UNTITLED MARC LAWRENCE PROJECT
April 30th, 2004
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.
Marc Lawrence has very quietly been writing some of the better comedy scripts around town. He has the unfortunate stigma of having nearly all his work butchered by others. FORCES OF NATURE, THE OUT-OF-TOWNERS (which shouldnt have been made) and MICKEY BLUE EYES (which he didnt get credit for) started out with smart scripts penned by Lawrence. The resulting films, especially MICKEY, dont reflect what Lawrence wrote. I was particularly fond of the FORCES script. It was later pushed through a meat-grinder by its inexperienced director and was patted out into a mediocre film (despite a fun performance by Sandra Bullock). Things changed with MISS CONGENIALITY (also starring Bullock). As directed by Donald Petrie, CONGENIALITY was one of the best light entertainments Ive seen in a good long while. It had no pretenses and simply made you laugh. Sturdy studio comedies are a rare commodity. Now Marcs been given the chance to mangle his work all by his lonesome. Hell make his directorial debut on what is known as the UNTITLED MARC LAWRENCE PROJECT.
It will -- heres a big shock -- star Lawrences personal friend Sandra Bullock. And interestingly, her co-star is Hugh Grant, who was the man responsible for wrecking MICKEY BLUE EYES. I guess Lawrence didnt mind too much.
In a role written for her, Bullock plays Lucy Kelson, a somewhat neurotic, hypochondriac lawyer. Her boss is George Ward (Grant), a handsome, charming, selfish millionaire who is the face of Ward Corporation, while his brother, Howard, does all the real wheeling and dealing.
Lucy, who graduated from Harvard, came to work for George straight out of school. She is as much his nanny as his lawyer. (He treats her more like a personal assistant.) She picks his clothes, writes his speeches, keeps him out of trouble when she can, and uses her position to push for the Ward Corporation to donate money to charity. Lucy comes to realize she may have wasted a very promising career on George when he calls her away from a friends wedding for an "emergency." She arrives at his "apartment" (he lives in a hotel he owns) and finds out that the emergency was choosing a tie!
Its the final straw for Lucy and she sets out to leave. But Ward is so powerful he blocks every firm she goes to. Each has an interest in keeping Ward happy and wont hire Lucy, though shes more than qualified. Faced with the reality that Lucy wants out, George makes a deal with her: if she handpicks her replacement she can go (theres an ironclad contract, that she wrote, keeping her there for three more years). Lucy finds her clone, a beautiful, studious woman by the name of June, and watches as George and her hit it off.
Lawrences compact, cute script has a simple point: its about saying "I love you." If ever there was a romantic comedy that wore its trivial goals on its sleeve its this script. Lucy has been dating Ansel, a Greenpeace, save-the-world good-guy, for a year. When he arrives back in New York to tell her how hes missed her and cant live without her and loves her -- Lucy cant reciprocate. She doesnt believe in saying it. Well, she believes in it, but just not with Ansel. Because she doesnt love him. Guess who she does? Ill give you only one guess.
Lucy cant say "I love you" because shes never found someone who she feels strongly enough to utter the words. George, however, says it to everyone. Cant stop saying it. As he notes: "Ive gone the other way -- (saying) it constantly. Without ever believing it actually exists." George has been divorced twice, and had love shown to be a fraud thanks to his miserable father.
The script brings up a good point. An intellectual and romantic-comedy one. That is, the overuse and ruination of the word love. As its pointed out in the script (and I must say Ive been shouting this for years) you constantly hear people say "I love chocolate," "I love to play golf," "I love running through the street in half a two-man donkey costume screaming stock prices." Whatever. The way its so easily let out of its cage robs "love" of all its power, its ultimate-goal magnitude, its true meaning. You could make the point that this script is about two people who finally experience the supernova-strength weight of the word.
The story is essentially Lucy trying to find her replacement, finding her, getting jealous over the attraction between the substitute and her boss, and then denying the obvious: she loves George! (Thankfully Lawrence has Lucys friends point out how plain and clear her love is; this isnt one of those scripts where intelligent people miss the most unmistakable things in their lives.)
Its all very simple. And also fun. Lawrence has a good sense of humor and laconic wit. He leaves gags for the kiddies and tells his humor through dialogue. He doesnt mind letting people actually talk. A script like this comes down to "It worked" or "It didnt work." You buy it or you dont. With such a simple setup, it can only go one way or the other. So I say, if you buy into its old-school method youll be more than satisfied.
I like Lucys character, and I know Bullock will make it sparkle even brighter. Its similar to what she played in MISS CONGENIALITY, but considering what she did in that movie I dont think anyone will complain. Lawrence knows how best to use Bullock, from working with her on two straight movies, and he knows exactly what words to put in her mouth and when to give her a pratfall. The script isnt centered on poor Sandras head, but it might as well be: her allure will have a lot to do with winning over audiences when this film rolls off next year. She complements the script, and the script complements her. This is a case of a writer-director using what he knows his actress can do well; not sticking her in something in an experiment of against-type casting.
The script seems to be a deliberate throwback to the opposites-attract romantic comedies that were made a long time ago. Stuff youd see Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant star in. Its all very calming, and like MISS CONGENIALITY, it has no higher aims. Its not a morals lesson or a this-is-how-to-live lecture disguised as a comedy. Its solid, unadorned comedy. A subplot about Wards company underbidding on a construction deal and not being able to build a community center Lucy fought for is pretty much ignored. We know its for the finale, when George turns around, and hell use it to get Lucy back. Lawrence has treated us nice enough by that point that we forgive him.
There are innumerous bits and jokes that slay here. I dont want to give my favorite away, but the post-softball, GW bridge scene had me in stitches.
Lawrence has similar fun with the interviews for Lucys replacement. And what Bullocks character screams in a restaurant to get out of an awkward situation should be the trailer-moment everyone talks about.
I liked this scripts low-key edge. It has a sort of quiet charm. The dance moves in the script are unavoidable. (It took Ron Bass to break the mold for Julia Roberts; she didnt get the guy in MY BEST FRIENDS WEDDING.) Somehow that adds to the enjoyment of it all. We want them together. Trust me, theres nothing new here. Lucy is a workaholic who devotes her life to George. And George is an insufferable rich-boy who never worked a day in his life and glides on the air of his staggering charisma. But Lawrence reheats the material with his ability with banter and a story that bows down to the films of yesteryear, but has a style all its own. Lawrence has, where so many have failed, transported those great romantic comedies we love without making it seem dated and austere, with a contemporary air that thinly conceals just how old-fashioned the thing is.
Theres something comforting about old-fashioned stories. Its like taking a favorite jacket thats faded and out of fashion and putting it on. It could be that it inspires memories or makes you feel protected. Its comforting, too, in movies, but you need a follow-through -- the nostalgia can only be a cherry on top, not the whole dessert, as Ive pointed out -- and Lawrence gives us that in spades.
THE SIMPSONS, which you can find the answers to everything in, have two jokes that fit perfectly here:
When Lisa saw into the future, her beau proposed to her on a grassy hillside and a woman saw it. "I dont get it. First they hate each other, now they love each other," she says. The man next to her tells her, "Of course you dont understand. Youre a robot." Tears erupt from her eyes. The tears cause her to short-circuit and she melts.
The second was in the episode where Homer finds out he has a crayon in his brain and, once it is removed, becomes intelligent. Hes watching a Julia Roberts flick in a crowded theater and is the only one not laughing. When everyone stops and accuses him, he says, "Hey, dont blame me. This movie is tired and predictable. You know shes going to wind up with Richard Gere." The audience gasps. "I thought shed end up with that rich snob," says Dr. Hibbert. "Ably played by Bill Paxton," the Sea Captain says. Homer thunders: "Its Bill Pullman, you fool!" And in true SIMPSONS fashion gets whacked in the face with a two-by-four.
In other words, you know whats going to happen in Marc Lawrences untitled script. (In this case the male movie star is the rich guy.) So it all comes down to whether or not you liked George and Lucy, if Marc made us laugh, and if we want them to get together. A resounding yes sounds for all three.
The UNTITLED MARC LAWRENCE PROJECT is too subtle to make you roll in the aisles, but current climate in consideration, its a gentle caress of fresh air. And its likable, able, clever, sound, pacific, deft, amusing and on and on and on. When I walk out of a movie like this all I can ever say is "I liked it" or "I didnt like it."
Marc, once again, gets the job done.
So. I liked it.
(And finally -- I know my advice is not wanted, but Ill give it anyway. I say this film should steal from an old movie and call itself THREE LITTLE WORDS. Or maybe go with THE BIG L. Or maybe they should call it what the Julia Roberts flick in THE SIMPSONS was titled: LOVE IS NICE. I think that about sums the whole thing up.)
-- Darwin Mayflower.