Author: Jeremy Catalino
Writer’s Potential: 4
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Stensland bawls like a baby as he walks home. He recites a motivational mantra that is written on his bathroom wall, ending with, “‘I can’t believer that used to be Stensland,’ they’ll say. ‘I can’t believe that used to be Stensland.’” He learns his roommate, LYLE, is moving out and is doubly wounded. He asks Lyle to leave him with his marijuana, and Stensland turns on Felicity, smokes joints, and weeps. A week later, Lyle returns for some last-minute move-out items and is baffled to find Stensland in the exact same position. Lyle reminds Stensland that he now has one day to find a new roommate, then makes Stensland get up and go to work (at an antique shop), where he is immediately fired for not showing up for a week.
Stensland goes to Morgan’s office, makes his way past her assistant, HANNAH, and demands to continue having sex with Morgan. Morgan refuses, then says she’s not even sure her husband is cheating on her anymore. Stensland looks at a photo of her husband, GRADY (mid-40s, good looking, smarmy), and decides he wants $15,000 to keep quiet about the affair. Morgan laughs, telling him Grady is a lawyer who would never believe him without evidence. Stensland launches into a barrage of personal details only someone who has slept with Morgan would know, horrifying Morgan. She tells Stensland she’s already told Grady, but Stensland doesn’t believe her. He renews his demand for money, but she turns him down, so he goes outside and cries some more. He discusses the problem with Lyle and his girlfriend, LINDA. They both agree that Stensland should make good on his offer and tell Grady.
Stensland calls Grady and confesses everything. Grady says Morgan told him everything, and Grady intends to kill him. Stensland’s terrified. He flees his apartment and goes into a nearby jazz club to watch for Grady. He’s immediately swarmed by a gaggle of middle-aged/elderly African-American women. They give him advice on finding a woman his own age, then Stensland decides it’s safe and goes back to the apartment — where Grady immediately ambushes him with a gun. Grady dry-clicks the trigger before admitting the gun is just to scare him. Then he insults Stensland’s crappy apartment and tries to engage Stensland in a fistfight. When he won’t fight back, Grady deems Stensland too pathetic and leaves.
The next morning, a strange cleaning woman is vacuuming Stensland’s apartment. Grady’s also there. He announces his intention to move in. When Stensland asks why, Grady gives him two reasons: first, he’s angry at Morgan and needs to get away from her; second, because he didn’t actually cheat, he now has a “gift card” to have sex with somebody, so he intends to remain Stensland’s roommate until he’s slept with another woman. Grady takes Stensland to buy marijuana from an ex-client. Later, Stensland watches more Felicity. Grady asks about the show, then mocks Stensland. He offers him a joint, and it makes Stensland very high and paranoid within seconds. Then Morgan and Hannah show up. Morgan found out where Grady’s staying and is enraged. Grady and Stensland gang up on her, verbally abusing her until she leaves.
While Grady and Stensland go out carousing at clubs, Morgan drags an unenthusiastic Hannah to buy comfort food (and drinks). Stensland tells Grady he hates clubs; Grady doesn’t care, forces Stensland to flirt. He tries and fails, then remarks to Grady that none of these women are as good as his wife. As revenge, Grady insults some large, angry hipsters, getting them to go outside to fight Stensland. He actually fights back and doesn’t exactly win but doesn’t lose, either. Grady’s credit card is declined, courtesy of Morgan, so the club decides to keep his car as collateral. They take the bus home.
The next morning, Stensland finds that Grady has painted over his mantra. Stensland sneaks away from Grady to meet up with Lyle, who’s baffled by Stensland’s sudden change from a stay-at-home dork into a guy who blackmails women and gets into alley fistfights. Stensland’s less impressed, but Lyle’s theory is that an outside force is making Stensland live out his 20s all at once. Grady shows up, and Lyle is in awe of him. He announces that his credit cards are back in order, he has the car, and he’s arranged something for Morgan. Morgan arrives at her office with a prospective client and discovers some sort of bizarre pseudo-stripper/performance artist has been hired by Grady to celebrate Morgan’s affair. The client leaves.
Enraged, Morgan seeks out Stensland and forces him to get in her car. Stensland lets slip Grady’s “gift card” plan, and she explains that he’s just childish and will never go through with it — he’ll just keep making Stensland party with him, night after night, until he gets bored. Stensland pretends he likes this plan, so Morgan lets him out of the car and drives away. Stensland tells Grady what’s happened, and he amps up the plans, dragging Stensland all over town over the span of multiple nights.
Eventually, Stensland calls and convinces Hannah to meet him at the same Staples store where he initially seduced Morgan. He begs Hannah for help getting Grady and Morgan to meet up and hash it out so they can move past this and get back together. She doesn’t have a clue where they could even meet, but it dawns on Stensland that Staples is the perfect place. They each lure Grady and Morgan to the Staples, where they get into a blow-up, leading Grady to tell her they might as well get a divorce. They leave each other angrier than ever. Mad at Stensland, Hannah chases after Morgan.
Stensland goes back to the apartment, where he chastises Grady for bringing up divorce. He also refuses to party. Instead, Grady brings two girls back to the apartment. They’re both skanky sorority types, and Stensland is unenthusiastic but accidentally attracts one of them by telling a “cute” story about how, as a kid, he tried to imitate Billy Ocean to unsuccessfully catch the attention of a classmate. They play some Billy Ocean, then Grady takes one girl into his bedroom. The other’s angry because she’s the one who never gets “The Wizard.” She rejects Stensland, who doesn’t mind.
Grady calls Morgan the next morning to tell her what he’s done. She acts like she doesn’t care, then asks if he’s gotten the ball rolling on the divorce papers. Grady starts bawling to Stensland about Morgan, then decides to move into the Four Seasons. Stensland gives Grady a pep talk about Morgan that encourages Grady to fight for her love. Grady is touched by the speech but won’t take the advice. He leaves Stensland, saying, “I can’t believe you used to be Stensland.” Meanwhile, Hannah gives Morgan two weeks’ notice.
As Grady works up the divorce papers, the gravity of what he’s doing sets in. He goes back home, meets with Morgan, and admits that he’s learned something from his experience — and from Stensland — and that he was walking through their marriage like a zombie but has now realized he should commit to it more fully. Morgan agrees to take him back. Hannah goes to the Staples store where Stensland now works to thank him for inspiring her to quit his job. Stensland has a long monologue about how he’s not a normal guy. Hannah asks if he’s going to ask her out, and he says he’s waiting for the right moment. She smiles.
Grady isn’t exactly likable, either, but at least he has a shred of emotional complexity. Granted, he spends about 99% of the script acting like a mutant hybrid of Alec Baldwin’s 30 Rock character and Animal House’s Bluto — with none of the charm of either — but deep down, he’s really going through something. The less I cared about Stensland and grasped for something to redeem this script, I kept coming back to Grady. He’s actually hurting, and although he makes a series of impulsive and stupid decisions leading up to his pseudo-epiphany, if the writer decided to dig deep into this character and rewrite it from his point of view, it could turn into a very interesting story.
Similarly, Hannah didn’t do much for me. The thinner-than-rice-paper “arc” leading her to quit comes out of nowhere and has no bearing on anything; since she’s barely in the script, this doesn’t qualify as a moment of triumph or anguish — it just hangs in the air like a stale fart. Her hook-up with Stensland at the end is similarly baffling. Morgan, on the other hand, is mildly intriguing. She lacks even the shallow complexity given to Grady, but the fact that she’s so suspicious of her husband made me wish the writer gave us a little more information about her and Grady as a couple.
The plot hits all the romantic-comedy clichés without putting much of a new spin on any of it. The characters do inexplicable things for plot-related reasons, all while talking in circles to justify their confusing actions. Every character talks in the same kind of overwritten, outdated-pop-culture-referencing monologues that make Stensland so irritating. The writer wrings a few amusing moments from the dialogue, but the plot ranges from hectic to utter nonsense while all the characters — including Grady — just seem like they’re along for the ride, making decisions only because the plot gods have told them to. When they aren’t explaining their story motivations, each character takes time to either state how they’re feeling or state how others are feeling, with overwrought purple prose attempting to mask how on-the-nose everything is.
If each character had unique, well-defined traits — not just from each other but from genre clichés like “boorish philanderer” and “neurotic loner” — this story could transform into something significantly more entertaining, deriving laughs from the characters instead of sterile words on a page, constructing a plot that fits the genre conventions without feeling like a by-the-numbers romantic comedy. Since Grady’s the only person in the script with any meat to his character, he’s the key to making this worthwhile. Right now, Stensland doesn’t even belong in the story, so the whole thing falls apart.
With rewriting, this could be the kind of urbane comedy that draws in a crowd ranging from mid-20s possibly to mid-50s. As it stands now, it would most likely appeal to teenagers, who will relate to these characters’ juvenile understanding of relationships and don’t get so annoyed by thin characters and overwritten yet on-the-nose dialogue.
Posted by D. B. Bates on October 20, 2008 6:57 PM