Author: Jacob Aaron Estes
Writer’s Potential: 3
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Jeff plays basketball with LINCOLN, a large black man with a scarred hand and a missing finger, and needs a kidney transplant. Jeff is horrible at the game, but Lincoln has fun. Jeff spreads granulated coyote urine to scare off the raccoons. Nealy reminds him it’s Friday night, but nothing important registers in Jeff’s mind. He’s obsessed. Jeff gets a form to obtain a permit to add a small extension to their house’s front room. He brings home humane traps to try and capture the raccoons. The raccoons don’t fall for it. Nealy asks why they don’t simply repeat what they did in the front yard in the back. Jeff complains that he never had a sprawling, grassy backyard as a child, and he wants their son LUKE (2) to have better. Jeff continues to Google and tries every imaginable remedy for the raccoon problem. They keep coming. Jeff and Nealy get into a fight about it, which escalates until she hits him in the face with a book, giving him a black eye. At her store, a customer greets Nealy. Turns out she’s been having an affair with him. To his surprise, she breaks it off. Meanwhile, Jeff visits REBECCA MAZONNI to gripe about the fight he and Nealy had. They flirt, but it’s clear nothing has happened between them. Later that night, Nealy tells Jeff she plans to start going back to therapy. Although Jeff doesn’t believe in therapy, he supports the decision.
Jeff complains that the judge wouldn’t grant their variance, so their only solution is to go ahead without a permit. In order to do that, they have to butter up Lila, who complained incessantly about their construction projects when they moved in. Jeff and Nealy buy her a small cactus, which Jeff hands to Lila one morning before work. Lila attempts to flirt with him, but Jeff finds her repulsive. Lila tells Jeff any construction they do will be fine with her. JOSé leads his crew on the project the next morning. Jeff plays one-on-one with Lincoln, who tells him about the accident that injured his hand. He almost went pro, but the accident destroyed his career. Jeff relays the depressing story to Nealy, who suggests helping to get him a coaching job at a friend’s wife’s school. Meanwhile, Nealy confesses about the affair to a friend, who suggests they need couples’ therapy. Nealy says that’ll never happen. Jeff seeks out Lincoln at the Home Depot and tells him he set up an interview for him at his friend’s sister’s school. Lincoln is touched.
Lila catches Jeff before work to complain about the dust from the construction. Jeff looks inside her house and sees nothing but normal dust, but he agrees to spring for a cleaning service. When Lila complains about her inability to sleep, he says he’ll bring a sample pack of Ambien. Lila is thrilled and flirty. Jeff asks José for poison to kill the raccoons. At dusk, Jeff finds a bottle of blue fluid and a can of tuna on his front stoop. After getting Nealy’s unenthusiastic approval, Jeff leaves the trap out. He gets on the computer and e-mails a “topless massage” therapist, asking if she’ll meet him at a bar for a drink and give him his “massage” in the bathroom. He gets an emergency call and rushes out, leaving the e-mail on the screen. When he gets home, Nealy confronts Jeff about it. Jeff explains that it’s like interactive porn. He browses for these women, e-mails them, but never follows through. Nealy can’t help laughing at the ridiculous, even though she’s still irritated. When she calms down, Nealy asks if it’d just be easier to divorce. This starts an argument, which leads to sex. The next morning, the tuna can is empty, but the lawn is destroyed and no dead raccoons are in sight. Jeff discovers Lila’s bill for the cleaning service. He goes next door to write Lila a check. Lila asks if he’s seen her cat, which didn’t come home last night. Lincoln calls Jeff, saying he went to the interview and it went well.
Jeff meets Rebecca at a bar for a drink. He discusses his massage therapist fetish and the awkwardness of his “make-up sex” with Nealy. Rebecca brings Jeff back to her place. Jeff asks about Rebecca’s husband, Pete, but she says he works late. They go into the garage, where Rebecca rolls a joint while Jeff admires Pete’s vintage Alfa Romeo. He turns on the car radio and hears a report about kidney donors. His conversation with Rebecca grows more intimate, and they end up having sex. Immediately after, both feel guilty. Rebecca tells Jeff not to tell Nealy — it’ll just make things worse. Jeff agrees. The next morning, Jeff and Luke make breakfast in bed for Nealy. Jeff leaves for the hospital. Lila sees him and follows. Jeff finds PETE waiting for him. He verbally abuses Jeff in front of Jeff’s patients, then storms away. Jeff sees Lila, but she doesn’t say anything and follows Pete out. After work, Jeff stops by Lila’s. She shows him her dead cat, in a box, and blames him. She says she knows he didn’t mean to kill the cat, but it doesn’t change the fact that he did. She tries to seduce Jeff, but when he rebuffs her advances, she starts screaming that she knows all about Rebecca and Pete and will tell Nealy. Lila tells Jeff she dreamed of them having sex in a past life, and she wants to recreate the experience. Jeff reluctantly lets her.
Jeff comes home to find Luke dressed like a fairy princess. Nealy shrugs it off and tells Jeff that Pete called wanting Jeff to meet him tomorrow to discuss a business proposal. Jeff covers by saying Pete wanted him to invest in a new restaurant. Nealy thinks it’s a good idea. Jeff has a nightmare about raccoons getting into the house. Jeff visits Pete, who demands $200,000 in cash for his silence. Jeff wonders why wealthy Pete would need this money. Pete says he doesn’t, but he knows Jeff does. Jeff calls Rebecca, who tells Jeff that Pete is big on Italian loyalty and revenge, despite being Irish. A few days later, Jeff pulls the money out of their house’s equity, but he can only get $75,000. Pete agrees to meet him on a bridge in the center of town. Pete takes the money and dumps it into the river. He tells Pete that he hoped Jeff would be a good guy and simply tell Jeff what’s going on. He tells Jeff he’d be a better person if he made amends for his mistakes.
Jeff gets an idea. After taking Nealy over to Lincoln’s family’s house to introduce her to them, Jeff brings up the idea of donating one of his kidneys to save Lincoln’s life. Nealy’s unsure, but Jeff is convinced it will make him a better person, and her support of him will make her a better person. Nealy agrees. Jeff gets tested, then goes to the school where Lincoln now works to deliver the good news. Lincoln is stunned and thrilled, wondering aloud if Jeff is an angel. Jeff goes in for the surgery, which is a success. Lincoln thanks Jeff from the bottom of his heart. Lila visits Jeff in the hospital and announces she’s pregnant with his child. Jeff tries to talk Lila into an abortion, causing her to scream bloody murder. When Jeff comes home from the hospital, he finds a note from Lila, saying they need to talk. She tells Jeff that she wants no money or commitment from him. She just wants their son growing up knowing his father, which will be easy since he already lives next door. Jeff brings Lila in for an examination. They watch the baby on the monitor.
Jeff tells Lincoln the entire Lila story. Jeff jokes that he wishes his archer neighbors would accidentally shoot her. Lincoln reminds him of the sixth commandment: thou shalt not kill. Nealy tells Jeff she heard Rebecca and Pete filed for divorce. Lincoln thinks wearily. He drives to a sporting goods store across state lines and buys an elaborate crossbow. He sneaks over to Lila’s house at night and prepares to shoot her with the crossbow. When she pleads for her life, he has a change of heart. Then she notices the missing finger and recognizes him. Left with no choice, Lincoln shoots her with an arrow. The archer neighbors find her the next morning. Nealy calls Jeff at work to tell him the bad news, and also to say the police want to interview him. Lincoln calls Jeff. Calmly, Lincoln explains that Jeff bears no responsibility. What Lincoln did, he did alone. He understood Jeff was joking and venting. Lincoln made the choice to act.
Nealy and Jeff go to Lincoln’s church. On the way home, Jeff confesses everything to Nealy — the affairs, the raccoons, the dead cat, the pregnancy, the kidney, Lincoln, the murder. She’s shocked, but she admits to her own affair. Jeff decides they should divorce and he should turn himself in, along with Lincoln. Nealy disagrees. She believes Jeff is a good man who did some bad things, and that Lincoln may be a bad man, but he’s generally harmless and has a family who need him. Similarly, Luke needs Jeff. She thinks they should keep the secret and work through it. Jeff says it’s a nice thought, but he’s concerned Lila might have a journal or something that gives Jeff the motive. He interviews with the police, who don’t know a thing about Lila. She has no friends, barely any family, didn’t keep any journals. He and Lincoln are off the hook. The city catches on to Jeff’s construction and forces him to stop. José tells Jeff they should just do in the backyard what they did in the front. Jeff laughs at how avoidable this catastrophe could have been.
The primary problem with the story is its structure. What happens in the first act doesn’t seem to have a thing to do with the second act, and the second act has little to do with what happens in the third act. The story introduces and drops characters and narrative threads without ever picking them back up. Bringing it all back to the raccoon-infested yard on the last page doesn’t make it any easier to ignore the fact that raccoons stopped being relevant to the script somewhere in the second act. It’s just a big, sloppy, structurally unsound mess. The jarring tonal shifts cerainly don’t help make the script cohesive. Switching from sunny, goofy comedy to bleak, offbeat comedy every other scene doesn’t seem like an intentional choice, but if it is, it’s unsuccessful.
Jeff epitomizes unlikability. Worse than that, the writer never bothers to give his unpleasantness a believable or empathetic explanation. He’s just not a nice guy, which will make it hard for audiences to root for him. His nastiness isn’t even particularly funny — he’s just blandly self-obsessed. Nealy and Lincoln have some interesting shades but don’t get nearly enough material to blossom and overshadow Jeff. Lila, Rebecca, and Pete have their share of quirks, but they have even less screen time than Nealy and Lincoln. Despite the quirks, they don’t rise above stereotypes.
The Details has so many flaws in its storytelling, it can’t be saved by acting, directing, or editing. It needs more than a polish to make it worthwhile.
Posted by D. B. Bates on May 3, 2009 4:22 PM