HOW TO WRITE A SCRIPT PEOPLE CARE ABOUT
Andrea and I went and saw ‘Promising Young Woman’ last night. A fun little thriller where we follow main character Cassie as she seeks to get revenge on those who wronged her friend back in medical school.
This movie is really interesting and does an amazing job of keeping the audience guessing and on the edge of their seats. With that said, it certainly fell flat for me, even with it’s shocking and unconventional ending.
As we drove home, we discussed and I was trying to pinpoint why it just didn’t work for me. Why did this film fall flat? Through our conversation, I was able to get to the bottom of it. I just didn’t care about the characters and thus I didn’t care about the goals they were trying to achieve. It’s not that the writer's approach was wrong, they just made a decision that provided a different emotional impact in the end, one that I felt could’ve been much more impactful.
Continue on if you’d like to see my breakdown of this film and how one little change and this movie would’ve been perfect for me. Beware, there’s some spoilers below.
The film opens with a few guys in a bar dancing. Cut to Cassie, blackout drunk, sitting by herself. A man “helps” her by offering a ride home. They stop at his place, things start to go a little too far and it’s revealed that Cassie was faking the entire time. She was sober.
Well, I’m hooked. Let’s continue.
Getting revenge, she moves on where we find she works at a coffee shop. Fast forward, she repeats the revenge on men once more, before ultimately falling for a guy who comes into the coffee shop (a man she went to medical school with).
Looking to get out of the game, she decides to get revenge on those who wronged her friend Nina and put a final nail in that old coffin. Jumping ahead and not to give away too much, she gets her revenge, the relationship doesn’t work out and we jump forward into a VERY surprising and unconventional ending.
Okay, I have to say it to make my point, Cassie is killed.
Now! It all sounds great right? Seems like a great thriller, so where did fall flat? Why wasn’t it impactful?
WRITE CHARACTERS WE CARE ABOUT
When Cassie is killed in the end, we as an audience should feel something, anything. I mean she’s the main character for fuck sake, shouldn’t we care a little bit?
By not caring about Cassie (and Nina for that fact), we don’t care about a lot of things in the film. We don’t care about her goal of getting revenge, we don’t care about the bad things that happen to Cassie and thus we don’t give a shit about this story.
This film had an amazing opportunity to get the audience to fall in love with an absolute psychopath and it missed the mark because we just didn’t care about any of it.
Now the question is, could it be fixed? What’s the solution, if there is one, that gets the audience engaged and back on track?
Of course there’s a solution, there’s always a fucking solution.
This film does a great job of hiding a lot of things. They hide what Cassie does to get revenge on the men she goes home with, spoiler, she doesn’t kill them...In fact, she doesn’t kill a single person in the film...sorry, I’m getting off track...and they hide the past. The film hides the relationship of Cassie and Nina. We never really get to see what happened to Nina. We never get to meet her.
How can you expect the audience to buy into your story, when you don’t give them a reason to?
The story is about a girl getting revenge on people for the things they did to her friend. If we don’t know what happened to the friend(we learn little by little throughout), hell if we never meet the friend, how can we be expected to care? We don’t care about Cassie, Nina, the situation, the revenge, or Cassie’s death. We don’t care about any of it.
How could they have turned this thing around? Show the fucking relationship between Cassie and Nina. You want us to care about them? Give us reason to.
The choice to show Cassie going through her drunken charade with random men(in the beginning) was certainly an interesting one that catches your attention. It helps setup who Cassie is, but leaves us wanting a little more in the end. Not a wrong choice by any means, just one that left a little meat on the bone as far as impact goes.
In fact, the fake drunkenness and revenge on random men has literally nothing to do with the story. It’s really just fluff.
To make this film more impactful, they could’ve cut all the fluff in the beginning and simply showed the relationship between Cassie and Nina. They have all of act 1, to set this thing up, springboarding the audience into act 2 and they never did it. Again, the story is about a girl getting revenge on the people who wronged her friend. We need to care about her, her friend and their relationship. If not, we don’t care about the story.
A simple way to look at it in a real life example. You get an Amber alert on your phone, 4 year old Tommy was taken and last seen in a white camaro driving south. You feel for little Tommy, hopefully they find him and all is okay. Now change the situation a little. Tommy is your nephew, part of your family. Does it hit home a little harder?
When you write, your characters need to feel like a part of your family. Get the audience to really care about them and do it in the first 20 pages.
This is not at all a bad film, in fact, I really enjoyed it. It was fun and interesting all the way through and that ending was fucking great. I simply wanted to use it as an example of how to play with emotional impact in a story.
At the end of the day, there is no right or wrong, it’s all art and storytelling. I prefer to care about the characters I watch on screen, however others may not. In the end, if you want people to care, give them a fucking reason to.
Write on writers!
- The Failed Filmmaker