Everyone Has Reversals

Story Lessons, Big and Small (Warning: Spoilers!)

August 05, 2009

In Honour of Blake Snyder & His Pope

I watched Smart People a while back. Thought it was sometimes charming and sometimes impenetrable. Mainly because it was so hard to get what Sarah Jessica Parker saw in Dennis Quaid. (And I speak as a longtime Quaid fan, here. And as a girl who had many a crush on an English professor.)

There were, however, tons of great story lessons in the film. And to honour Blake Snyder, who died suddenly this week, I’d like to point out that Smart People was the first time I ever noticed the “Pope in the Pool” rule in action. Snyder coined the phrase to describe any scene in which exposition is delivered while something visually interesting is distracting us. Need the Pope to deliver some boring/talky lines? Have him do it while swimming.

In Smart People, there’s a moment when Ellen Page finds her uncle, Thomas Haden Church, and asks him why he’s not staying with the family anymore. The scene could have taken place pretty much anywhere. It’s just talk. But she finds him while he’s walking down the street stapling “Lose Weight Now – Ask Me How!” flyers to telephone poles.

I saw that, and thought a whole bunch of things at the same time. I thought: Hey, I’ve never seen the people behind flyers like that. I thought: Of course it’s people like this guy, doing this kind of work! I thought: Wow, that’s much more interesting than this scene could have been. I thought: That Blake Snyder is one smart dude.

R.I.P. Blake – thank you for your wisdom and humour.


August 04, 2009

The Heart Wants What It Can Get

While He's Just Not That Into You may be an ensemble, the story with the most screen time -- and the one that triggers a number of other plots -- is the romance between Ginnifer Goodwin and Justin Long. Ginnifer's the over-analyser; the girl who waits for the guy who's not going to call to call. Justin's the cynic -- the brutal truthteller who delivers dating lessons to our naif, including the titular one.

Ginnifer toughens up, develops a thick skin, learns to spot a blowoff... and then mistakes many of Justin's actions for romantic attention. He lashes out at her -- hasn't she learned anything? Stop looking for signs! Ginnifer's defense: she'd rather be overly analytical as she searches for true love, than cold-hearted like he is. Cue the reversal... he's about to realize he does, in fact, love her. This time, she's going to get her man!

But here's the thing.

Not once. Not ONCE. Does Ginnifer ever ask herself (nor does anyone ask her) if she's into him. The assumption the storyline makes is that Ginnifer is into whatever guy is into her. Her dream seems to be that someone -- anyone -- will want her.

So the person we've been led to believe is our hero -- the one that needs to grow and change -- isn't Ginnifer. It's Justin. It's the dude. Oh thank God, a DUDE is here to provide character depth! 'Cause Ginnifer in all her damaged mania is adorable just as she is. Let's reward her for all those charming neuroses!

I understand that, thematically, and for the sake of romance, it must be very tempting to turn the lesson of the title on its head, and make the big reversal about that. I just don't think Ginnifer's character needed to be sacrificed to make that happen. How about, she starts to fall for him because he's so unlike the other guys... and then starts seeing signs where there are none?

Then the big moment, when he discovers she has feelings for him, might actually have been heartbreakingly romantic rather than painfully awkward.

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