Author: Sebastian Gutierrez
Writer’s Potential: 7
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Snapping into the waking life, Gustavo is thrust on stage to do a Q&A at a college. It is clear, based on the questions he’s asked and his answers to them, that he is intelligent and articulate in both English and Spanish, although his English is poor enough that he requires the assistance of a translator, SYLVIA, mid-30s and attractive. It also becomes clear, in his responses to certain attractive college girls, that he utilizes his charm and their fascination for his own gain. This becomes clearer when he involves himself in a drug-fueled orgy with three girls from the audience.
Afterward, he has another dream, this one of writer’s block: as he sits down at a typewriter to write, his teeth begin to fall out, one after the other. He is visited by a MASKED WOMAN who interrogates him about his writer’s block and implies that he needs something more fulfilling in his life to allow him to write again. Gustavo wakes up before he can deny it. He sneaks out of the dorm room, where he runs into JUSTINE — another girl from the Q&A, but not a part of the orgy — who sneaks him into her room to keep him from getting caught on the all-girls’ campus. She is not successful, as he’s tossed out by campus security and the Q&A moderator/professor.
That evening, New York Times literary critic EMILY COOPER arrives at Gustavo’s hotel for an interview, but when they ring his room, there is no response. When she goes to the bathroom to freshen up, a faulty faucet sprays water all over her blouse. Shortly thereafter, a waitress spills wine all over it. She finally goes to a gift shop, but all she can find is a cheesy t-shirt. As a last-ditch effort, Emily calls Sylvia, who insists Gustavo should be in his hotel room, but he may have passed out, so she should knock hard.
When Emily arrives at his suite, Gustavo pretends to be the perfect gentleman and perfect host. They begin the interview, and he is pithy and insightful…until Justine walks out of his room and starts blasting MTV and acting, generally, like a brat. To combat the humiliation, when Justine reads the end of a story she had begun reading him earlier, he crushes her with a devastating critique. This causes Emily, angered, to leave.
The next day, Gustavo goes for a photo session with noted photographer GRETA, but they end up sleeping together and getting drunk, leaving Sylvia to pick up the pieces. Although Sylvia has been so frustrated by his behavior she quit the job, she returns later to get Gustavo because Justine swallowed 45 sleeping pills after writing a suicide note that is all about him.
At the hospital, Gustavo and Sylvia learn Justine is comatose and the doctors don’t know whether or not she’ll pull through. When Gustavo catches sight of Justine’s family, he panics and runs away.
In the middle of the night, Gustavo shows up at the home of JULIO LOZANO, a big Latin-American actor starring in a movie based on one of Gustavo’s books. Disconcerted but polite, Julio invites him inside. They discuss Julio’s ability to play the character, and Gustavo is very dismissive, in general, of the idea of making a movie from his books. Julio’s American wife, actress BRIDGET GIBSON, offers Gustavo their guest room. He obliges, and when she politely makes the bed, Gustavo makes several lewd comments about a sleazy movie she did, then starts grabbing her ass. Enraged, she drops him with an elbow to the face, then they call the police and have him dragged away.
Without anyone to turn to, Gustavo calls Emily Cooper — he happens to have her business card. She bails him out, and they go to a trashy motel. Gustavo has another dream, this time of trying to write under the stern discipline of a NUN. He pleads that he doesn’t have to write for her — he’s already an adult who has proven his writing ability. Emily’s in the classroom, too, and they help each other cheat on the writing exam, but the Nun catches them and sends them to MOTHER SUPERIOR (who is played by the same actress as Emily). She offers a magical pen that will allow him to write whatever he wants, as much as he wants, but as soon as he sets the pen down, he’ll never write again.
Gustavo awakens to the sound of gunshots. He gets up to find a bikini-clad Emily behind the motel, shooting a gun for fun. Emily tells Gustavo that Sylvia called her to let them know that Justine’s condition is unchanged. Gustavo admits he feels guilty, but there’s little he can do to change what happened now. He said he considered talking to the parents but opted against it because it would make him feel better, not the parents. Emily disagrees, and she drives Gustavo to Emily’s parents’ house and forces him to try to explain the situation. Justine’s MOTHER will have none of it, and her FATHER threatens him, ends up punching him square in the nose.
Back at the motel, Emily stitches up Gustavo’s nose because he refused to go to an emergency room. Things get a little intense, and he kisses her. At first she resists, but then she kisses back. Soon enough, they make love. Immediately afterward, Gustavo is shocked and horrified because he knows he’s made love to her before — he remembers everyone he’s “been inside of.”
Emily explains that 10 years ago, she and her then-boyfriend went on a vacation where they spent much of their time arguing. By coincidence, Gustavo passes her on the beach because she’s reading his book. His English was much worse back then, so she doesn’t understand him when he says he wrote the book. She tells him her name is Iris, but soon enough she catches sight of the About the Author photo of Gustavo, makes the connection, and decides to spend the night with him. Much of that night is spent talking, getting to know each other, and he’s willing to just leave her at the hotel…but she leaves the door unlocked, so when he comes back (he’s forgotten something), she’s there, waiting for him, and they make love.
Bigger confession: Emily got pregnant that night. She ended up marrying the boyfriend, but both he and the son were killed in a car accident. Later, Gustavo featured “Iris” as a minor character in one of his books, and his insight into her after only one night only continued Emily’s obsession with his work. She wanted to meet Gustavo and interview him to tell him this.
In a tricky dream sequence, it first appears that Gustavo has decided to go to Justine’s room to apologize and make amends with the coma patient, but his mother, AURORA, appears in the room. She complains about death and describes the afterlife as a somewhat boring place. They’re interrupted by two female guards, one of whom pulls out a pistol and shoots at Gustavo. He awakens with a start and discovers the “real” source of the banging — the motel room’s screen door flapping in the wind. Emily is gone, the regular door hangs wide open. He gets up and finds Emily out in the desert, sleepwalking. He brings her back to the room, tucks her in, and makes sure she doesn’t get up again. As she sleeps, he explains that he believes it is special that he’s slept with so many woman but, as far as he knows, she’s the only one he has impregnated.
The next morning, Emily awakens and finds he’s gone. It saddens her. Gustavo has gone to Sylvia’s apartment and is scrubbing her floors and cleaning up to atone. Emily goes to check out, and JEROME, the motel manager, says he’s surprised, that her “boyfriend” paid up already but said she might stay and to keep an eye on her because she sleepwalks. Emily is touched. She goes to her car and finds a note from Gustavo, saying there are things he needs to clean up and fix before he can be with her, but that he’d like to finish their interview, and to find him when she’s ready. At the edge of a beachside cliff, Emily tosses the gun over the edge, then scatters the ashes of her husband and son. Gustavo goes to Julio and Bridget to repair a fence he destroyed during his tussle with the cops.
Gustavo goes to visit Justine, for real this time. He makes his amends, then starts writing, page after page after page, until a NURSE enters and is surprised. She tries to get him to leave, but he needs his pages. Justine’s mother shows up and calls for guards or police. Gustavo slams the door and locks it to keep anyone from getting his pages. Fearing he’s backed himself into a corner, he’s pleased when Justine wakes up, although a bit terrified that it might be another dream. It isn’t, though. Her mother and the police burst in, but Justine won’t let them do anything. Gustavo calls Emily one last time before returning to his native country; he leaves a VoiceMail message.
Two years later, Gustavo is promoting his latest novel, Iris, The Sleepwalker, when Emily shows up to a book signing. She has a new baby — his baby, again. Gustavo is finally ready to own up to this.
Essentially, the first 45 pages could be condensed to about 10-15 without losing much. All the writer does here is establish and reestablish (1) Gustavo is intelligent, articulate, and witty, (2) he uses these strengths almost solely to sleep with young women, (3) he’s suffering from writer’s block, and (4) Sylvia is frustrated with his antics. We know all of these things by page 10, but it just keeps going, with more sex and drugs, more of Gustavo’s witty banter, more of Sylvia being annoyed. The real story doesn’t even start until the one-two punch of meeting Emily and Justine swallowing the pills. Introduce that earlier, condense everything else, and the story of Gustavo and Emily will have more room to breathe and feel a bit more organic and less rushed in its quest for the finish line.
But wait — what finish line? Nothing really drives Gustavo. He has those intermittent dreams implying, subconsciously, that he’s ready for a change, but he doesn’t do anything about this until the third act. There’s nothing really driving this narrative, even after the pill-swallowing that starts Gustavo on this sad journey. He doesn’t have any clear goals, doesn’t seem to care about angering or offending anyone. What happens to Justine makes him pause for reflection, but even then he doesn’t say or do much about it until Emily takes control of the situation. Once again, condensing and eliminating will help — the best material in this script is the relationship between Gustavo and Emily, so giving us more of that sooner will give this story more direction.
It’s a take on romantic comedies that we don’t see much lately — bleak introspection. Maybe it’s enough to reinvigorate the genre, but Gustavo’s rampant sexism might be a tough-sell for women, while the very idea of a romantic comedy might put off men who might relate to the character. Since Emily’s the one who really takes charge of the story, it might be best to tell this story from her point of view — after all, it’s as much her story as his — so that it doesn’t alienate the female audience
Posted by D. B. Bates on September 3, 2008 7:08 PM