Author: Enda Walsh
Writer’s Potential: 5
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Mo starts off by announcing that he hates people who hate television. He believes it allows people to study life. William takes the reins by announcing his disdain for children’s-book authors. The others are a little confused by the specificity of this choice, so William takes them on a “field trip” to the “Elliot Time Traveller Fan Club” chatroom, where huge throngs of teens chatter. William starts griping about the Elliot Time Traveller book series, then plays an elaborate video — featuring stop-motion Lego figures — to tell the “true” story of Elliot Goes to Auschwitz. The scathing, hostile satire finds Elliot helping kids dig their way out of the Auschwitz camp — and right into a tent where Hitler and several Nazis have sex with Polish prostitutes. Afraid, Elliot returns to the present, leaving the children to die. The group from Chelsea Teens! find the video amusing and impressive, but they cause extreme rage in the Fan Club chatroom.
The group returns to Chelsea Teens! William concludes his point: that children’s-book authors use lies and manipulations to “suppress” teens. Emily wonders if parents are afraid of their teens. The group agrees that they must be, because each new generation is better educated and more connected to the world. William uses this to identify the purpose of the chatroom: to identify the people they want to be — no matter what their parents want — set goals for themselves, and achieve the goals by the end of summer vacation. The others are pleased and impressed with this concept and agree to meet again.
In the real world, William goes inside his house and finds a bunch of cellophane-wrapped books on the kitchen table. The title: Elliot Goes to Ancient Greece. William’s mother, GRACE (48, beautiful), enters and lovingly signs a copy of the book for William, who thanks her disingenuously. Grace leads William into the sitting room, where PAUL (53, William’s father) and a FEMALE PSYCHIATRIST (40s) wait. At the Camden Market, Jim eats lunch when he’s approached by a friendly goth teen, CANDY. She flirts with him quite obviously, then excuses herself, asking Jim if he’ll be there when she returns. He says he will but leaves the instant she disappears from view. Back at William’s house, the psychiatrist has finished up, hoping the family has benefited from the therapy session. They all agree she’s helped a lot and they don’t feel they’ll need regular sessions. Immediately, William locks himself in his room and flips open his laptop.
In the chat realm, the eerie corridor is now flooded with people. William spots Emily, who carries a cello case, and follows her to a room labeled “Chelsea Musical Appreciation Society.” Inside is a concert hall, where Emily plays with an unremarkable string quartet. In reality, Eva accompanies three friends — CHARLOTTE, BETSY and USHI (all wealthy, all vain) — to the mall. They talk nonstop about their potential modeling careers and Eva’s relatively disappointing looks. Eva’s irritated but says nothing. At home, William plays with a plastic “family” playset — mother, father, and two sons. He uses a pen knife to carve a smile onto the young boy figure’s face. Mo plays a medieval war video game with his best friend SI. Si jokingly speculates that Mo might be gay.
William enters the computer world to spy on Eva’s MySpace, overcrowded with friends and glamorous photos of Eva. Emily, meanwhile, arrives inside Eva’s MySpace, which is virtually deserted and contains little decoration other than photos of inspirational women. Unimpressed, Eva drags Emily to her own MySpace, where a party’s happening. They discover William there. Eva’s uneasy, but Emily pressures her to let William stay. In reality, Jim buys a dead fish at the market, wanders to a nearby canal and tosses the fish in. He watches it sink into the filthy water. Inside Eva’s MySpace, William chats up Emily. Eva, slightly jealous, snipes at both of them. William gets Emily to open up about her family life. Emily admits she’s dull because her family’s dull. They don’t have a family unit so much as they cohabitate in the same house. Emily wants to change that. William suggests instigating a series of anonymous acts of violence that appear to come from an external force — nothing will bring them together like a family under attack. Emily thinks the idea is brilliant, and to William’s surprise, so does Eva. The three brainstorm ideas.
William goes back to Chelsea Teens!, which is empty. There, he has stored all the information he’s compiled on Emily, Eva, and Mo — he’s found out plenty about them, including their real names and where they live. The missing piece of the puzzle is Jim. William’s online activity is disrupted by the real-life arrival of a mysterious, obnoxious stranger downstairs. At the sound of his voice, William takes the pen knife and begins to make small cuts on his arms. Later, William is forced to come downstairs. His brother, ELLIOT (23), is the new arrival. This does not please William at all. He goes back online and neglects Chelsea Teen! — where Jim waits, alone, for somebody to talk to — in favor of a chatroom where a group of aggressive Brazilian teens browbeat a younger boy. This amuses and excites William.
The next morning, Mo sits with Si, watching Si’s younger sister (KEISHA, 11, super-genius) perform a gymnastics routine. Mo is smitten by the much younger girl. Later, in Chelsea Teens!, William gives Mo a pep talk about finding his goals, figuring out what to do with himself. They’re interrupted by the arrival of a very obvious wannabe-pedophile. After William gets rid of him, Mo brings up Keisha and asks how wrong it would be if they got together. Uneasy, William suggests Mo would be better off “practicing” on an older woman. Later, the others arrive in the chatroom to find Eva and Emily have redecorated the room. It’s exceptionally girly, displeasing the guys. Meanwhile, William sets up a password to enter the chat (which manifests itself in the virtual world as a big lock on the door and an intercom).
As William attempts to chat, reality barges in: Elliot beats on the door and demands that William socialize with the family. Elliot’s only going to be around for a month, so it’s the least he can do. William starts cutting himself again. Within the chat, Emily discusses the plan to launch her “attack” on the family. Eva reminds Jim that he never mentioned what he hates. Jim utters that he hates himself, because he’s been on antidepressants that just make him feel worse. William leads the others in urging Jim to stop taking the pills. After the others have left the chat, William confides to Eva that since they’re both “fucking around with Emily,” they might as well fuck around with Jim, too. Eva’s unsettled, but she considers going along.
Jim empties his pills into the toilet. William returns to the Brazilian chat for his own amusement. Mo enters a “MILF” chatroom and tries to discuss his Keisha problem with an older woman, who invites Mo over for depraved sex. Mo tells William all about it, and William suggests going to Si and confessing the truth. Mo is unsure, but William insists Si’s his best friend — he’ll understand. William finds Eva at her MySpace and gets her to confide who she hates: Ushi. Then he goes to Emily’s MySpace to make sure she’s still willing to go through with the “attack.” Using dog shit, Emily smears the words “FUCK YOU” on her parents’ car. William finds Jim in Chelsea Teens! and gives him a pep talk about coping with his depression. He also recommends a book on the subject. Jim is heartened. In reality, William goes downstairs to spend time with the family, but he can’t resist using his phone to chat. Elliot spies this but says nothing.
Jim tries to stay optimistic, but his depression starts to cripple him. He enters the chatroom, but when he finds it empty, the room morphs from the girly, pink-themed room into a bleak, drab jail cell. Hidden in a shadowy corner, William watches the transformation with amusement. Emily’s ruse causes her parents to actually communicate with her and with each other, pleasing her. William shows Eva what he’s managed to do — using Photoshop and video-editing programs, he’s managed to make it look both like Ushi has been involved in pornography and makes her modeling portfolio look subtly less appealing. Eva is awed. In chat, Jim tells William he’s started vomiting. He wants to tell his mother what he’s going through, but William urges him not to, claiming it’s just temporary withdrawal symptoms. Jim’s terrified, but William calms him down through his words. In reality, Elliot breaks into William’s room and finds a variety of disturbing images and videos of teens committing wanton violence and/or killing themselves. This throws the family into disarray. William throws Elliot out of the room and locks himself in. He returns to the Brazilian chatroom and waits for his parents to beat the door down. They take away his computer.
When he’s alone, William sneaks back on the computer. All five of them are in Chelsea Teen! Jim, looking worse than ever, tells them all the story that led him to the antidepressants — at age 7, he and his father shared a perfect day at the zoo, until his father abandoned him, leaving Jim to find his own way home. After the others leave, William tells Jim he’ll introduce him to a private chatroom that helped William when he went through something similar. Later, Eva asks if William’s been flirting with him, then asks if they’re girlfriend and boyfriend. William decides they need to meet in the flesh. Eva’s a little nervous.
Emily spraypaints the front door, which brings the family even further together. Mo finally confesses his feelings to Si, who beats the hell out of him. In her MySpace, Eva tells off Charlotte for being so vapid. She’s hurt but forgets it as soon as she sees the lewd photos of Ushi. Eva navigates through the corridor to a chatroom called “DORFLI PLACE,” where William waits. He shows her what’s inside: LAURA (17) driving a 13-year-old boy to suicide by filling him with the courage to carry out the act. Eva’s appalled. Back in Chelsea Teens!, things start to break down. Everyone’s on edge and unhappy. Eva insults Emily, who overreacts and sets fire to her parents’ newly installed pagoda. William introduces Jim to Laura, who is intoxicated by her apparent sympathy. William and Eva work to bring the fractured group of friends back together, for Jim’s sake.
William makes a video that will supposedly help Jim and guide him through his problems. It’s actually a scathing, brutal mockery of Jim’s tough life. The others are shocked, but William plays it off as a tough-love tactic. When the chat tide starts to turn against him, William declares that he knows what will get Jim through this situation because his own mother killed herself. Eva knows this is a lie, but the others are swept back under his spell… Temporarily, at least. In private, Emily and Mo realize William’s plans to help them have actually destroyed their lives. They also both recall William mentioning a living mother at least once. Jim gets closer and closer to suicide. When Mo tries to talk some sense into him, Jim accuses Mo of pedophilia and refuses to listen to him. William continues to torment Jim. Mo chases William through a wide variety of bizarre chatrooms, but William gets away from him. Mo goes to Emily’s MySpace to tell her they have to meet in real life and find Jim.
In reality, Grace forces William to come out of his room and help celebrate the release of the latest Elliot Time Traveller book. Although he comes out and makes quiet amends with his family, the social awkwardness overwhelms him. William bursts out of his house just as Jim leaves his own. Mo begs Si and Keisha for help. Si can’t stay mad at Mo, so the three of them go to a train station to meet Emily. It occurs to Mo that he doesn’t know what she looks like, so he holds up a big blackboard with his name on it so she can find him. Si, a computer geek, helps them track down Jim’s most recent online activity. He and William scheduled a time to meet up at the zoo. They take the train to the zoo. William leaves a padded envelope for Jim, who finds it. Still at the zoo, Jim logs on to the Dorfli Place chatroom to find out what, exactly, is going on. Eva, William, and Laura are there. Eva tries to convince Jim not to listen to William, but Jim’s made up his mind. He opens the envelope and finds a handgun inside.
The others see Jim on his computer and try to get into Dorfli Place. They find it’s protected with a password, which Keisha quickly identifies. “Dorfli” is a reference to Heidi, so the password must be Heidi’s famous call, “Grandfather, Grandfather!” Before they get to the chatroom, Jim freaks out, leaves the chatroom, and starts to run away in reality. William, spying Jim from afar, follows him out of the zoo and to the nearby train station. Eva goes back to Dorfli Place to tell the others that Jim’s on his way home and William’s following. Eva also rushes to her local train station to get to Jim before William can. Mo, Emily, and the others go to the train station. William follows Jim onto a crowded train. They get off in Chelsea, where William accosts Jim for not just killing himself and getting it over with. He takes the gun from Jim and turns it on him. Eva arrives and punches William in the face before he can do anything. She’s brought four policemen, who demand that William drop the gun. From the other direction, Mo and the others have just arrived. Left without options, William throws himself in front of a passing train. His phone reveals a hologram of William setting fire to Chelsea Teens!, which spreads and destroys all the other chatrooms. Weeks pass; summer turns to autumn. Jim, looking a bit haggard, runs into Candy at the market again. He apologizes for leaving, and they awkwardly walk and talk together.
The story starts out with a lot of promise. The first act introduces a group of disparate characters, each crippled by some sort of mental or emotional problem, and shows the difference in their behavior on and off the Internet. The second act makes a rocky, somewhat jarring shift from character study to melodramatic thriller. As William’s evil behavior grows more cartoonish, the script grows increasingly ridiculous. This results in a third act that provides more unintentional laughs than suspense. It ultimately reaches a conclusion that relies heavily on plot contrivance and clichés (telegraphing William throwing himself in front of the train they second they arrive in the station) instead of unique, innovative storytelling.
Like the story, the characters start out with attempts at nuance and depth but slowly reveal themselves to be clichés: the sinister Svengali who manipulates his “friends” into doing bad things for his own amusement, the super-genius little kid who saves the day, the nerdy girl who wishes she was cool, the popular girl who feels isolated by the shallowness of her real-life friends… The only character who breaks free of stereotype is Mo, whose inappropriate crush on his best friend’s sister would be a cliché were it not for the “pedophile” part, which doesn’t exactly make his plight sympathetic.
Overall, Chatroom reads like the ravings of a paranoid middle-aged person who blames Internet chatrooms for all of teens’ problems. It already feels dated by focusing on chatrooms and marginalizing the vastly more popular (for the moment) social-networking websites and the widespread use of instant-messaging (it’s not just for sheltered nerds anymore!), and it’s bound to feel more and more dated and ridiculous as years pass. A more grounded examination of the effects of these teens’ home lives might have made for a more compelling, nuanced thriller about the effects of creating an “online persona” to hide from reality. The writer opted to get silly instead of serious, resulting in a story that will please neither teens nor adults.
It seems geared toward teens, but the teenage characters and storyline will feel inauthentic to anyone under 30. A story focusing on teens using chatrooms isn’t likely to appeal to any older demographics.
Posted by D. B. Bates on February 1, 2009 7:33 PM