Arranged

Author: Krista Vernoff
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Storyline: 7
Dialogue: 7
Characterization: 7
Writer’s Potential: 7

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Logline:

Tired of failing in relationships, a man and woman who have never met before agree to an arranged marriage.

Synopsis:

BESS VELECHEK and JAKE KUPER prepare for their wedding. Both are nervous, and only made moreso by their respective best friends, RACHEL and ADAM, reminding them of what a terrible idea it is to marry a complete stranger. On the other hand, Bess and Jake have supportive parents and grandparents of Estonian heritage) who encourage the wedding. Five weeks earlier, Jake is seen working as a Chicago sports radio personality while Bess runs a failing candle shop. Bess shows off her latest candle fragrance to Rachel (also her business partner), who loves it, but she protests that Bess focusing on new candles instead of the books is killing the business. She urges Bess to call a certain group of investors in Paris, but Bess ignores her, focusing instead on the feelings the fragrances evoke. Jake’s boss, ALLAN, puts Jake on the short list for a promotion. It’s between him an a more aggressive commentator known as “The Animal.”

At the home of Bess’s mother, BETSY, Bess, Betsy, her elderly AUNT BIZ, and GRANDMA BITS all wait impatiently for Bess’s boyfriend, NOAH, to finally propose to her. After dinner, he invites her out on Betsy’s porch for privacy…and dumps her. Bess is devastated. Meanwhile, Jake and Adam celebrate the promotion. Adam’s overbearing wife, EILEEN, prevents Adam from having any fun, but that doesn’t stop Jake from meeting and sleeping with a gorgeous blonde. When she leaves in the morning, Jake inundates her with facts and statistics about the average age a man marries and wonders if he’s pathetic. Visibly uncomfortable, the blonde leaves quickly. Jake’s Estonian father, ANDRES, runs a butcher shop. A well-known neighborhood matchmaker, RAFFIE, enters the shop at the same time as Betsy. The three of them converse, and Raffie realizes she has a match — Jake and Bess. They scheme to bring them together for a Solstice mass at the neighborhood’s Estonian church. Betsy and the others try to sell Bess on a matchmaker, while Andres and Jake’s sister, ROSE, do the same with Jake. Neither are convinced. They’re allowed to meet each other, briefly, much to Raffie’s consternation. Bess admires Jake’s cinnamon scent — he confesses to eating a Cinnabon before arriving — and they hit it off. Each wonders why the other would have to resort to a matchmaker, but they quickly realize it’s the doing of their concerned but overbearing parents. After Bess’s string of loser boyfriends and Jake’s one great love cheating on him (10 years ago), they’re both lonely and a little desperate. Jake tells Bess about Adam and Eileen, how they met while on vacation and fell in love over the course of one passionate week, but now they can’t stand each other. However, his parents are still very much in love. Jake and Bess both consider that maybe there’s something to the old traditions — maybe being forced into a commitment helps them make it work instead of giving up.

They decide to tell each other their worst flaws, but as each rattles off the list, the other pays no attention, instead fantasizing about what their life together would be like. Two weeks later, they’re at the church, getting married. Separately, Bess and Jake silent the complaints of Rachel and Adam. They meet in front of the priest, who marries them. They all sign the marriage license, which Jake slips in the pocket of his tux. The family and friends celebrate. The reception is a blur. Afterward, the entire group meets on a neighborhood bridge lined with thousands of locks. Betsy hands Bess a large symbolic brass lock and a key. Bess and Jake put the lock with the thousands of others. Per tradition, Bess is supposed to throw the key into the river, but she secretly pockets it instead. The family follows Bess and Jake back to the hotel, until they get into their room. Finally alone together, the silence is a bit awkward. They move past it quickly, making wild love.

Bess moves into Jake’s apartment. They break it in by having sex in every room in the house. Bess tries to get Jake to watch the Cubs game, but he only watches it on TiVo so he can focus on the statistics and remove the emotional component. Bess sets up a candlemaking workshop in Jake’s kitchen. In a fog of newlywed bliss, they fall in love with each others’ foibles (like Bess’s inability to parallel park without scratching other cars and Jake’s obsession with statistical analysis) and remain inseparable for a month. Jake takes Bess to Cubs games in the press box (where he ignores the game to schmooze with Allan). Rachel warns Bess that a bubble has formed that she’s just waiting to burst. Bess insists there’s no bubble.

Two weeks later, cracks in the façade form. Bess gets bored with Jake’s repetitive sexual behavior, but Jake logically analyzes his performance and determines there’s nothing wrong with it. Jake’s obsession with Wii sports annoys Bess, while Bess taking over the kitchen annoys Jake. They get into a snippy argument about it in front of Adam and Rachel. Jake and Adam storm out. Both friends want to say “I told you so.” The next morning, Jake finds the kitchen is still a mess and starts cleaning. He sticks all the candles Bess made into a box and takes them down to her shop, in an effort to make nice. Rachel takes Jake quietly aside and explains that investors want to buy her candle designs — they’d put her on the map so she wouldn’t have to worry about money, but Bess won’t go to Paris. Jake asks why just as Bess enters the shop. Jake presents the candles, and she flies into a rage — they weren’t dry, so they’ve all sunk into ugly forms.

At home, Jake snipes at Bess for taking so long to get ready for a dinner date with Allan and his wife. He doesn’t want to be late and make a bad impression. Bess comes out looking stunning. Pleased, they go to the restaurant. Bess drives, and she scratches a car parallel parking. It’s Allan’s. Inside, Allan and his wife order. Allan orders duck. Bess reacts with horror. She explains that ducks choose a single mate for life, like humans, and if the mate is killed, they mourn for years. Neither Allan nor Jake are sympathetic, so her outburst becomes the butt of cruel jokes throughout the evening. Afterward, Bess is livid. She storms away from Jake and meets with Rachel and her girlfriend, TALIA, to vent. Jake wants to apologize, but Adam discourages it, saying things fell apart with him and Eileen the moment he started to buckle. When Bess finally comes home, she asks Jake to shower. He refuses to budge on the issue, even though he knows he’s being horrible. Then, a fart slips out. Bess is so angry, she goes and sleeps on the couch.

The next day, Allan tells Jake he’s still “in the mix,” but it’s up to “the board.” Jake asks what he can do to encourage them; Allan tells him not to invite any of them to dinner. Jake and Bess complain to their respective parents about how annoying their spouses have become. The parents are less than sympathetic. When Jake and Bess are together again, they both admit they’d break up if they weren’t married. The gravity of marrying someone she barely knows finally hits Bess. She’s overcome with emotion, and Jake’s cold logic doesn’t help the situation. The couple meets with Betsy and Andres, together, and tells them they want to get divorced. Betsy and Andres shout at them until they give up the notion. Jake unpacks some of Bess’s things. She’s initially angry when she can’t find them, but she realizes Jake is making an effort. Jake watches a cheesy reality dance show with Bess. He starts pointing out how staged it is, which annoys Bess, who enjoys getting swept up in the high emotions. Again, she realizes Jake is making an effort and is willing to do something for Jake. Jake teaches her how to parallel park, but it doesn’t go well.

After their miserable night, Bess vents to Rachel, who’s unsympathetic because, in addition to begging Bess not to marry Jake, Rachel can’t even marry Talia. Rachel tries to tell Bess that fighting with Jake just shows that they care about each other, and Bess is too hung up on romantic idealism instead of reality. She also encourages Bess to go to Paris, because if she doesn’t, Rachel will be forced to find another job. Bess brings Jake to a Cubs game with Rose. As usual, he ignores the game. Bess complains, so Jake goes over to sit with Allan. Rose explains to Bess that Jake hasn’t been able to sit through a Cubs game since his fiancée left him. She shut him down emotionally, so he has just been trying to numb himself to any feelings. This is all news to Bess. As an experiment, Bess blindfolds Jake and takes him to a bakery. She asks him what he smells and what it makes him feel. He says it makes him feel hungry. Bess is much more poetic about her feelings. She takes Jake to more locations and grows increasingly irritated when his “emotional” response is simply hollow logic. This turns into a huge argument about how Jake ignores anything that makes him feel at all, while Bess ignores anything that doesn’t make her feel good. He accuses her of ignoring Rachel and the problems with the store. Bess insists she doesn’t, so Jake demands to know why she won’t go Paris. Humiliated, Bess admits she’s terrified of flying and can’t go — she wants to but can’t.

Some time later, Jake and Bess realize they can’t live with two sofas, but they like their own. They go shopping together to pick out one they both like. They still can’t agree, and it threatens to turn into another argument when Jake’s ex-fiancée, AMY, runs into them. Bess immediately switches gears, describing to Amy the many ways in which Jake is a wonderful husband, thanking Amy for cheating on him so that they didn’t get married so Bess would have her chance. Amy leaves, humiliated and jealous. Impressed, Jake immediately agrees with Bess’s choice of sofa. Later, Jake finally opens up to Bess with the details of the story of him and Amy. One week before the wedding, in the midst of the College World Series, Jake surprised Amy by returning to the apartment for his lucky socks (he was being scouted by two pro teams during the day’s game) and found her in the arms of a college professor. That’s not the worst of it — in the most important game of his life, his revelations about Amy distracted him so much that he made a poor decision to run to home plate, but when he realized his mistake and turned back, he blew out his knee. On that day, his life was over.

Separately, Jake and Bess hang out with their respective best friends, describing the encounter with Amy. They’re both impressed with each other and decide to see if they can make the relationship work. They decide to throw a dinner party — Jake and Bess, Adam and Eileen, and Rachel and Talia. When Eileen and Talia admit that they all had bets on whether or not the marriage would last, the revelations start flying — Adam can no longer stand Eileen, neither couple has sex anymore, and they all have less in common than Jake and Bess, the couple who allegedly doesn’t know each other. The party breaks up early, with Rachel and Jake apologizing to their friends as they leave in a huff. Jake and Bess are sort of amused by the night’s course of events, they start to get intimate. Bess suddenly stops and runs into the bathroom. She starts shaving her legs — something she stopped doing out of protest when she and Jake started fighting — quickly, while Jake scrambles to brush his teeth and give himself something resembling a fragrant smell. They make love, and Bess is thrilled when Jake adds a new move to his repertoire.

Jake tries to figure out a “grand gesture” to impress Bess, while Bess finally cleans the kitchen herself. He bribes an airline pilot with White Sox tickets in exchange for use of the flight simulator, to show Bess that flying isn’t so bad. Even in the simulator, Bess can’t help panicking. Once the “plane” actually takes off, though, she calms down, admiring the beauty of the scenery. The “plane” “lands” in “Paris,” which touches Bess. Walking around the city, Bess laments their lack of “couple” stories. The only story they have is that their parents conspired to get them married. As they walk around their old neighborhood, they start making up stories to tell their future children. Jake tries to make one story a reality — he’s swiped Bess’s wedding ring (which she takes off to make her candles) and prepares to propose to her for real just outside Betsy’s house. Unfortunately, Noah has returned, and he’s beat Jake to the punch. He’s covered the porch in flowers and sings an apologetic song to propose to her.

This crushes Bess. Inside the house, she admits it’s not that she wants Noah — it’s that, by marrying Jake, she completely gave up on romance, and that’ll be her story. Jake pleads that it doesn’t have to be. He shows her the marriage license — he forgot to mail it and only found it a few days earlier. They can simply ignore the wedding and start fresh. Bess gets angry at Jake for assuming the marriage will fail, but Jake tells her he saw Bess pocket the key to the lock. It turns into a major blow-out, with the two of them trying as hard as they can to avoid profanities in front of Bess’s family despite their rage. They both accuse each other of being afraid — she’s afraid of being practical, he’s afraid of giving in to emotions. Bess gets so angry that she decides to use the marriage license as an out. She leaves. She walks along the bridge with all the locks, unable to remember which key hers fits into. She tries many before giving up. Later, Jake walks along the same bridge, finding the correct lock immediately, but he has no key.

Jake takes Andres, Rose, and the entire extended Kuper family to the press box at Wrigley Field. Despite his fear, he forces himself to sit and watch a Cubs game. Meanwhile, Bess gets on an airplane. She panics so severely that the flight attendants threaten to throw her off. Eventually, a kind old woman lets Bess squeez her hand. The plane takes off, and although Bess is terrified, she calms down once they’re in the air. Meanwhile, Jake gets emotionally invested in the Cubs game. Allan notices his intensity. Afterward, he says the board wanted to give the drive-time promotion to The Animal because focus groups said he seemed like a more passionate fan, but after Jake’s display, Allan’s going to give him the job. Jake’s elated. Bess asks the old woman how she stayed married for 50 years. The old woman says it’s not about the man — it’s about the commitment. Bess arrives in Paris. She wows the investor and makes the deal.

Bess watches the sunset at the Arc de Triomphe when Jake arrives — with Betsy, Aunt Biz, and Grandma Bits. Bess is shocked. Jake gets down on one knee and proposes to Jake properly. He tells her he mailed the marriage license. Bess says she threw the key in the Seine (mistakenly referred to as the Thames). Jake slides the ring on Bess’s finger and insists on taking a boat back to the U.S.

Comments:

Despite its rigid adherence to a tired formula, Arranged is a mostly charming romantic comedy. It’s light and likable, and although nothing stands out as truly outstanding, there’s also nothing egregiously awful about it. As written, it merits a consider.

The story applies a standard “couple gets stuck together and has to make the relationship work” formula to a fairly novel concept: what if a modern American couple decided to go through with an arranged marriage? The writer capably establishes the convoluted circumstances behind the marriage in the first act, introducing its main characters, their personal goals, and the quirks that might cause problems down the line.

While never veering off the beaten path of the genre formula, the second act does a surprisingly good job of showing the way the giddy “newlywed” phase descends into disastrous territory. Rather than settling into married life, Jake and Bess focus on the fact that they hardly know each other and mostly use that as an excuse to butt heads, despite cool-headed friends and family reminding them that couples fight and they need to adjust to each others’ rhythms. The writer does a nice job of showing both Jake and Bess trying to make things work without really understanding what their partner wants or needs. The dialogue tends to force cuteness when it’s trying to be witty, but the more dramatic scenes come across as refreshingly believable and compelling.

As in most other romantic comedies, the third act splits the couple up and allows them both to mourn the loss before putting them back together for the inevitable happy ending. The script doesn’t surprise or thrill, but overall, it achieves its modest goal. It’s fluff, but in the best possible sense of the word.

Like the story, the characters don’t have much uniqueness. Bess’s failing candle shop is an interesting occupation, and the writer wisely makes the job very significant to the character. However, in the quest to get to the arranged-marriage wackiness, the writer doesn’t dwell much on the string of failed relationships that led Bess to the predicament she faces in this story. It’s a little bit too easy that her blindness to cheaters, closeted homosexuals, and total losers is solely a result of her romantic optimism. The writer doesn’t dig deeply into this aspect of her character, but it’s fairly important given the story’s subject.

On the other hand, the writer makes Jake’s romantic past both intriguing and tragic. Still, she concentrates more on the pivotal tragic moment that led to the relationship’s end than the ten-year aftermath in which Jake retreated into himself. Sticking so closely to the formula, the writer misses opportunities to explore these characters’ romantic pasts and illustrate how it affects their romantic present. She touches on it briefly, but these characters could be much more relatable if the audience got a genuine sense of where they’re coming from.

The supporting characters are a mixed bag. Other than a few amusing lines and the funny dinner party scene, neither Adam nor Rachel contribute much more than a sympathetic ear, allowing Jake and Bess to vent their frustrations so the audience can hear. Similarly, the extended family characters may come together to give this script its inciting incident, but other than that, they’re relegated to the background, to add a vaguely ethnic flavor similar to My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Although none of the script problems mark it as a staggering embarrassment, the flaws may hinder its success with audiences. They key is to find actors who can really sell the characters of Jake and Bess.

Posted by D. B. Bates on November 5, 2009 11:47 PM