Author: Craig Schwartz
Writer’s Potential: 4
After touching a power line, a talentless artist discovers his hand has a mind of its own.
Gardener NORMAN NELSON has a rough life: his girlfriend, KATE, just left him; he wishes he could live his dream as a topiary sculptor but is deprived by his “artist” boss, SOSUMI SUKI, who feels Norman has no talent (and is correct); and he recently enraged wealthy clientele, MRS. LIPTON and her gorgeous daughter GISELLE, by inadvertently insulted both of them while trying to kill a wasp. Adding insult to injury (literally), he chases a wasp to a nearby power-line, swats at it, and is electrocuted.
He’s met at the hospital by his good friend ALLIE, who is told by doctors that Norman will recover but his hand will have to be amputated. However, the next morning, Norman awakens to find his hand totally regenerated—except for one problem: the hand has a mind of its own and is no longer controlled in any way by Norman. At first, he doesn’t even notice. Then, he tries to ignore it. Later, he threatens it and attempts to cut it off, but the hand stops him. Having been fired from his job, Allie helps him get freelance gardening work; while on the job, Norman sneaks back into the Lipton compound to take a sneak-peak at Sosumi’s entry in a topiary contest. The hand, to his surprise, shapes Sosumi’s design into Norman’s only good design. The Liptons are stunned. Mrs. Lipton reacts by trying to seduce Norman, who agrees only because it will help his career; angered by Norman “stealing” his career, Sosumi enlists the aid of Giselle to destroy Norman. If Mrs. Lipton catches Norman and Giselle in a compromising position, she’ll ruin Norman.
However, the hand has plans of its own. It notices a mutual attraction between Norman and Allie, and it agrees to help Norman make a move on her, by redecorating his disgusting apartment, dressing him nicely, styling his hair, and performing various romantic acts (such as leaving Allie a note that quotes her favorite Shakespeare sonnet, and buying her flowers) while oblivious Norman tries to hook up with beautiful Giselle and avoid Mrs. Lipton. Soon, Norman takes Allie on a date. Thanks to the hand, they have a nice evening. It’s nearly ruined by Giselle showing up drunk at Norman’s apartment, but the hand once again saves the day.
Norman wins the big topiary contest thanks to strings pulled by Mrs. Lipton. At the garden party exhibiting the topiaries, Giselle comes on to Norman right in front of Allie, who storms off violently. An art dealer shows interest in Norman’s work and asks for more, so the hand gets to work creating “sudden” art, by throwing around hors d’oeuvres, champagne, and punch, creating stains that look like objects or animals. When Mrs. Lipton witnesses yet another come-on from Giselle, she’s fit to be tied, until the hand plays a beautiful piece on the piano that reminds her of how much she loves her husband. She forces Norman to craft an ice sculpture for the partygoers, and if he doesn’t he’ll be cast out of high society forever. Norman decides Allie is more important than material success, so he runs off to find and tell her this realization. She refuses to see him, and after trying to track her down at her various haunts, he attempts suicide by leaping from the roof of his apartment. But Allie has had a change of heart, so she arrives at the apartment just as he’s on the roof. The hand tries so hard to stop him that he grabs Norman’s cat. Norman won’t kill himself if it means the cat has to die, too, but when he hears Allie, Norman accidentally drops it onto a power line.
While Allie calls for help, Norman climbs up to rescue the cat and is electrocuted again. He thinks the hand is “dead” and mourns for it, but it returns to life, and they live happily ever after.
Hands down (no pun intended, I swear), the biggest problem in this script is a lack of structure. It may sound somewhat like a plot that flows from point A to B (and so on), but there’s no momentum. It just rambles, with nothing in the way of a defined three-act structure or story arc. Essentially, Norman is given no real challenges in the script. He has three woman practically begging to sleep with him. He just ambles from scene to scene, interacting with other characters without much real conflict. There’s no jeopardy, and on the occasions where there could be, the hand saves the day, so there’s never anything at stake.
What little story there is revolves around Norman being incompetent until he gets this “magic” hand that puts him on Easy Street. So what would happen if, say, the hand stopped working? He has to go impress the social elite with his topiary skills or ice-sculpturing skills, but for some reason the hand has crapped out on him. This is pretty much the major Act 3 turning point in every movie that falls under the category of “freak accident leaves protagonist with super power that helps him achieve success,” so it’s not exactly original, but at least something happens to give the story some variety and stakes.
That said, most of the conflict in each scene arises between the hand trying to do things Norman doesn’t want it to do. For the most part, this development evaporates as soon as Norman agrees to let the hand help him impress Allie. Instead of Norman being a sad-sack loser who fails at everything, what would happen if he actually were pretty well put together? Good job, nice girlfriend, comfortable home life, but it’s all turned upside-down and nearly destroyed by a hand with a mind of its own, like the romantic-comedy version of The Hand (1981) or Idle Hands (1999).
The structure/story problems aren’t helped by the poor characterizations. No physical description is ever given of Norman Nelson. At first it seems like a minor technical problem that wouldn’t matter, in the long run, it makes it really difficult to picture him. How old is he? What’s his background? Why does he have such a strong desire to trim topiary sculptures despite his clear lack of talent? This last is probably his most interesting character trait, but it’s never explored or explained; it’s just a fact of his life. Insight into his drive to pursue this obscure art form would not only strengthen his character; chances are, it will strengthen the plot by giving him goals.
The supporting characters are all flat, as well. They serve as poorly defined foils for the wacky antics of Norman and his magic hand. What’s Allie’s story? Why is she into this loser? What has driven Mr. and Mrs. Lipton so far apart that they barely recognize each other at parties? What has driven Giselle to alcoholism? Why should we care about any of these people and their problems? The screenplay doesn’t present any of these as problems, but if they were—and were actually treated in a way that’s important to the story—it would go a long way toward bringing the characters to life.
The dialogue is the biggest strength, but even it isn’t terribly funny. It contributes to the overall rambling feel, since individual scenes are as unstructured as the whole script. They talk a lot, but they rarely say anything interesting, insightful, or even relevant to the plot (what little there is). Add to that endless scenes in which Norman, alone, holds conversations with his hand, and the bad/pointless stretches of dialogue far outweigh the occasional wit.