick give Lily a makeover and dress her in a chic outfit. Drew’s parents, BYRON and ELIZABETH, are nouveau riche (Byron worked his way up from a hotel bellhop to the owner of an entire chain), so they spend most of their time and fortune trying (and failing) to impress those born into the upper class. To everyone’s surprise, Lily makes a wonderful impression. During the course of the evening, Lily realizes Drew is also gay, and he’s hiding it from his parents. Lily also runs into Christian at the party. Although he’s with his girlfriend, SARAH, Lily and Christian flirt. It gets more intense as they drink, and they come close to kissing. Drew rushes Lily to a gay club, where she meets more of his friends (including Mel and ALLEN). When they explain the evening’s scheme, Allen announces a similar predicament: his bosses only promote people with families. Realizing this is a business opportunity, Lily offers herself up, at ¬£50 per hour. Allen agrees without argument.
The next morning, Lily assesses the approximate number of single, gay, in-the-closet men between the ages of 20 and 35. She thinks she’s struck a goldmine, and she asks Drew for help. He agrees, as long as she continues to be his beard, pro bono. After class, she apologizes to Christian for her drunken behavior the night before. Later, Lily is at Threads, trying to get ready for her date with Allen. Drew is unimpressed with her fashion sense, so he, Zitto, and Chick try to educate her on not only looking her best, but acting her best, teaching her to speak with a proper English accent, cramming about Allen’s colleagues and superiors, and most importantly, how to behave properly at a soccer match. By the time she goes on the date, Lily’s actually more well-versed in soccer than Allen, so she whispers things for him to say. The date is a smashing success. Later that night, Lily goes to a pub by herself to study. She runs into Christian, who laments that his father is retiring early, so Christian will need to stop teaching at the end of the term in order to run the family business. They get drunk again, and they end up kissing. Christian tells her he’d like to take her on a date once their class ends. Lily agrees.
On the way to another fake date at his parents’ house, Lily and Drew brainstorm ways to market her business. They settle on a viral word-of-mouth approach, since the idea is to keep clients confidential. This date is a private family dinner, so Lily is shocked to find Christian introduced as Drew’s brother; Christian is equally shocked to hear Lily is Drew’s girlfriend. The dinner is awkward and excruciating. Afterward, Lily asks why she never had a clue they were related from class; Drew explains that they don’t get along at all, so Christian merely ignores him rather than embracing him as a brother. Lily changes the subject back to her business, which she needs to get on the ground so she can afford rent. Drew invites her to move into his flat. Lily agrees, and in no time at all, her business is booming. A musical montage shows its growth: she dates a wide variety of gay clients, tailoring her look and attitude to what they think would look best, and she’s able to easily pay her tuition. She’s a hit no matter what the environment, and despite the odd nature of it, Lily’s proud of the business and works hard to increase profitability. It reaches a point where she’s so successful, she loses track of which date occurs on which night, despite having a Blackberry to keep it all organized.
After the montage, Allen “proposes” to Lily, giving her a beautiful ring in order to show his boss he’s really committed. Lily reluctantly agrees to it, but she continues wearing the ring after the date and ends up wearing it the following morning, when she and Drew meet Byron, Elizabeth, Christian, Sarah, and the Horwells at a country club. They’re all shocked and thrilled by the news. Drew rolls with it. Sarah browbeats Christian over not proposing to her first. She invites Lily to go clothes shopping. That night, at Threads, Drew, Allen, and the others get drunk together. Lily tries to convince them that maybe outsiders don’t care as much about their sexual orientation than they believe. The others disagree. Christian hands back one of Lily’s papers — it’s marked “SEE ME” in red ink. Christian notices her work has grown sloppy and fears she’s spending too much time partying. That night, Drew is surprised when Christian shows up at his flat, for the first time ever. Christian warns Drew not to drag Lily down with his carelessness.
Lily goes clothes shopping with Sarah. Under the guise of “girl talk,” Sarah tries to get Lily to admit she’s marrying Drew for his money. After repeatedly denying it, Sarah surreptitiously steals Lily’s Blackberry. She browses through it and announces to Christian that Lily’s a hooker. Christian refuses to believe it. Sarah tells her to meet him at the Ivy, a posh restaurant, at 8 so she can prove it. Meanwhile, as Lily prepares for a date, she tries to coach Drew through various methods of coming out. Drew won’t hear of it. Christian arrives at the Ivy and is seated by a flamboyantly gay ma√Ætre d’, just as Sarah calls to announce she won’t be able to make it. A few minutes later, Lily is seated at the same table. Both are shocked, for different reasons: Lily thinks this means Christian is gay, while Christian thinks this is proof that she’s a call girl. Things get even more awkward when PETER and PAMELA (Allen’s boss and his wife) arrive at the restaurant and notice Lily, whom they know as “Fiona,” sitting with another man. Lily introduces Christian and tries to smooth things over to convince them she’s not having an affair, but her protesting just makes them even more convinced. NICK, the agent of Lily’s actor client (SEAN), is also at the restaurant, trying in vain to woo macho director COLIN so he’ll cast Sean as the tough-guy lead in his next action movie. He drags Nick to sit with them, charm Colin, and convince him Sean’s straight. Lily leaves Christian to convince Peter and Pamela that they’re having an innocent dinner. Sparked by the ma√Ætre d’, Christian blurts out that he’s gay; this does the trick. Lily spots Byron and Elizabeth arriving and dives down, out of sight, unintentionally appearing to fellate Colin. Admiring her moxie, Colin agrees to hire Sean. Lily sneaks back into the restaurant for Christian, and they high-tail it out of there.
Able to find some privacy at a pub, Lily and Christian debate the ethics and morals of Lily’s chosen business. Christian still thinks she’s a call girl, but Lily still thinks Christian is gay and knows exactly the sort of non-sexual service she provides. At no time are they talking about the same thing, so Christian responds with shock and dismay at Lily’s frankness. They walk around Cambridge, and Lily admires its beauty and tells Christianthis is why she’s willing to do anything to stay here. Eventually, she makes a gay joke that Christian doesn’t understand, and they both finally figure out what the other has been thinking the whole time. Christian tells her he’s not gay but realizes, if she only “services” gay clientele, then Drew is. Humiliated, Lily runs away and immediately confesses what happened to Drew, who’s livid. At the university, Sarah has told Horwell that Lily is a call girl; she vehemently denies it but refuses to divulge what she’s actually doing. Horwell tells her they’re having a hearing in the evening, so she can defend herself by bringing proof. Lily immediately makes plans to return to Iowa. Christian drops by Drew’s flat to talk it out with him. When he finds out Lily’s left, Christian is shocked; Drew is shocked when he finds out about the hearing. They all band together to find her at the airport, with Mel’s help (she’s a flight attendant). They find her and return to Cambridge, but they’re caught in a traffic jam and have to run the last mile. Zitto, Chick, Allen, Sean, and a bunch of Lily’s other clients show up at the hearing, admit they’re gay and that Lily has done nothing wrong. Horwell allows Lily to stay.
Lily graduates from business school. She’s now dating Christian, now a full professor; Drew is dating Sean, which Byron and Elizabeth accept with surprising ease. Lily’s many clients turn up for the graduation, as does Lily’s mother. It’s a cheerful affair.
Comments:Cover Girl is an amiable romantic comedy with a few novel twists (primarily Lily’s “beard girlfriend” business). Although many of the ideas are a lot of fun conceptually, the execution falters, resulting in a predictable story that isn’t quite as funny as it should be. As written, it merits a reluctant pass.
The first act breezes through the setup — Lily leaving the U.S. for business school, having her tuition money stolen, and starting the beard business — with such rapidity that it’s almost a blur. The quickness is in stark contrast to the more leisurely pace of the second and third acts, as if the writer overstuffed the first act with the setup in order to take time paying off every little detail in the opening pages. It’s a little bit jarring, especially since much of the setup is extraneous and could stand a bit of trimming.
Once the major beats of the story have been established, the second act attempts to raise the stakes with nearly every cliché in the romantic-comedy playbook. Aside from the fairly ingenious idea of Lily working as a beard for gay men, everything from the “two male leads turn out to be brothers” conceit to the farcical “every single character shows up at the same restaurant at the same time” scene to the “Three’s Company-esque misunderstanding” between Lily and Christian — it’s all been done before, and usually better. The third act is more of the same, to the point that the writer has some of the characters comment that they’ve ripped off the airport bit from Love, Actually. The self-awareness is admirable, but that doesn’t make it any better.
Although the characters, like the story, come from familiar stock, they’re all refreshingly engaging. Lily is a well-written bundle of intellectual anxiety, and Christian manages to come across quite charming despite his fairly generic role as the roguishly handsome, sensitive romantic lead. The subtle shades to characters like Drew and Allen make up for the tendency to turn the minor gay characters into swishy stereotypes. The only real character problem is Sarah, an evil caricature who only exists in the story because genre conventions say there needs to be a villain. She serves only to cause trouble, and the writer never gives a clear reason why Christian would give her the time of day.
The dialogue is extremely well-written in the sense that each character has a particular voice. In terms of crafting jokes and one-liners, it misses more often than it hits. Despite flaws like these, Cover Girl is extremely likable. It’s entirely possible that a funny cast skilled in improvisation could mine some of the comic ideas for gold. Without extremely good casting, it’s more likely to end up as a bland, forgettable romantic comedy.