Friday, January 04, 2008

Buried in a Bad Story

I'm still in quasi-hibernation, but I have found some coping mechanisms. For one thing, that tip about exercise really does work. When I was dozing off in the afternoon, I got up and made myself do an OnDemand exercise video, and after that I managed to get some work done. I did turn off the heater last night, and I found that it's not entirely the heater's fault that my room feels too hot. Apparently, all that down on my bed, with the down-topped featherbed below and the comforter above, traps body heat pretty well. Still, it was a lot more comfortable, and I slept better without the sound of the heater. I did find myself waking up every so often out of habit, but it's not supposed to get really cold again for a while, so I can safely turn the heater off and maybe get back into a decent sleep pattern. I still stayed in bed pretty late, but I was thinking about the book and even came up with some new ideas, so it wasn't technically oversleeping. It was productive daydreaming.

I think one of the saddest things in all kinds of entertainment is when the seeds of a good story are trapped in a bad one. That's when you read a book or watch a movie and find yourself thinking that it would have been a lot better if it had focused on that other character instead of the main one, or if that quirky subplot had been the main story. We also see that in TV, but there they have the chance to correct themselves as they let that supporting character who leaps off the screen move up to a bigger role or make that fun subplot more important.

One example I found from last weekend's HBO viewing was Music and Lyrics, a pretty lame romantic comedy with the seeds of a brilliant pop-culture satire buried inside it. That's the one where Hugh Grant is a washed-up 80s pop music has-been, essentially "the other guy" in a WHAM!-like group, whose bandmate and former friend went on to stellar success as a solo artist while his career was only revived in a wave of retro nostalgia that has him performing at class reunions and theme parks. Then the current Britney-like pop tart, who loved his old group as a child, asks him to write a song for her that they can perform as a duet. The only problem is, he was never the lyricist for the group, but then as he struggles to write a song, his fill-in plant waterer (Drew Barrymore) starts spouting brilliant lyrics. And that's when it all goes downhill as it focuses on the developing relationship and her issues, which make no sense whatsoever. Then we get what has become the standard romantic comedy resolution, in which all the issues are resolved by one member of the couple making a big, public (and potentially humiliating) declaration of feelings. Can someone please tell screenwriters that standing up in public and saying (or singing) mushy things does not miraculously undo all the stuff that has gone before, and it takes more to resolve relationship conflicts? (Maybe that's why the writers' strike is dragging on -- neither writers nor filmmakers know any actual conflict-resolution skills beyond standing up and making a speech.)

Oh, but there was the potential for brilliance. The first maybe ten minutes or so of the movie are hilarious, with the opening credits done to a note-perfect parody of an 80s pop song video (that still manages to be a pretty good 80s pop song video -- and they do the Pop-Up Video version as the closing credits) and then Hugh Grant's character's introduction as part of a pitch for a bad reality TV comeback show, followed by his dazed and dryly sarcastic response to meeting the pop tart, who seems to have discovered Eastern spiritualism mostly as something that has a beat she can writhe to. I'm a big romantic comedy fan, when it's done well, but what the opening to this movie really made me want to see was a pop culture satire (maybe This is Spinal Tap style) of this 80s has-been's attempts to make it in the 21st century music industry. In addition to teaming with the pop tart, he could have tried for a week of being the guest judge on an American Idol type show and had to listen to the contestants butchering his old songs, then he could have done a Dancing With the Stars kind of thing, and meanwhile, we could have seen what was going on with his former bandmate. If they managed to carry the tone of the opening sequence through the whole movie, it could have been hysterical.

I realized something else vaguely disturbing while watching this movie: I really like Hugh Grant. Not in a crush-type way -- while I did think he was cute when he was younger (he's totally my type -- dark hair, fair skin, blue eyes), with age he's developed a creepy sort of dissipated look that's almost reptilian. I don't even always pull for his character. But I can't think of a single film I've seen him in where I didn't enjoy his presence in the film, whether he's playing goofily charming or sleazy, even if I hated the movie. I wouldn't have listed him among my favorite actors, but I'm not sure I can say that of any of my favorite actors. I'm not sure why this is, but I just enjoy him. I still won't be rushing out to see all his movies, but if I'm bored and looking for something to watch on TV or something to rent, it does seem like picking something with him in it is a safe bet because I'll likely enjoy it on some level.

Anyway, back to the whole concept of a good idea buried in a bad story, that makes me want to go back and look at my failed ideas to see what good ideas might be buried in there. The book might not have worked, but is there a character or subplot that might be a good starting point for something else? Not that I'm desperately looking for something to write at the moment, but I think it is a worthwhile exercise to do on stories or ideas that have gone cold, where I have enough distance that I can evaluate them objectively.

But first, I really need to work on that book. I was planning to take a walk today since it's warmer, but it's windy enough that I could probably use an umbrella as a form of transportation, so I guess I'll find another exercise video to do, and then I'll get to work.

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