CIFCC member Jeff York has had a busy month hosting three podcast episodes of “Page2Screen” for the International Screenwriters’ Association:
The first six months of 2016 films was a period mostly marked by event movies underwhelming. Audiences, by and large, stayed home rather than attend sequels that weren’t particularly in demand to start with. Has Hollywood churned out too many franchise chapters and superhero movies that failed to take flight? And what failures of basic storytelling are at the core of these duds?
The old saying “If it’s not on the page, it’s not on the stage” applies to any movie, particularly those launching with hopes of having a colossal summer season. The films that have stood out so far this year have been those that are new, fresh, or at least find more unique angles on their continuing sagas. What can the industry learn from the successes of “Zootopia”, “Deadpool”, and “Love & Friendship”? Plenty. And so can screenwriters hoping to write scripts that resonate with audiences.
It’s shocking how few romantic movies there are at the Cineplex these days, and despite critics not seeming to enjoy them much, the better ones do tend to break through with an audience. Such is the case with “Me Before You” based on the bestselling book by Jojo Moyes. She adapted this hit film for the big screen herself and her first-hand knowledge of her characters and their unusual journey together make for one very satisfying melodrama, no matter if most cynical male critics couldn’t get onboard this “chick flick.”
And indeed, the two romantic leads here do have a lot of substantial things working against them. Will is paralyzed from the neck down after a motorcycle accident, and Louisa is an unemployed young woman who agrees to take care of him only because she’s desperate for the money. Will is cold to her, and doesn’t see much point in living in his limited capacity. But as she starts to become his caretaker, and then friend, he warms up and even embraces life again. He comes to have great feelings for her, but is it enough? Ultimately, the true love story here is about Louisa and how she learns to embrace herself and what the future holds for her.
It’s not easy adapting most classic literature to the big screen, let alone an epistolary novel, one that is told through letters. But then again, writer/director Whit Stillman is an expert at comedies of manners (Metropolitan, The Last Days of Disco) and he knows how to capture the same themes that Jane Austen wrote about in Lady Susan. Thus, his take, now called Love & Friendship not only has the year’s cleverest screenplay adaptation, it also is one of 2016’s very best films.
A tony cast, headed by Stillman vets Kate Beckinsale and Chloe Sevigny, all play the serpentine story to the hilt. Beckinsale, in an award-worthy performance, essays Susan, the wily widow out to secure her standing in a patriarchal society. Every element of the film is top drawer, from its script, direction, and cast, to its sumptuous sets and costumes. The film only cost $4 million to make but it looks like five times that amount. And while Love & Friendship may be a period piece, it couldn’t be more timely this election year with its scathing takedown of class, sexism, and politics.
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