I realize now, after about ten years making my living as a Los Angeles-based screenwriter, that there is really only one kind of movie (or story of any kind) that I really love — that inspired me to want to create more of.
It’s the kind where a character (or characters) believably changes into a better version of themselves, thanks to the impact of other people, and a life challenge that has grabbed them and won’t let go.
This “better version” is in sync with their deepest heart’s desires, but for various relatable reasons, they’ve been living a compromised (if relatively successful) life prior to the movie’s start.
You might think that this describes many or most movies, and I will admit that the average Hollywood story does strive for a certain degree of “character growth.” But most do not go the distance necessary to meet my criteria.
For one thing, the growth might be superficial, partial or unbelievable. It might not amount to “now I’ve become the person that I’ve dreamed of being, and resolved the key things that were in the way.”
I would put CITY SLICKERS in this category. I liked it a lot, but it doesn’t make my list of “I got into this to do stuff like that” because I don’t really see how this vacation experience will fundamentally change him forever.
FIELD OF DREAMS, on the other hand, makes my list. What that character resolves with his father (and how following some higher calling pays off big-time in the end) is transformative in a more complete way.
And yes, it is “believable,” to me, in the context of the world of the movie. That’s the key. We might not buy these things happening in our lives, but the movie makes us buy them in its universe (or it makes many of us buy them).
I also am partial to a certain kind of tone, that I would pithily oversimplify as “fun and smart with heart.” If it’s too serious, or too simplistic, or too cynical, then count me out. It won’t move me in the same way.
It should be largely a comedic ride, in terms of entertainment value, where we enjoy watching these people wrestling with these life problems. There should be a level of self-awareness and sophistication to the writing and the characters. But it should ultimately be more about love and compassion and transcendence than anything we intellectuals tend to put in the way of all that.
So my list includes titles like JERRY MAGUIRE, GHOST, BIG, FORREST GUMP, THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP, PRETTY WOMAN, WORKING GIRL, ALMOST FAMOUS, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, SAY ANYTHING, BREAKING AWAY, THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY, BOOGIE NIGHTS, TOY STORY 2, SHE’S HAVING A BABY, CLUELESS, THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, RAIN MAN, AUSTIN POWERS: INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY, and the movie I took this blog’s name from — which mocks what I’m talking about while still managing to trumpet the kind of almost childlike idealism I love. That would be WAYNE’S WORLD.
I also revere THE GODFATHER, which perhaps fits my criteria in some ways, while also showing that the character’s growth has dark consequences at the same time.
In recent days, I’ve been partial to the movie MUSIC AND LYRICS, the Broadway musical version of LEGALLY BLONDE (more so than the original movie), and SEX AND THE CITY, the series and feature film.
I’m not sure exactly what the value is of having pinpointed in such a detailed way “what I love,” but as a writer constantly searching for new material and trying to work out stories and manage the ups and downs of life in the business, it does seem helpful to have such a touchstone, even a sense of mission or purpose about what I do.
So there it is…
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