April 30th, 2004
Script Review: David H. Steinbergs SLACKERS
Reviewed by Darwin Mayflower
Reviewed by Darwin Mayflower
NOTE: The screenplays we review are often in development and may experience many rewrites, some could end up being completely different than what is reviewed here. It is our hope that our reviews generate more interest in the film. Thank you.
The three college students in David H. Steinbergs script SLACKERS (a.k.a. THE HOOK-UP, a.k.a. HOOKING UP ETHAN) have made it their mission to do nothing. They sit in their dorm room, eat pizza, and play video games. But theyre not your normal layabouts. Its not about being lazy. They simply want to see what they can get away with. They put as much energy into their scams that it would take to get good grades. They are the new breed of slacker: too bored and too smart to follow the rules.
The three guys, Dave (played by Devon Sawa), Jeff and Sam, have a pretty good scam going: on midterm and final exams one of them who doesnt attend the particular class goes in, copies down the questions, leaves (claiming he has "explosive diarrhea"), gives the questions to the person who is really in the class, and that person hobbles into his professors office later on, saying he wanted to take the test but he overslept. The crutches hes walking on coupled with his forced tears gets the job done.
Their breezy college existence is threatened when an ugly, unpopular student (Ethan, played by RUSHMOREs Jason Schwartzman) gets wind of what theyre up to -- has the evidence to prove it -- and blackmails them into performing his whims.
Ethan, an obnoxious youth with horrendous teeth, has an unquenchable letch for Angela. A smart, attractive go-getter who does not know he exists.
Ethan wants Dave, Jeff and Sam to help him score with Angela.
Jeff and Sam at first balk. But Dave considers it just another challenge. Something to take up time in their days. They have nothing better to do, he considers.
While Sam and Jeff work behind the scenes getting background info on Angela, Dave goes out and meets with her (I suppose to talk Ethan up). Ethan, an awkward, angry fool, enrolls into every altruistic program Angela is in and makes a general fool of himself. Angela falls for Dave, not Ethan, of course (as if you didnt see that coming), and, in the end, Dave must decide whether or not to go along with the plan or tell Angela how he really feels.
SLACKERS (a.k.a. THE HOOK-UP, a.k.a. HOOKING UP ETHAN) is pretty much FERRIS BUELLER GOES TO COLLEGE, with the sensibilities of Kevin Smith mixed in. Theres plenty of empty sexual talk and all the accouterments of movies in this genre: masturbation, porno, gag jokes, ridiculed nerds, ugly ducklings, people with impediments, smart-ass references to older movies.
David Steinberg is a smart writer, though, and you get a little bit more from SLACKERS than you normally would with, say, a Jason Biggs movie. The college life he shows us feels real (though exaggerated) and the three main characters -- Dave, Jeff and Sam -- are thankfully dissimilar and distinct enough so that they dont become interchangeable. (Steinberg went to the college and the script is based loosely on his college experience and friends.)
The plot to this movie (taken from -- as it was in THERES SOMETHING ABOUT MARY -- Woody Allens EVERYONE SAYS I LOVE YOU) has an inherent flaw: its abjectly cruel. The slackers raid Angelas personal computer and scan her E-mails. They talk to her parents. They learn everything there is to know about her. And then use the knowledge to trap her. The slackers are desperate, you can say, because Ethan will expose them and have them expelled, but it doesnt take away from the fact that they are disgracefully manipulating Angelas life. Ethan might even be a real danger: he seems in need of anger-management classes; whenever someone says something he doesnt approve of he attacks them physically.
The love that sprouts between Dave and Angela cant work because its too inevitable. Youd have to be a deaf-mute not to see it coming. Theres no real logic backing Daves terrible notion of getting to know Angela. As soon as he does the sparks light and we know exactly where the script is going. It will come down to the ineluctable will-Dave-own-up moral dilemma.
The script, unintentionally, exposes a strange, sad philosophy about sex among young people. Ethan tells Dave he wants more than "get to know her." Meaning though he knows Angela hates his guts, he still wants to get her in bed simply because she looks good.
The slackers are comfortable with this until Dave falls for Angela too. His concern seems to rise more from jealousy than outrage.
The act of "love," which has come to mean animalistic sex to them, is nothing more than a self-interest function -- like rubbing ones feet or scratching itchy skin. Sex has become so far removed it is now a porno-fantasy wetdream with no emotional attachment beyond the urge to get off.
SLACKERS has its problems, but it does contain a few good jokes (its most outrageous joke -- a little forced oral sex -- was stolen in part from DECONSTRUCTING HARRY). And the writer, who was hired to pen AMERICAN PIE II (and the match is an apt one: this is like AMERICAN PIE at college), can put together a good comedy package -- while sticking to the young-adult-comedy rules -- and he looks like hell have good legs and, in the world of ROAD TRIP and THE SPY WHO SHAGGED ME, should stick around long enough to pen a few good scripts.
While the camaraderie between the slackers is genuine and features silly dialogue about how to hold out longer during sex and the like, and is filled with realistic details and funny scams, Daves budding romance with Angela rings false. Her dialogue is mannered and shes too much of a construct: she is all brains and no personality. After a while you start to wonder if Daves turnaround-because-of-love is not because of her comeliness.
Charming as SLACKERS can be, it is impossible to get over the hole in its center: Dave is pulling a scam on Angela. Love may blossom, sure, but its built on a foundation of lies. And so, as Angela tells him when he pleads his case, how can she ever trust him? He examined her E-mails and looked into her past -- how does she know anything he said is true and how does he know he didnt just accept his own lie?
We dont really have to worry about this because its not what the teenagers seeing this are going to want to hear about. The slackers use their scam-skills to take down Ethan, who exposed their ruse and turned Angela against Dave.
The scam is a fitting ending and the script ends on a high note. Steinberg doesnt suggest Dave and Angela will live happily ever after, but he tells us they get together for now. And thats as inexorable and obvious as their growing love.
Steinberg misses a few opportunities here and there. Sam, an overweight near-shut-in, forms an Internet relationship with Angelas roommate. Their first meeting is touchingly awkward -- two people, opposite to Dave, who arent touched with effortless charm -- and its a nice contrast. But the date ends with the roommate blowing chunks during a kiss and Sam drops her. They get back together so she can help the final scam, but its never fully explained why the lonely Sam dumps her. I would have liked for them to stay together and have a few more scenes of quiet, non-movie-ish interaction. It would have been much more daring than another gag.
I also would have liked to see more of the bizarre joke-fantasies the guys have before each scam. There are only two here. Theres room for many more. In the one written (they are written as montages) we see the guys destroying a hotel room like rock stars, on an Olympic winners stand accepting medals, at poolside, acting the gangsta part, on a major league baseball field. The montage was unexpected and pure whimsical oddball behavior. And thats refreshing.
SLACKERS knows what it is and rises as high as that will allow. In little hitches and hops it tries for more than what others before it have accomplished. It will never be ANIMAL HOUSE, or the best of John Hughes, but it presents what it set out to with easy confidence and aplomb and charms enough to suggest something worthwhile.
Before I leave you I want to direct your attention to an interview with the screenwriter over at scriptsales.com. The interview contains some disturbing quotes from Mr. Steinberg. He says a screenwriters job is to rewrite. "The first draft usually sucks," he said.
Id have to respectfully disagree and say that this line of thought is both discouraging and frightening.
If were to believe this, its saying that no screenwriter can write a script. He or she needs the thoughts/ideas of producers, agents, directors and actors to make something work.
The only people, it seems, that really get their scripts onscreen as they wrote them are writer-directors (like Woody Allen, David Lynch, Todd Solondz, etc.). But Id like to believe that when people read the work of William Goldman, Daniel Waters, Alan Ball, Ron Bass, Richard Price, Steve Zaillian, John Lee Hancock, Sam Hamm, Steve Baranchik, David Mamet (and all other immensely talented screenwriters) they didnt say, "This first draft sucks; this, this and that must be changed." Screenwriters can write -- even write well -- much to the contrary of popular thought.
Heres a question maybe you, the readers of this web site, can answer: Why do producers, directors or actors pick up and make scripts they feel they can "develop"? There are numerous directors and actors out there and chances are, if theyre reading the script, someone else would take it as it is and shoot it. So why not look for the perfect script instead of molding everything to suit themselves? The reason is that no one has any regard for a screenplay. Its not art; its a "jumping-off point." (Which is the new euphemism which means they rewrote from page one.)
Heres a story that should boil the blood of screenwriters, and one that fits into what Ive been saying above. Marc Lawrence (FORCES OF NATURE, MISS CONGENIALITY) wrote a script called MICKEY BLUE-EYES. It was about a Jewish auctioneer who, through his girlfriend, gets wrangled into the mob life. It was basically the Woody Allen-obsessed Lawrences opportunity to remake BROADWAY DANNY ROSE. Hugh Grant got his hands on the script and "thought it was funny," but it "wasnt something (he) could do." Question: instead of having four writers (and even rewriting it himself) hack away at it to change the Jewish man to a Brit -- why not leave it for someone who could have actually filled the role?
The answer is...well...there is no answer. The conclusion is that Marc Lawrence is "just a writer" and of no consequence and what he wanted didnt matter. It didnt matter how long he worked on it and it didnt matter that he, the creator of the script, intended for it to be as he originally conceived. He is the writer and he is not important. And people wonder why every writer wants to direct?
I thank you for letting me get this rant off my chest. And I now leave you with a joke.
What do you call an aspiring actress who sleeps with a screenwriter to get ahead?
Answer: an idiot.
-- Darwin Mayflower.