Sunday, April 18, 2010

Dischord vs. Harmony

Brief Moral Premise Analysis

Script by:  Josh Klausner
Directed by: Shawn Levy

We watched this in the theater and have not been able to judge its success through the total box office, nor study it in DVD format. But, before we went, I took note that the film (including the credits, which are actually NOT part of the story) was 88 min long. I divided by two and put 44 min at the top of my little notebook I take to the theater. the scene that embraces the time from 40-48 minutes should include the story's Moment of Grace (MOG) and a switch in the character's mode of operation (MO) in their journey to attain their physical goal. Their MO before the MOG would indicate what vice they are struggling with, and their MO after the MOG would indicate what virtue they're attempting to embrace.

Date Night is essentially an action movie, about suburban couple, Phil and Clair Foster (Steve Carell and Tina Fey) who go into town on a special date night to reignite their marriage. I'll leave the plot for other reviewers, as my task here is simply to I.D. the MOG and a possible moral premise around which the movie is built.  Suffice it to say, fireworks ensure.

As we sat enjoying the chase scenes and Carell and Fey's trademark humor (albeit a bit too adolescent for our tastes) Phil pulls Holbrooke's hijacked sports coupe over to the side of the road and a constructive argument ensues. Suddenly, in the midst of the hilarity and action there is a serious discussion about their relationship, as if a marriage counselor had suddenly popped up in the back seat and said, "You guys need to talk out your problem."

I glanced down at my iPod's stopwatch. It read 43 minutes. I glanced at the time I had circled at the top of my notes -- 44 minutes. And I started taking notes of the dialogue as best I could. Here's a first draft of what could be the moral premise for DATE NIGHT:
In marriage:
Taking the other for granted leads 
to boredom and discord; but
Courting and surprising the other leads to romance and harmony.
Before this MOG (during which there is no conclusion) the characters are living like roommates. Not only is there no sex, there's no romance, and there's an effort on Clair's part to do everything for everyone, and she's worn out and just wants to get away....not from the marriage, but just for a little solitude. It seems to her that Phil does nothing for them as a couple. As a result she complains that she can't "light-up" Phil's life by putting on something sexy when he comes home to satisfy his "gross sexual fantasies" (an over-the-top reference to "simple romance," for which they both long.) But Phil is not thinking ahead far enough to surprising Clair and being romantic, because he says. she is always doing everything for everyone, and she doesn't wait for him to do anything for her. If she did, perhaps he could surprise her now and then. So, Clair takes the lead, and Phil tries to go along with it. This is evident, too, in her getting all dolled up for their weekly date night, but without telling him that she's expecting more than the greasy spoon at the end of the block.

The image at the top of this blog illustrates one such beat. Once they figure out that their journey in this movie is to find the Flash Drive (this film's MacGuffin) Clair takes Phil's sports coat, wraps it around her hand, and smashes through a door window to gain access to an office where they might get a clue for their hunt. Phil is shocked. B&E is NOT something he would have done. She acted independently.

Earlier Phil does something similar in the restaurant when he takes the Triplehorn's reservations. Something he did independently that she would not have done.  Both decisions lead to discord and get them in trouble.

After the MOG they attempt to act within the loose definition of working together to make decisions. He boosts her up to a fire escape to B&E their next location; he doesn't usurp her but they do it together. Earlier, it is her idea to visit Holbrooke for help (something Phil is not, after the fact, in favor of). Later it's Phil's idea to visit Holbrooke, but this time with her agreement.

Before the MOG they act unilaterally, after the MOG they act bilaterally. It is by working together, and not taking the other for granted but cooperatively surprising the other, that they accomplish their mission.

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