WRITTEN BY: XXXXX
ANALYSIS BY: Ruth Atkinson
BUDGET: Low – Medium
XXXXXX is a funny yet touching story about Muriel’s pursuit of the Catholic Woman of the Year award. Soon after Muriel learns she’s up for the award we discover that one of the requirements is having a “perfect” family and we quickly see that her family is anything but and obtaining the award is going to be extremely difficult. But Muriel is determined to win the coveted award and during the Bishop’s visit to her home lies about her daughter being engaged, her son’s recent separation and her husband’s involvement in AA. This is the last straw for her husband and he moves out. But it’s not until a family crisis occurs that she is forced to look at how her behavior has alienated her family and cost her the unconditional love she so desires. This realization leads to a moving reunion with her husband and brings our perfect family, flawed like all families are, back together.
Overall Muriel’s journey works well and we are quickly drawn into the story to see if she will win the award. The relationships are compelling and the family struggles, though somewhat heightened, feel believable and real. The underlying themes of love and acceptance are universal and add depth to the comedy. While Muriel’s situation is inherently comedic it is the family drama that pulls us in and keeps us hooked. Because of this it’s essential that the characters and the relationships are fully developed. In moving forward we need to delve a little more deeply into the psychology of the characters particularly what’s driving Muriel to get the award and the root of her antagonistic behavior. This in turn would help clarify why she has alienated her family and give us an opportunity to show how she comes to terms with this over the course of the story. Developing her character in this way would strengthen the story, giving it more emotional impact and ensuring the piece reaches its full potential.
On pages 1-4 we establish that Muriel is being considered for the Catholic Woman of the Year Award. This gets the story off to a quick start and gives Muriel a clear goal which drives the story. Her desire for this award causes her to lie to the Bishop ultimately damaging her relationship with her husband and forces her to consider joining a protest against her daughter. In order for us to understand why she would go to these extremes to get the award we need to further develop why it is so important to her. With this in mind:
Let’s clarify why Muriel wants the award.
In our story Muriel is compelled to get the award because of her rivalry with Agnes Dunn. In many ways this works very well, particularly as an external motivator, but it doesn’t really justify why she would risk her family to get it. As a result her need to get the award doesn’t feel strong enough to drive the story which weakens our investment in her obtaining it. So in moving forward we need to clarify why it’s so important to her. One way to do this is to set up the significance of the church in her life. If we knew how important the church was to her it would be easier to see why she would be willing to jeopardize her relationship with her family in order to get it.
• A key element of this is setting up that winning the award infers approval of the choices she has made. So in developing the piece we need to establish why the church’s approval is so important to her. One way to bring this out is to expand her role in the church. We could do this by clarifying why she has been chosen as a possible recipient. This would give us an opportunity to weave in how she is involved in the church on an ongoing basis. For example perhaps we establish that she is being nominated because she plays a special role in the church. Maybe she teaches Sunday school, helps out at the church shelter, runs the soup kitchen or volunteers with the elderly. This would help us to see how invested she is in the church and make the likelihood of her receiving the award feel more tangible. We might also want to see the role religion plays in her life by seeing her pray, read the bible or go to confession. Anything along these lines would help to establish that she is deeply involved with the church and as such it is very important to her so that when we learn she is up for the award we would understand why the church’s approval means so much that she would be willing to risk her relationship with her family in order to get it.
Another aspect of setting up her motivation for the award is developing the idea that Muriel feels a connection to the church because it is where she turned when she had the affair and abortion (pages 87-89). We could bring this out in her conversation with Mary on pages 12-14. She might mention that the church means a lot to her because it helped her through a difficult time in her marriage. She could also say something along these lines in her conversation with Sarah on pages 73-77. This would help us to understand why she blindly follows the doctrine of the church and clarify why their approval, and therefore the award, is so important.
• With all this in mind we may want to rework the opening scene in the church (pages 1-4). Right now Muriel is in church trading insincere smiles with Agnes and fiddling with her gum. While this is very funny it makes it seem like this is a place that Muriel doesn’t take very seriously or even want to be in. This undermines the sense that the church and the Monsignor’s approval are important to her. Tweaking this would help to convey the significance of the church in Muriel’s life so that we understand why she attaches so much importance to the award.
Let’s clarify Muriel’s internal goal.
In tandem with establishing a clear external goal that drives the plot (which is Muriel’s desire to win the award) we need to clarify Muriel’s internal goal. This is usually the protagonist’s deep longing or emotional need which they are unaware of. It is this underlying (or subconscious) goal that the audience really connects to and becomes invested in them achieving. For example in Into the Wild Emile Hirsch is driven to escape his family and the pain he feels around their betrayal but what’s really driving him is an almost spiritual need to discover who he is in the world. Or in Capote Philip Seymour Hoffman wants to complete his book but what’s really driving this is his desire for the adoration and approval of his peers.
Because our story ends with the family being reunited we see that having an intact family is ultimately what is driving Muriel. What’s interesting about Muriel’s character is that in spite of this desire her anger continually alienates her family. As a result she inadvertently sabotages the very thing she desires. This creates a complex protagonist who feels very true to life. But it’s a fine line here and we don’t want Muriel’s antagonism to completely overshadow our investment in her having her family together. So in moving forward we need to ensure that underneath the anger we see how she is being driven by a desire for an intact family.
• On page 7 Muriel storms to Theresa’s house but before ringing the doorbell she “leans against the wall and lets out a sad sigh.” Then on page 22 after Sarah’s emotional reveal that she’s a lesbian Muriel and Frank argue and as he heads off to bed Muriel “touches her cheek where he kissed her. She turns and watches him walk up the stairs with sad longing.” These beats nicely underscore Muriel’s underlying dissatisfaction with her life and a desire for something more but they don’t necessarily point to her yearning for an intact family. So in addition to these beats perhaps we express this wish is by seeing how Muriel would like to be more involved in her children’s lives – something she would have if the family were together. We might see her pain at not being told about Sarah’s pregnancy earlier, perhaps she is upset that she wasn’t invited to her grandson’s violin recital or maybe she’s disappointed that her fight with Frank Jr. about his separation means he won’t be at Sarah’s birthday dinner. Subtly establishing her feelings around being excluded from her children and grandchildren’s lives could help us to see that in spite of all her anger she really does want her family to be together in a more traditional way.
Another way to underscore Muriel’s desire for an intact family would be to give Frank an outside hobby or activity that she is excluded from so that we can make her longing to be with him more tangible. For example perhaps he’s into bowling or golf and when he heads off we see that, though she doesn’t say it, she misses the opportunity to be together. Anything along these lines could help to bring out her desire to have more time and involvement with her family which is something she would have if the family were intact.
A different way to go with this is to clearly establish that her anger is a defense mechanism. So for example perhaps when Sarah reveals she’s a lesbian and pregnant Muriel might first respond with her hurt feelings around not being told before this. Then Muriel might quickly cover these feelings up with anger and lash out at her. This would tell us that all her anger is a response to her vulnerability and that her antagonism is really being driven by her underlying longing for her family to be together and her inability to express this in a more authentic way.
Let’s establish how Muriel changes over the course of the story.
Transformation is at the heart of all stories. While we are driven through a piece to see if the protagonist will achieve their goals what we really want to see is how a character changes in response to the challenges they overcome in pursuit of their goal. For example in Little Miss Sunshine we are drawn through the movie to see if our family will get to beauty pageant in time but what we really hope for is that they will find a way to come together and overcome their estrangement.
In our story once Muriel confesses her affair to Sarah she is able to stand up to the protestors. This shows us that she now accepts the fact that Sarah is a lesbian even though this goes against the values of the church and means she will probably not win the award. This is a poignant scene that is absolutely heading in the right direction but it’s not clear what has changed internally that causes her to abandon her desire for the award and accept Sarah. This is partly because we haven’t fully developed Muriel’s character flaw. This is whatever has held the protagonist back from getting what they want. Ideally the protagonist’s transformation does not occur until they have realized what this flaw is and reconciled it on some level. This epiphany then triggers their healing and allows them to achieve what they want.
For example in Wedding Crashers Owen Wilson, a self confessed womanizer, falls head over heels for Rachel McAdams but when she learns he is not who he pretends to be she dumps him. His inability to be truthful around who he really is holds him back from having a relationship with her. This then becomes his character flaw and we become invested in the movie to see if he will ever be able to be truly honest and win Rachel’s heart. On another note sometimes the protagonist will not reconcile their flaw and remains unchanged – think There Will be Blood – but that’s a different kind of movie.
So in moving forward it would be helpful to clarify what Muriel’s central flaw is so that we can make her resulting epiphany more powerful. This will help her acceptance of Sarah feel like it is being motivated by true inner change. With this in mind:
Let’s establish Muriel’s character flaw.
As noted above our story ends with the family being reunited which tells us that Muriel’s primary goal is having an intact family. So Muriel’s character flaw would be whatever has stood in the way of her achieving this. We can then set up her flaw by clarifying what has led to her family’s current estrangement.
On pages 14-15 Muriel tells her sister “Sarah and I get along great” while moments later Sarah tells Rebecca “The only thing that’s wrong with me is I hate my mother!” Later on page 17 Sarah hesitates to break her news because Muriel had “decided to be nice to me for the first time in my life” then after Muriel disowns her for being gay Sarah asks Rebecca “Why can’t I have a normal mother?” (page 21). We see a similar sentiment echoed in Muriel and Frank Jr.’s bitter exchange on page 10 where she tells him “You’re not the son I’d hoped for” and he retaliates with “Well your not the mother I hoped for, so that makes us even.” Then on page 25 Muriel tells her sister “I don’t need meetings. There is nothing wrong with me. I need my family to behave the way they are supposed to!” These beats work really well and tell us that the reason Muriel does not have an intact family is because her relationship with her children is far from perfect. What they don’t tell us is why. Ultimately whatever is behind this is the flaw that Muriel needs to heal and is the key to reuniting the family.
• Over the course of the story Muriel expresses a great deal of anger and resentment around her family not behaving the way she would like. This antagonistic behavior alienates her family and seems to be the main reason she doesn’t have the kind of intact family she desires. So the root cause of this behavior is then her character flaw. In thinking about how to establish why she is so angry and controlling we need to delve a little more deeply into her psychology to see where this behavior comes from.
One idea would be to expand on how her guilt around the affair and the abortion has caused her to turn to the church and her absolute commitment to their values has led her to judge her children too harshly. Or we might explore the idea suggested above that her anger is a defense mechanism that covers up her true longing. Or perhaps we develop the idea that her relationship with her mom is the root cause of her inability to be a better parent (pages 14, 65, 71). Or maybe her anger is an expression of the bitterness she feels around carrying the family during Frank’s alcoholism. Clarifying where Muriel’s anger comes from will help to establish her character flaw so that we understand what has held her back from being the kind of parent that would create the kind of loving intact family she so desires.
In tandem with this:
Let’s give Muriel a clear epiphany.
In developing Muriel’s character flaw we need to give her a clear moment where she recognizes what has stood in the way of her having what she wants. This epiphany then leads to her healing this part of her life and allows her to achieve her goal. We see this kind of moment in Wedding Crashers when Owen Wilson visits Will Ferrell, who is the wedding crasher guru. There Owen is forced to confront the reality of what it looks like to be middle aged and still chasing women. A harbinger of who he will become if he isn’t able to live authentically. This new awareness triggers his epiphany and he is then able to apologize to Rachel. Having reconciled his flaw they are now able to live happily ever after. Developing the protagonist’s through line this way where we see their flaw, resulting epiphany and transformation makes for a very satisfying resolution.
As written the reason that Muriel has been less than the perfect mother is tied to her affair and subsequent abortion. While her reveal to Sarah is moving and poignant it doesn’t quite explain why it has led to her antagonistic behavior. So what happens is that ultimately her confession feels like it sidesteps the central flaw that has stood in the way of her obtaining what she wants which weakens the impact of the resolution. Ideally her transformation would be triggered by her realization of how her behavior has led to the loss of the very thing she so desires. This would make her epiphany feel a lot more powerful and in turn strengthen the entire piece.
• With this in mind perhaps we expand on Muriel and Sarah’s conversation so that it includes a clearer trigger for Muriel’s growing awareness of how her behavior has affected her having an intact family. For example maybe we rework things so that Sarah, instead of Rebecca, blames Muriel for making Sarah think she caused the miscarriage. Hearing this directly from her daughter might cause her to reflect on how her anger and judgment of her kids has led to their estrangement. We might also want to up the tension of the scene by having Sarah be more insistent that she leave so that we feel this might actually cause a permanent rift in their relationship. Muriel’s fear that she might lose her daughter for good, in tandem with Sarah’s pain around being blamed for the miscarriage, might then work together to trigger Muriel’s epiphany.
Another aspect of Muriel’s epiphany is having Muriel face the fact that she has let her commitment to the values of the church come before her family. So perhaps we set up that her guilt has led her to bury her feelings in her involvement in the church almost as a way to atone for her sins (this is where it would help to give Muriel a specific role in the church’s daily activities.) Sarah might then blame her for causing her miscarriage because she was so upset by the possibility that Muriel might attend the protest (pages 73-77) which would force her to look at the role the church has played in her alienating her children. Anything along these lines would give Muriel a clearer epiphany where she confronts the flaw that has held her back from having an intact family. This would make the confrontation at the protest and her reunion with Frank feel more powerful.
MURIEL & AGNES
Muriel and Agnes’ rivalry is nicely established right off the top when the Monsignor tells Muriel they are both up for the award (pages 1-4). Then on pages 12-14 we learn that “Every time something good is about to happen to me, Agnes Dunn showed up” and we see that their rivalry has a history. Agnes details this history when they run into each other “I was thinking about eighth grade, both being considered to head the May procession, and high school, both considered for valedictorian… Well I just wanted to say good luck and I hope you win this time.” (page 16). These beats work very well and establish a good tension between them. That said in moving forward it would be helpful to track their relationship through the script more consistently and resolve it more fully.
Let’s track Muriel & Agnes’ rivalry.
After Muriel and Agnes run into each other on the street it feels like their rivalry drops into the background of the story. Since this is what is externally motivating Muriel to go for the award it would be helpful to keep it in the forefront of the piece.
• One way to do this would be to have Muriel monitor Agnes’ progress towards the final decision. For example maybe she investigates how Agnes is doing as Agnes gets ready for her house visit and follows up to see how it went. Or perhaps we weave in a brief exchange prior to the meeting on page 72 where we see that the tension between them is rising. We might also want to add another beat with the Monsignor to see where they are at as they near the end of the competition. Anything along these lines would help to keep their rivalry in the forefront of the story so that we see how it is motivating Muriel’s actions.
Another thought here is that perhaps we add another element to their rivalry. Maybe the man that Muriel had an affair with was Agnes’ husband (though this is something Agnes wouldn’t know but it would haunt Muriel). This would really add tension to their antagonism.
Let’s resolve Muriel and Agnes’ rivalry.
On page 93 Muriel watches Sarah’s team in the playoffs and is confronted by Agnes who says “Well, I can see where you now stand on this issue.” Muriel responds “Good, now get out of my way, Agnes.” This beat tells us that Muriel will probably not get the award but she no longer cares. While this is where we want the ending to go it leaves their relationship feeling a little unresolved. Because their rivalry has motivated Muriel’s actions it would be helpful to tie it up a little more fully.
• One way to do this would be to expand on this scene to include a mention of the award and of their ongoing rivalry. So perhaps Agnes says quite clearly that she’s going to tell the Monsignor and gloatingly tells her that this will mean she won’t get award. She might mention that this means her winning streak is unbroken. Adding a beat like this would help their relationship to feel more complete and strengthen the ending.
Another way to go with this would be to end their rivalry on an entirely different note – one where they realize that both of their families are imperfect and that the award is meaningless. Perhaps in the face of Muriel’s bravery Agnes, instead of being smug, is suddenly compassionate and reveals something about her own life that brings the two women closer together. Or maybe Agnes reveals that she thinks they are just pawns in the Monsignor’s power struggle with Sister Joan. This too might bring them together so that we see how this experience actually resolves their rivalry.
Regardless of which direction we go it would be helpful to resolve it more fully. This would help the ending to feel more satisfying.
MURIEL & FRANK
Muriel and Frank’s relationship is developed very well. We get a good sense of their estrangement and their mutual longing for something more. Frank’s decision to leave after Muriel lies to the Bishop (page 68) is a great turn that increases the obstacles Muriel is forced to deal with. Muriel’s confession about the affair clarifies the root of their disconnect and while their reunion doesn’t necessarily resolve their relationship issues Muriel’s “surrender to his embrace” tells us that that from now on things will be different between them (page 95).
MURIEL & SARAH
Muriel and Sarah’s relationship works very well overall. Beats like their different perspectives on their relationship (pages 14-15) and both of them cleaning (page 24) are great. They nicely show how they are different yet the same which is a wonderful reflection on mothers and daughters. In developing their relationship there are a couple of areas that would benefit from some tweaking.
Let’s clarify the root of their difficulties.
On page 15 Sarah tells Rebecca she hates her mom. This quickly establishes her feelings and sets up good relationship conflict. Then once Sarah reveals she’s a lesbian and pregnant their antagonism becomes about Muriel accepting the fact that Sarah is gay (pages 19-21) which she does at the end of the story when Muriel battles the protesters (page 92). Overall this is a strong through line but it would be helpful to establish why Sarah hates her mom. This ties into developing Muriel’s character flaw and what has stood in the way of her having the kind of family she so desires.
• For example perhaps we establish that Sarah feels Muriel’s commitment to the church made her mother judge her too harshly and she resents her for this. Or perhaps Sarah feels her mother was so involved with the church she never had time for her and this has led to Sarah’s feelings. Then when her mom reveals her affair and the reason she was so involved with the church it would help them to heal their relationship. Rooting their estrangement in something specific will help it to feel more authentic so that it packs a greater emotional punch.
Let’s bring out Muriel’s desire for a better relationship.
As suggested above Muriel and Sarah’s relationship is a good place to bring out Muriel’s longing for an intact family.
• With this in mind perhaps we expand on Muriel’s sadness and pain around being excluded from Sarah’s life. One way to do this is to continue to develop her jealously around Sylvia (page 45) and Rebecca (page 49). Both of these relationships take priority over Muriel and because of this there is a natural exclusion. Showing Muriel’s response to this exclusion would help to establish her desire for a deeper relationship with her daughter which would give their reunion more impact.
Let’s expand on Muriel’s personal statement.
Muriel’s request for help with her personal statement and the argument that ensues works really well and gives them a tangible way to express their relationship issues (pages 18, 38, 40, 58). That said once Sarah actually writes the statement it really feels like we need to hear it. This could be a way to resolve their relationship and could be a very emotional mother-daughter moment.
Let’s expand on Sarah’s feelings around being pregnant.
Sarah is devastated by the loss of her baby (page 81) and her feeling that her mother blames her for the miscarriage causes a major rift in their relationship. This all works well but we never really get the sense that Sarah (or Muriel for that matter) is all that invested in having a baby which weakens the impact of this turning point.
• With this in mind let’s add one or two more beats where, in spite of having to take it easy, we see Sarah’s excitement around having the baby. For example she might be more engaged in the preparations say looking through the Pottery Barn Kids catalog for a crib, having a baby shower or going through potential names with Rebecca. Anything along these lines would help to make her response to losing the baby feel more authentic. In conjunction with this we may want to have Muriel show more enthusiasm about her granddaughter to be. Maybe she goes crazy buying pink things like an all pink layette, bassinette or stroller. Just a few details here and there would really help to make sure that both mother and daughter are emotionally invested in the pregnancy.
MURIEL & FRANK JR
Muriel and Frank Jr.’s relationship works well overall. His separation from Patty quickly sets up their conflict and establishes a good through line. As with Muriel’s relationship with Sarah, Muriel and Frank’s estrangement would benefit from establishing why Muriel is so controlling and unable to accept Frank for who he is. This would help to root her antagonism in something specific so that we know where it comes from. Developing Muriel’s character flaw so that we know why she hasn’t been the perfect parent should help to do this. That said it would be helpful to tie up their relationship a little more fully.
Let’s resolve Muriel and Frank Jr.’s relationship.
On pages 83-84 Frank drops by the house to see his dad and he and Muriel have an awkward exchange. Overall this works well but as it is the last time we see them together we might want to tie up their relationship a little here.
• One way to do this would be to weave this beat together with Muriel’s epiphany. For example perhaps Frank Jr. blames his mother for making him marry Patty. Maybe Patty got pregnant while they were dating and because of Muriel’s religious views (and her own experiences) she forced him to marry her. Frank Jr. might touch on his anger around this when he tells Muriel “My marriage is over.” Hearing Frank Jr.’s feelings about his marriage might cause Muriel to reflect on how her behavior has led to their estrangement. This beat coupled with Sarah’s blaming her for the miscarriage would then make for a strong epiphany where Muriel begins to take responsibility for her actions and help this scene to feel like it is a key element of her healing. We might also want to tweak the scene so that we leave it feeling that while they are both still hurt and angry a rapprochement is not out of the question. Perhaps after he hesitates about kissing her he actually does.
Another way to go would be to have Frank Jr. come to the protest. Though this feels a little convenient it might be a good way to tie up the story and their relationship.
Overall the dialogue is very well written. That said Muriel’s dialogue feels a little bit one note. This is partly because she is extremely angry from the get go. While this is an essential character trait that we don’t want to lose it makes her feel shrill and we run the risk of alienating the audience. So with this in mind perhaps we rework her dialogue slightly to ramp more gradually to her antagonism. This would help to ensure the audience becomes engaged with her character before she starts to get angry. In addition we might want to expand on the nuances of each character’s voice. For example Sarah, a district attorney, might speak differently than Frank Jr. who is more working class. Or maybe Rebecca who is pro-feminist and pro-lesbian uses one-liners much like her shirts. This would work in contrast with Sylvia whose dialogue is more traditional. Adding this kind of subtlety will help to make the characters feel more authentic.
The general structure of the story works very well. The script gets off to a great start with the Monsignor telling Muriel she is up for the award and Sarah’s reveal that she is a lesbian and pregnant is a great twist that complicates Muriel’s pursuit of the award. From here the story escalates towards the Bishop’s visit and Frank’s departure. Sarah’s miscarriage is another good turn that eventually leads to Muriel’s epiphany and the climax at the protest. As well as all this works in moving forward it would be helpful to expand on what’s here a little by tweaking key beats, twists and turns so that they have as much impact as they can.
The first act works well and the premise and character conflicts are quickly established. A couple of things to consider:
• Let’s rework the opening scene so that it clearly establishes the importance of the church in Muriel’s life. The humor is fine just want to ensure that the audience knows she takes the church very seriously.
• In conjunction with this let’s see how Muriel is involved with the church. Ideally she would have a specific role she takes on that allows us to see that the church is important to her and that she values it so much she has put it before her family (much like a workaholic).
• Let’s ramp up to her anger a little. This will help ensure that the audience connects to her character before she really starts alienating everyone. It will also help give us somewhere to go with her character.
• Let’s develop the mechanics of the award a little further. For example let’s establish exactly what Muriel and Agnes will have to do to get it. Maybe there is something in addition to the home visit, perhaps they have to show their involvement in the church or provide things in addition to the personal statement. Let’s also give it a clear time line and end date so that we can create a ticking clock around it. This will heighten the tension and suspense. Being specific and detailed here will help this plot device to feel like it is a significant undertaking that is a real challenge for Muriel to deal with.
Act One Turning Point
As written the first act turning point is when we learn that Sarah is going to have to “stay off her feet” and will “need someone to take care of her if she’s going to carry the baby to term” (page 30). Muriel “jumps in without missing a beat” and agrees to help. This is heading in the right direction but it doesn’t quite feel like a significant enough plot twist. This is because it doesn’t truly feel like an obstacle for Muriel to overcome.
• With this in mind perhaps we use the situation to take Muriel out of her comfort zone a little more forcing her to confront the reality that her daughter is gay. So maybe when she is at Sarah’s house there are a lot more gay friends about. Perhaps Rebecca is more political and the house is filled with artwork, posters, signs etc that depict an overtly lesbian lifestyle. Or maybe Sarah knows the sperm donor – a gay friend perhaps – and he’s also hanging around forcing Muriel to get to know him. Maybe Rebecca has organized a baby shower that turns into a wacky event full of Muriel’s worst nightmares. Anything along these lines would make the situation at Sarah’s house more uncomfortable for Muriel so that this turning point feels more significant.
• Another aspect of this is clarifying how this turn of events is going to complicate Muriel’s goal of winning the award. So perhaps shortly after Sarah returns home the Monsignor learns that Sarah isn’t well and he, or someone else from the church, comes to pay a visit. This would force Muriel to find a way to derail the visit so that she doesn’t expose the fact that Sarah is gay.
The second act of the story is focused around Muriel taking care of Sarah and Frank Jr.’s worsening situation. Woven in here is Angela and Jennifer’s wedding (pages 46-55) and the Bishop’s visit (pages 59-67) which culminates in Frank leaving (page 68). In general this works well, particularly the visit, but the wedding feels a bit forced. One of the reasons for this is that it’s not clear why Cepti and Lou would invite them, why they agree to go and why they flirt so openly. This makes the wedding feel like a plot device rather than a sequence that moves the story forward.
• With this in mind let’s give Cepti and Lou a tangible reason to include them other than Cepti’s desire to help Muriel accept the fact that her daughter is gay. In addition perhaps it’s harder for Muriel to be there. The atmosphere might be more openly gay or less traditional. In conjunction with this we need to clarify why Cepti and Lou flirt. While this beat is intended to be when Muriel begins to soften it feels really out of character for everyone which undermines the sense that this is a turning point for Muriel. In light of this we may want to leave this aspect of the scene out. Or maybe we rework this entirely and make it Sarah’s baby shower instead of a wedding.
In addition let’s keep the award in the forefront of the story.
• As suggested above let’s expand on the award a little so that Muriel has to do more than just the home visit. This will keep her engaged and invested in getting the award. Also it would be helpful to have the Monsignor around a bit more keeping the pressure on her to win. This will help maintain the tension and suspense around the outcome. With this in mind let’s follow up on the home visit so that the award doesn’t feel like it drops out of the story after the Bishop comes.
Second Act Turning Point
The second act turning point is when Frank leaves and we learn that Sarah has lost the baby. Overall this works well and nicely leads us to Muriel and Sarah’s confrontation.
The climax of the third act works well and Muriel standing up for Sarah and battling the protesters is a wonderful moment that shows us she now accepts her daughter and no longer cares about the award. Muriel and Frank’s embrace ties up the story beautifully.
That said, while this climax makes for an emotionally satisfying resolution, there is something that feels a bit dated about a protest. Perhaps instead of the protest being aimed at the softball game we focus it around the parade this might help it to feel more organic to the story and therefore less dated. Or maybe we tie the climax into a ceremony for the Catholic Woman of the Year award. What’s important here is that we give Muriel an opportunity to publicly support Sarah in order to show her acceptance of her being a lesbian proof she’s been transformed by the events of the story.
Overall the tone of the story is well done. The comedy has the right pitch and is nicely balanced with the drama. Little details like the gay slogan t-shirts, magnets and banners are great and help to make the piece feel unique (pages 22, 31, 32, 81, 92, 94, 95). That said the piece feels a little soft. This is partly because the story plays it safe and does not exploit the tension, stakes or gay theme as much as it can. The risk here is that there may not be enough to make the piece stand out in a competitive marketplace. So with this in mind we may want to make the story a little edgier. We can do this by increasing the overall tension and suspense around the award, increasing the stakes around Frank Jr.’s situation (perhaps Patty is more vindictive or doesn’t let him leave the marriage as easily as it seems, maybe his unhappiness threatens his job) and pushing the gay aspects of the piece to explore all facets of the gay lifestyle from your typical suburban couple like Sarah and Rebecca to drag queens. While we don’t want to push the envelope just for the sake of it we do want to make sure that the story takes things as far as possible in order to ensure that it stands out from the crowd.
WORLD OF THE STORY
In developing the story it would be helpful to make the world of the piece feel more unique. Right now it feels like it could be set anywhere. Adding more specific details that focus it around one central place would help to make it feel distinct. It would also be helpful to clarify how lesbian and gay people are perceived in the place where the story is set so that we know how accepted they are and if Muriel is out of step with the general population. For example setting the piece in New York is a lot different than setting it in Des Moines.
Also on another note we may want to add some texture by setting the piece around a holiday such as Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter. Perhaps everything is building to a big Thanksgiving dinner. This could be a way to bring out Muriel’s desire for an intact family.
XXXXXX is a well written script that is both funny and poignant. The theme positions it for the indie, art house circuit and it is likely that it would attract a strong niche audience. With this in mind the film will likely have to be produced and screened at the festivals in order to garner distribution.