C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

Write and publish with love and fury.

Downsizing: A dire warning for writers

I finally saw Downsizing, a (black?) (comedic?) sci-fi movie with Matt Damon on Netflix. Anyone who writes should see it. It’s a clinic in how a story can go terribly awry.

There are so many approaches to writing. I’m not usually so Judgy McJudgypants. Someone objected to my use of foreshadowing in one of my series, for instance. You know what? Hop on the bus, Gus. There must be fifty ways to leave your lover…um, I mean, there are lots of ways to write and they aren’t all for you. That said, Downsizing is really bad. 

(Warning: very mild spoilers follow.)

The movie is so bad it’s fascinating. It can’t decide what it is. Kristen Wiig is in it for a hot minute and you’ll soon miss her. I like Matt Damon in most any movie. Christoph Waltz is being Christoph Waltz, for God’s sake! That almost always works! The cinematography is pretty, the actors are able and the premise gets lots of points for originality. This is a watchable mess. However, you’ll soon understand why the film wasn’t a hit. The marketing couldn’t hit a target because the plot was so incoherent.

This movie falls down in the writing and directing departments. At first, the story fails because the plot takes too long to get going. The show starts 10 years before the action begins! They invent a science (and hey, look, I’m sympathetic. That’s hard. I just did that in my latest book.) Sadly, the plot has no destination once it’s finally on its way. This thing is all over the road. Is it a goofy marriage story? Sci-fi utopia? Sci-fi dystopia? Cli-fi? Apocalypse? A mid-life crisis? Is it about a person finally asserting their personhood and making some decisions, daring to be selfish…or unselfish? The director didn’t know, either. You’ll be left a little baffled.

(For a much better movie about a mid-life nebbish figuring out how to take control of his life, watch The Secret Life of Walter Mitty with Ben Stiller. Or the original with Danny Kaye, for that matter.)

When we’re talking novels, it’s often a good idea to “come in late.” In other words, you plop the reader into the action. No info dumps. Get the story up and moving and sift the needed detail and character development amid the action as needed. This is not always so. A common trope in the zombie genre: They don’t show you how the apocalypse begins. In The Walking Dead, Rick Grimes wakes up from a coma and BOOM! Zombies! Same with a movie I love, 28 Days Later. Swimming against that tide, I devoted the first book in the Plague of Days trilogy to the fall of civilization. It’s interesting to me to see how things come apart when societal norms and services break down. In AFTER Life, Inferno, my new zombie apocalypse, we start in media res and get right to the action.

Necessary ad: AFTER Life, Purgatory was just released. 

This post continues below.

AFTER LIFE COVER 2

In the end of Downsizing, the main character arrives at a decision. This is the confusing climax of the movie. You really don’t know what to root for. Did Matt Damon win or lose? You will not understand whether his decision is a brave choice or if he’s just being weak and caving again. (At least I wasn’t sure. They even make the mistake of undermining the global emergency. You won’t even be sure how serious the peril really is. What are the stakes? Who knows?)

Your parents can be a wonderful example or a serve as a terrible warning about what you don’t want to become. So it is with Downsizing. As a writer, you probably won’t like it but you could learn a lot from it. I did.


~ Robert Chazz Chute sometimes comes off as crotchety. He’s really Canada’s sweetheart. Sorry, eh? Check out his latest releases at AllThatChazz.com.

 

Filed under: Writers, writing, writing advice, , , , , , ,

Bad Writing, Jim Belushi and Charlie’s Angels

Last night I watched TV as I puffed along on a treadmill at the gym. Jim Belushi’s sitcom was on. I was listening to a podcast on my headphones but the

Big Bang Theory writing is flashy, fast and funny. Good writing there.

 onscreen captions caught my eye. It was an According to Jim episode with all the predictable elements: a hot wife, Jim, a wacky neighbor who is fatter than Jim so the “star” looks smaller. There were a couple of cute kids running around.

David Cross tells a story about Jim Belushi (in Cross’s excellent book I Drink for a Reason) that is pretty awful. I won’t repeat it here. Go get Mr. Cross’s book for the full chewy goodness. Anyway, Jim is no John. But that wasn’t why I disliked the show. Yes, there was a tone of he-man homophobia which was distasteful and seemed dated to me, but it was the writing that was most egregious.

Perhaps it was the captions that alerted me to what was going on in the episode. I don’t mean the story per se. I mean the subtext of bad writing. Jim was there to crank out the stale and predictable jokes. The neighbor was there to make Jim seem more normal. The part of the wife could have been played by a whiteboard. She may, in fact, be a terrific actress. We’ll never know. No one on the staff was writing for her.

As I ran on the treadmill I wished I’d seen it from the beginning so I could keep a tally of how many times the wife’s lines were:

“What?”

“Yeah?”

“Okay. Okay? Okay.”

And then back to “What?!”

Wouldn’t it be great if everybody in the show got great lines? It’s either a power/insecurity thing* or the actress really couldn’t remember words longer than a few at a time. Maybe some day she’ll get to be a mindless exposition device. On this show, she may as well have been a cue card.

Watch The Big Bang Theory. Everybody gets great lines, not just Sheldon. Watch King of Queens reruns. Kevin James was consistently funny and you never once thought, “I bet that guy’s a real prick.” King of Queens was an underrated show, but it’s exactly what According to Jim would have been if it were any good.

Good luck to Mr. Belushi in his new fall show, The Defenders. I sure hope he got a whole new bunch of writers. I don’t want to see Jerry O’Connell going through entire shows saying “What? What? What?” so Jim can throw out another pithy line. It won’t matter too much. From now on, at the gym I’m sticking to Writing Excuses podcasts on my iPod.

BONUS:

*William Goldman relates a great story about the tense set of Charlie’s Angels. The actresses grew to hate each other and counted all the lines and words to make sure no one was getting more lines than they were. The writers ended up calling it Huey, Dooey and Louie dialogue because the angels would each have a line of equal length at all times.

Cheryl-LaddAngel 1: “I think we should…”

Angel 2: “Get to the beach!”

Angel 3: “…and find our Charlie!”

Quack!

Quack!

Quack!

A producer was asked the secret to Charlie’s Angels success. He didn’t laud his writing staff or the acting. He said one word: “Nipples.”

Filed under: Media, Rant, writing tips, , , , ,

Unintentionally hilarious is the best hilarious

The real tragedy is that it takes almost as much effort and money to make a bad movie as it does a good one.

Filed under: Unintentionally hilarious, , ,

Winner of Writer's Digest's 2014 Honorable Mention in Self-published Ebook Awards in Genre

The first 81 lessons to get your Buffy on

More lessons to help you survive Armageddon

"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Maxwell Cynn, author of Cybergrrl

Available now!

Fast-paced terror, new threats, more twists.

An autistic boy versus our world in free fall

Suspense to melt your face and play with your brain.

Action like a Guy Ritchie film. Funny like Woody Allen when he was funny.

Jesus: Sexier and even more addicted to love.

For my author site and the Chazz network, click the blood spatter below.

See my books, blogs, links and podcasts.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 10,166 other followers

Brain Spasms a la Twitter

%d bloggers like this: