During a recent discussion with a fellow filmmaker with whom I became acquainted while on the set of Bloody Hammer Films’ Nursing Home of Death, the point was made that the overwhelming majority of indie Boston filmmakers are doing horror flicks. I gave the notion some thought and my mind snapped instantly to the slew of rather dull and poorly-done independent comedy films produced in New England, and I recognized an apparent paradigm, one I had been referencing during conversations with the abundance of inquirers always inquiring, “Why exploitation films? Why disgusting horror films?” The apparent paradigm is that the majority of local independent filmmakers whose work is being noticed are doing the genre of horror and thriller. Why? Because it is somewhat easier to make somebody scream or become nauseous than it is to make somebody laugh or cry, at least on screen. This is not to say that those who are doing horror and thriller films are taking the “easy way out” to get noticed; on the contrary, the entire exploitation genre has, since its genesis, developed a unique set of merits and characteristic qualities that have little to nothing to do with being “easy”. In fact, it’s much easier to actually film a comedy or a drama, but it is much harder to keep somebody laughing or crying for an hour and a half or longer. That’s where writing comes in, and any ambitious writer will tell you that what can and cannot be done via storytelling is not something they consider, and certainly not something that handicaps them. A writer will tell whatever story he or she wants, regardless of the capacity to actually film any of it. I know this from experience – I’ve written countless scripts that would cost hefty amounts to even begin production. So, the moral of the opening paragraph is: it’s not that indie filmmakers are universally or near-universally choosing horror as their genre; on the contrary, the horror genre is easier to do well than is the comedy or drama version. But it’s mostly up to the writer what genre a film is, and writers don’t usually think about being limited by money, time, scope, equipment, etc. So what does that tell us about Boston’s local independent film industry? That, though I hate to say it and sound pretentious or self-righteous, the overwhelming majority of people doing comedy flicks think they’ve got that “killer idea” that will be the next SuperBad, Half-Baked, Animal House, Always Sunny In Philadelphia, or any of the other critically-acclaimed or audience-adored comedy classics out there, but in reality they don’t. Trust me, I know; I have written piles of scripts that I was sure would be the next “big thing” until I started promoting them and realized that about 20 million other people were doing the same thing and under the same delusional impression, and only a few of them had an idea that was unique enough to actually make it. On the contrary, any story about some psychopath cutting people’s bellies open and slitting their throats will generate some kind of response, usually fear, awe, or nausea.
So what does this have to do with anything? Well, recently I was approached to research and write an article and “prospective review” about a film currently in production. When I found out it was a comedy, my heart sank. Not because I dislike comedy, and not because I’m tired of reviewing comedy or anything, but because I’ve found that the overwhelming majority of independent comedy films done in the Boston area either totally suck in general or they suck and they’re about how unique and fascinating Bostonians are with our accents, bitter personalities, Irish-American heritage, and love for all things Red Sox. I’d rather watch another shitty independent comedy than anything about how cool and interesting Bostonians are, because frankly we’re not any different than natives of other cities but for some reason we think we’re God’s snarky gift to mankind. So I was afraid I was going to have to not just watch another shitty local give-Boston-a-blowjob Red Sox Nation dull comedy, but actually research it since it was still in production, and then write about it. Still, I decided to give it a shot because I like filmmaking, even shitty filmmaking, and I love writing, even when it’s about something shitty.
While I can’t promise that Jim Heffernan’s new project, “The Angry World of Brian Webster”, won’t suck, and I can’t promise that it won’t fit into one of the broad categories of “shitty local independent comedy films” I vaguely touched on above, the evidence does weigh slightly to his advantage. I did a CTRL+F find/search through the script (I was granted a copy of the script to help write this article) for “Red Sox” and it came up with only one result, during a very quick sequence of dialogue that leads to a brief bar fight between two drunks. I did a search for “Boston” and not a single result emerged. The thick judgmental veil keeping me from reading the script without a negative bias was lifted. Now I had to decide if I thought the film was going to suck or not, because it clearly wasn’t going to be a Boston-blowjob film.
Prior to immersing myself in the script, I got some information about the film from the writer/director/producer/probably-many-more-roles Jim Heffernan. He recently wrapped up production of his last film, “Destroy All Sisters”, and operates under the production company name Crazy Jim Films. “The Angry World of Brian Webster” has an estimated budget of $10,000 and he is paying many of his crew members – not sure about cast; that, by the way, is rare in independent film – I’ve never paid a single crew member; though I would absolutely love to shower them all in riches, I have never had even close to a high enough budget to pay even a single crew member for a day’s work, let alone all of them. Enter profit-sharing incentives…
Anyway, Jim describes his feature film as such: “From a maniacally madcap original screenplay by writer-director Jim Heffernan comes The Angry World of Brian Webster, a comical look at the world of a frustrated filmmaker whose life takes a nose dive when he finds himself single, unemployed, and lacking the passion to complete even the most simple of projects. With the help of his eccentric but under-motivated friends, he will go on a journey to regain his confidence, creative energy, and if time allots, his sanity. The Angry World of Brian Webster will be the first full-length feature film from Crazy Jim Films, Ltd., whose previous projects include the slapstick sibling rivalry comedy, ‘Destroy All Sisters’.”
So, after reading the script from start to finish, gathering some inside information from my spy on the “Angry World…” crew, and doing some sincere and open-minded thinking about the themes, archetypes, cliches, techniques, potential direction, acting, and production of the final product, and anything else that came to mind while pondering “The Angry World of Brian Webster”, I have come to some very solid conclusions. But, because neither I nor anybody else has seen the finished film since it does not yet exist, I cannot give the film one solitary review; instead, I will write about the possible outcomes and procedures for each element of the script, using some already-established events that have transpired on the set as told by my on-location spy as supporting evidence. Here goes…
When I began reading “The Angry World of Brian Webster”, not much struck me. There was some good ole comedic segments, some punch lines, and a lot of very decently-written believable dialogue. As with all comedy scripts, the first act couldn’t really be read as much more than the writer getting started with his or her idea for a film, be it a good idea or a bad one. It’s always hard to tell with the first act when it comes to comedy. With action films, there’s the great suspenseful opening scene, then character development, then act two begins; with drama, there’s lots of character development, then act two begins; with horror, there’s blood and guts and suspense and that uncomfortable ominous feelings, then act two begins. But with comedy, there’s relatively normal characters, usually some self-deprecating shameful actions, some pity followed by the essential woe-is-me attitude, some punch lines that don’t really relate to the overarching theme yet because the overarching theme is not yet apparent, some hot girls and hot guys or horridly ugly girls and ugly guys (depending on the overarching theme which, as previously established, isn’t yet apparent), and plenty of other nuances from daily life that may or may not be funny, DEPENDING ON THE OVERARCHING THEME… So, the first act is always like the waiting room at a doctor’s office: you have an idea of why you’re there, but you don’t know what lies behind that door and it could be cancer or hypochondria. The first act in “The Angry World…” was not much more or less than that, just a little character development and some punch lines, but the writing was solid, the dialogue believable, the plot not too original but not washed-up either, and gave little to no insight into that swollen bump that brought you to the clinic in the first place. So far, so good. As long as I kept on reading, “The Angry World…” was maintaining homeostasis, and you can’t ask for much more from a script. Once the first act reaches the big screen, the first act could ruin the film or keep the audience eager for act two, but on paper it can’t do much more than keep you scrolling down, and that’s a good sign. On to act two…
Upon reaching act two, I was able to take a breath and release my grasp on the mouse and analyze the plot so far. We have Brian Webster, who is apparently an aspiring and so-far unsuccessful amateur filmmaker whose nonchalant, unenthusiastic-about-film friends are the bane of his filmmaking career’s existence, whose girlfriend cheats on him and ends the relationship, sending him into a painfully slow downward spiral into amusing despair. We have his nonchalant, unenthusiastic-about-film friends who are the group of friends all us middle class suburbanites have, and we have his family, complete with the blue-collar apathetically-demeaning father, obnoxious self-absorbed sister, and naive, coddling mother. Brian, apparently, is trying to find himself in the midst of this tragic quarter-life crisis triggered by his girlfriend’s infidelity. Sounds a bit like Old School, Mallrats, and Clerks, among other classic 90s and 21st Century comedy films. Now, let’s take a moment here. It was around this point when I stumbled upon my first revelation regarding “The Angry World of Brian Webster”: I began to realize that I was reading a script that had undeniable yet well-filtered allusions and homages to the nutty world of View Askew, a.k.a. Kevin Smith’s filmography universe, also known as the View Askewniverse. Was I satisfied, thrilled, or perturbed by the reference, might you ask? You could say I was satisfied and tentatively thrilled. What self-respecting film enthusiast doesn’t love Kevin Smith (and I say self-respecting because any pretentious dunce who considers film to be a sacred, untouchable artform that excludes anything with dick and fart jokes clearly has no respect for him or herself)? I was satisfied to pick up on the Kevin Smith influence, and I was tentatively thrilled because the last thing I wanted to read was an approximate 90 pages of trashy and glaring rip-offs of Kevin Smith, not unlike the horde of Pulp Fiction rip-offs that turned me off to post-postmodern cult crime flicks that came out in the late 90s and the first decade of the 21st Century; but so far, I sensed no trashy or glaring rip-offs, only well-delivered and delicately-handled homages to Smith’s temporary early genius, prior to regurgitating his less-than-incredible themes late in his career.
To elaborate, and extend the moment of reflection… While researching Jim Heffernan and his earlier work, I found myself somewhat frustrated. Either he’s never done anything other than breathe and exist for the past twenty-something years of his life, or he’s sitting on a potential goldmine of unreleased projects, or he’s in desperate need of a publicist or someone familiar with social media, because all I found was a series of behind-the-scenes clips and montages intended to promote his last film, “Destroy All Sisters”. “Destroy All Sisters” is, as I gathered from the little material out there about the production, about two sisters hellbent on being deemed victorious over the other in some sort of arbitrary sibling rivalry war. So I watched some of the videos and I was impressed, not because the material was brilliant or ground-breaking, but because the humor of the cast and crew was rife with exploitative themes and self-respect (again, self-respect to me doesn’t mean well-mannered, it means the opposite – being able to mock oneself and be dirty). There was slime, which is always a plus for me, being that I champion the tongue-in-cheek genre of Exploitation Film ranging from Women In Prison films like The Big Bird Cage to slime-ridden Schlock like Street Trash and any Troma flick, and there were remarks and inside jokes between the cast and crew like “moist your twat”, which was uttered countless times throughout one of the promo videos, and even a smile-warranting Freddy Got Fingered reference. All-in-all, I was pleased to have stumbled across a group of typical, uncelebrated, genuine, self-respecting artists, not Allston-cemetery-bound pretentious hipsters quoting Dostoevsky in between gulps of Pabst Blue Ribbon and puffs of American Spirits cigarettes (nothing against Dostoevsky, Pabst Blue Ribbon, or American Spirits, but the demographic to whom I’m referring utilize the three as decoration of their self-loathing hipster doom). So, to continue with the Kevin Smith View Askewniverse connection, I elaborated on my revelation by picking up that a) the script was very dialogue-driven and the dialogue was amusing, well-paced, and pretty good, and b) even the characters themselves were excellent homages to Kevin Smith films, the Freddy character being a perfect mirror image of Randall (my personal favorite Kevin Smith character), exhibiting the classic Randall defense mechanism against his loneliness and despair of outspoken cynicism and terribly politically incorrect sense of humor but slipping into moments of genuine care and concern such as Freddy’s line, “Hurt him again and you answer to me,” which is a recycled line from Clerks where Randall says to his best friend’s ex-girlfriend, “Break his heart again this time, and I’ll kill ya. Nothing personal,” and the main character Brian character being the reincarnation of Clerks’ woe-is-me, Murphy’s Law champion protagonist Dante. Even some of the subtle character development behavior was very Kevin Smith-esque, which I noticed specifically when Brian Webster “snuggles up in a comforter” then argues with his sister, exhibiting the integration of Dante’s pessimistic bad luck and Randall’s perceptibly-shameless and self-confidently-effeminate facade, two sides of the post-Freudian defense mechanism coin.
When I reached the early scenes of act two, I reflected not only upon the Kevin Smith influences, but also some of the potential pitfalls in the script. Every script has them, even Aaron Sorkin finished drafts, and it takes great direction, good acting, and well-executed editing to cover the pitfalls with a sturdy bridge of pacing and delivery. As a writer, I am very careful to make the dialogue as timeless and nonexclusive as possible; in other words, I believe that dialogue and even the behavior of the characters must relate to a large audience, completely avoid exclusionary inside jokes, and ought to be found entertaining to a receptive and open-minded audience nowadays, one hundred years from now, and one hundred years ago. Now, without getting too nit-picky about that clause and approach to writing, it doesn’t need to be a science: there are certain elements and factions of society that just aren’t yet ready for adaptation into narrative artforms. Video games, I believe, that predate the 21st Century, haven’t been completely absorbed into society as a platform for art, even modern art, to be the source of or subject of plot-driving events. Even scenes of the Frat Pack comedy films that include video games have to be very, very careful in their delivery. For example, in 40 Year Old Virgin, two characters are playing Mortal Kombat Deception while accusing each other of being gay for a variety of reasons; had the dialogue not been extraordinarily self-mocking, sophomoric, and monotone, and had they not sounded brain-dead in their childish debate and reacted to the events of the video game sequence on the TV with amusingly casual apathy, the scene could have been ruined by the inclusion of a recently-released video game; but, they made it work. Other examples, especially in Grandma’s Boy, were not as successful, and even though a large majority of the audience understood and found funny the humor stemming from the somewhat exclusive community of video game fanatics, I sensed a particular weakness in much of the dialogue because of the exclusionary nature of this humor, leading me to be more cynical of than entertained by the video game reaction and discussion sequences in Grandma’s Boy because I felt the writers were either too self-absorbed in their pothead video game fanaticism to give a shit if anybody else got the humor or they were so out of touch with the concept of using a familiar medium for the delivery of their story that they didn’t give the humor more thought than they might have during the course of a coughing fit from inhaling too much bong smoke. Sometimes it is the exclusionary nature of the remark, other times it is the cheap convenience of pulling a cultural reference that has not yet entered the “sentimental public domain”, so to speak, thus rendering references to Super Nintendo games universally understood and appreciated but ones to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III as cheaply convenient and hollow. Sometimes, lines like these don’t tap into the archetypes within us all; instead, they hit upon a slim marginal demographic that only chuckles because they identify with the joke, but most of the audience does not. Lines like these are often pulled out of thin air with no frame of reference, a deus ex machina of sorts that can make the audience disengage from the screen because it becomes apparent suddenly that the writer may have had a sudden giddy moment and lost track of his story, the story he’s telling the audience, and the story that he needs to keep the audience familiar with; pulling irrelevant or spontaneous references out of thin air can be counterproductive to the plot and the humor, as the audience is reminded suddenly that what they are watching is actors and writers and a cameraman and crew, and not a real cross-section of life. So, to sum up the potential pitfalls in the context of “The Angry World…” dialogue, I noticed nothing that would certainly fall on deaf ears, but I did have some concern over punch-lines and topics of discussion that were of the exclusive and culturally-distinct variety, beginning with video game commentary and including remarks about the films Pearl Harbor and Twilight, and mentions of Bagel Bites, among other non-sequitur lines that might work but also might benefit from a brief rewrite of the line or lines. Still, to reiterate, none of these lines were, in and of themselves, poorly written or dull, but the context might be better appreciated by pop culture Nazis such as myself if they related back to sources that have entered the so-called “sentimental public domain” that even somebody living under a rock would understand; but maybe that’s just the overcritical writer in me nitpicking the contexts of random dialogue.
Upon entering the second act, after reviewing my impression of act one, I began to pick up on the plot arc, and it was a bit of a surprising discovery. It was also a bit uncomfortable and jarring for me to read as a passionate writer and storyteller. Now, had this been a review of a script I wrote, my fists would clench right there, my knuckles white and ready to burst through the skin, and I would begin to think of ways to retaliate against the unappreciative critic who wrote that “it was a bit uncomfortable to read” my script, given that my script was of the comedic genre and not a gruesome horror tale. But I will assure you, Jim Heffernan, assuming that you can tolerate my writing up until this point, that the discomfort and jarring feeling that came over me during the second act was a testament to the talent that lay behind the writing. I became uncomfortable suddenly because I began to be pulled back to a former phase of my life, one replete with uncertainty, fear of the future, bouts of loneliness, and an irresistible urge to counter these feelings with writing. It was during this time in my life when I watched Dazed and Confused, my all-time favorite film, on a near-daily basis (even sleeping through a college exam because I stuck to this daily routine so religiously that at 2am when I had not yet watched Dazed and Confused for the day, I turned it on and did not sleep until 4am when it had finished, thus sleeping through my exam), and I cited Clerks as my second favorite film (still up there, though no longer ranked number two), and I longed to write a classic “slice of life” script that would give me a concrete feeling of what my life meant. I had just left my hometown of Melrose, MA, for college (a mere 100 miles away in Amherst, MA), and had just abruptly left my large and tightknit group of loyal friends – friends that I think of every time I watch Good Will Hunting and Robin Williams’ character mentions casually to Stellan Skarsgard’s character, “And why does he hang out with those retarded gorillas, as you called them? Because any one of them, if he asked them to, would take a fucking bat to your head, okay? It’s called loyalty,” – behind in Melrose, destined to an unfamiliar college campus where my burgeoning inferiority complex was sure to consume me, and I needed to make sense of it all; even more so than making sense of it, I feared that I would never have that feeling I had in Melrose, of being surrounded by what would have been an armed and dangerous loyal gang had we, as a group, sold drugs, defending blocks, carried firearms, and wore a particular and uniform color, and of recognizing, believing, and identifying with the idea that these friends who surrounded me also defined me. Now, I was alone in an unfamiliar place, and I wanted to immortalize that feeling, that group, and most of all that identity that I prided and carried with me that I had a purpose among those friends. And, as a writer, the only way to immortalize it was to write about it. So I wrote a script that I titled, at first, Dazed and Confused (intending to change it with time, of course), and I attempted to immortalize not only the friends I had, the person I was among those friends, but also the sense of purpose that came from being among those friends, and it felt great doing so. A few years later, I wrote another script with a much different story but a very similar theme, entitled Ribbon of Time, that attempted to capture that “slice of life” aura. Then I wrote another, about a rock band, and another calling for the decriminalization of marijuana that, though it had a social message, was really about a group of friends and also utilized that “slice of life” approach. What is so hauntingly attractive about the “slice of life” theme is that it explains implicitly, without actually describing anything, the purpose and meaning of life, by relating a few living or dying beings to the world around them and watching them grow and react to mundane life experiences in a short amount of time. Nothing really happens in these films, except that the characters are given that rare chance to grow up a little bit, and we, the audience, love them because they are reaffirming and when they are done correctly and artistically, they are masterpieces. Dazed and Confused is my favorite film, as well as my favorite “slice of life” film; Beautiful Girls is another excellent example, as are films like About Schmidt, Pom Pom Girls, The Last Picture Show, and many others. Probably the finest example(s) of this genre/theme of films is Barry Levinson’s incredible nonlinear “Baltimore Films” series which includes two of my favorites, Diner and Liberty Heights.
Basically, nothing spectacular really happens in “The Angry World of Brian Webster”, but nothing happens in Dazed and Confused or the other films aforementioned, except life in general. In my opinion, these films are potentially the most genius, and they originate, if you ask me, from the Lost Generation of writers, namely Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and even James Joyce; you could even include Lost Generation “hero” William Faulkner, though I consider him to be the worst celebrated writer of all time. In Hemingway and Fitzgerald stories, usually nothing extraordinary happens. Sure, you have a wounded soldier falling in love with his nurse in A Farewell to Arms, but that’s just the context of the story. What is genius about “slice of life” novels and films is that they are able to, if well done, encapsulate the subjective meaning and purpose of life to a particular group or generation (and potentially to all who have ever been a member of that group or generation), because the primary antagonist is mortality – not in the sense of imminent death, but in the sense that the characters consciously or subconsciously are led to, in a short amount of time, express through words and/or actions, and oftentimes unbeknownst to the characters themselves, either the subjective meaning or purpose of material, physical life, or the lack of knowledge about said purpose or meaning. Brian Webster, of course, goes through this exact phase following the demise of his relationship with Lisa, and by experiencing the conventional stages of grief with a group of usually unhelpful friends, he is forced to create his own sense of closure because he is oblivious, as we all are, to whether or not life will provide this closure prior to his timely or untimely death. WHEW… Most people don’t tend to analyze the themes of mortality in “slice of life” films, and I’m no saint or prophet for doing so, but it’s actually the point not to analyze them; it’s why they make us feel so reassured, so reaffirmed and content, when the closing credit roll begins: because we’re reminded that we’re not alone in our cluelessness and that the meaning and purpose of life can be found all around us, even if it’s not to the extent that we desire.
“The Angry World of Brian Webster” (getting back to reality now and away from meta-film-analysis) is an excellent example of the “slice of life” film. And the script pulls it off wonderfully by splicing in elements of other “slice of life” films and archetypes (namely Clerks, one of the greatest “slice of life” films), even if unintended. The gradual development of Brian Webster the reformed man is paced perfectly, and the solution to his despair over the breakup with his girlfriend is not ideal, which left me a bit irritated but believing the story all the more because nothing in life is ideal. The integration of an excellent “slice of life” narrative with pop culture references and dirty humor was at times in line with Kevin Smith’s best work and at other times was done with such familiarity and appropriateness that it had me literally smiling while reading the scene directions and dialogue, especially during a sequence that borrows heavily from a classic Apocalypse Now scene. Hell, as a punk enthusiast, I couldn’t help but all the more enthused by a random GG Allin reference as well.
Just when I thought that all the literary and screenwriting motifs possible had been tapped into and utilized, Heffernan segues masterfully into even more, two of which come to mind immediately. First, Jim takes a dive into what I consider to be the finest and most rewarding element of writing fiction: having the permission and ability to create your own universe with absolutely no limitations whatsoever. Where William S. Burroughs may have taken this ability to the extreme with Naked Lunch, Jim invites us into settings that would be difficult to find in real life, but they are believable nonetheless and they are done so in such a casual tongue-in-cheek manner that the audience has no choice but to accept and be entertained by them. The second motif Heffernan slips in with little to no warning is the famous dream, vision, and/or daydream sequences that introduce a surreal or completely fictional world or universe, but feature characters from the “real world” portion of the plot, albeit slightly modified versions of these characters; the most famous use of this motif is with Wizard of Oz, where the character Hunk is reintroduced in Dorothy’s dreamworld as the Scarecrow, Hickory as the Tin Man, Zeke as the Cowardly Lion, Almira Gulch as the Wicked Witch, and Professor Marvel as the Wizard. In “The Angry World…” Brian imagines the screen adaptation of a script he wrote, with some of (or all) the characters being reminiscent of the actual characters in the film that he knows in real life. The screen adaptation vignette is not only clever and potentially hysterical, but the use of this motif nearly knocked me out of my chair, shaking my head and thinking to myself, “Jesus, what else is he going to pack into this script?” with bewildered admiration. And, as if it couldn’t get better, he has a character break the fourth wall during the vignette.
And thus entered my perspective on the script solely as a writer… It was difficult at times to read “The Angry World of Brian Webster” after the halfway mark, not because it was bad or dull or unengaging (but rather, as I feel I’ve made abundantly clear so far, it was actually good, rich, and intriguing), but because as I writer, I couldn’t help but constantly thinking of the endless ways to write each section of dialogue, each settings, each character, each turn of events. And that’s the beauty of writing that keeps me completely infatuated and indebted to the trade: you have the complete and unlimited capacity to create and change your own universe. So I found myself reminding myself over and over why I was reading to the script: to decide if I thought “The Angry World of Brian Webster” would make a good film.
So onto act three, the typically conclusive act. We have here all the necessary elements of any “slice of life” film – everybody is an antihero of sorts, the dialogue is rife with symbolism and archetypal influence (timelessness…), the main character finds himself at odds with himself because his preconceived notions have been rejected by those from whom he expected compassion, and we have the otherwise disrespected character saying something truly meaningful. Before I quote the line (which, don’t worry, doesn’t given anything away), I will go on to cite a few others. Silent Bob always has the classic motivational lines juxtaposed with his otherwise mute personality in Kevin Smith films; in Clerks, he has the luxury of saying, “You know, there’s a million fine looking women in the world, dude. But they don’t all bring you lasagna at work. Most of ’em just cheat on you.” And in Dazed and Confused, it’s the creepy lowlife Wooderson played by Matthew McConaughey who offers, “Man, it’s the same bullshit they tried to pull in my day. If it ain’t that piece of paper, there’s some other choice they’re gonna try and make for you. You gotta do what Randall Pink Floyd wants to do man. Let me tell you this, the older you do get the more rules they’re gonna try to get you to follow. You just gotta keep livin’ man, L-I-V-I-N.” In “The Angry World of Brian Webster”, the cynical, self-loathing, pessimistic asshole Freddy, reminiscent throughout the film of Randall from Clerks, finally says to protagonist Brian Webster, “You’re so goddamn afraid to hate. It makes me sick. … Because they might hate you back and that fucking scares you to death.” Thank god a script finally replaced “love” with “hate” in this proverbial platitude; I was beginning to get so sick of the “You’re afraid to get close to somebody because they might leave you,” or “You’re afraid to love somebody because they might actually love you back” cliches that I was beginning to feel as cynical as Freddy himself.
By the end of the script, I couldn’t stop reading. It had touched on that nerve, the one that jarred me and had me feeling uncomfortable because of the bittersweet nostalgia it summoned, as well as reminding me of the “slice of life” scripts I had written and never produced. As an ever-epic screenwriter and novelist, I always want a booming, apocalyptic final scene, not unlike the firestorms at the end of First Blood and Carrie, though the final scene in “The Angry World of Brian Webster” is a bit anticlimactic, though I suppose that on paper, so would be the final scenes in Clerks and Dazed and Confused, which, if you haven’t already noticed, are the two incredible films I’m using as primary comparison for “The Angry World…” And, even if Clerks and Dazed and Confused weren’t anticlimactic on paper in the conclusive final pages, I suppose not all comedies can end with an Animal House-esque attack on the town parade or an exploding golf course like in Caddyshack or an attack on a fake town as seen in Blazing Saddles. Still, and this reiterates the notion that the final scenes of Clerks and Dazed and Confused may have been dull on paper, I don’t know how the scene will be shot, if there will be music or a slow-motion sequence, if the camera will do something mesmerizing, or if the rolling end credits will kick in with a bang suddenly, popping the suspenseful balloon of anticlimax, releasing like a long-overdue orgasm all the feelings that the preceding 90 minutes of “slice of life” brilliance conjured. With some precise and experienced directing and pacing, it could work out wonderfully, given good acting, cinematography, lighting, etc. But, if the production is less than experienced or professional, the ending could emerge anticlimactic. Only the screen will tell, I suppose!
And, as far as production goes, I’ve had a few on-set anecdotes relayed to me by my spy on the inside. The production, like just about any other independent film set, has its fair share of unforeseen setbacks, including interruptions by the police. And, because Jim Heffernan is forking over portions of his budget to his crew, he loses money on each set that the police shut down. Still, production goes on, the crew receives payment nonetheless, and everybody is happy – even Jim, it seems, whose tirades and tantrums have yet to reach the public eye, leading me to believe that he doesn’t go on tirades or tantrums. Not every director needs to behave like David O. Russell apparently, and that’s probably for the best. The Apocalypse Now scene, which has been shot already, even includes real blood, as one of the actors, an ambitious and very passionate one allegedly, injured himself purposefully while the cameras were rolling to make the scene all the more believable. So, in a nutshell, any concern about the production not carrying the script’s wonders to the big screen are, so far, immaterial. Setbacks such as police interference are inevitable – on the set of my last film, we had four cruisers show up, sirens and lights ablaze, ready to gun me and my cast and crew down – it’s how the director deals with them that can make or break a production. And, from the sounds of it, Jim Heffernan either knows what he’s doing or is doing a fantastic job of pretending to know.
So, to cap this off before it becomes longer than the “Angry World” script itself, my general feel as far as the script goes is that the areas of the script that could either suck on screen or be cinematic genius on screen are the grey area, the undecided vote, no man’s land, whatever you want to call it. Terrible scripts have become great films, and great scripts have become terrible films, so it’s a matter of Jim Heffernan being an adept director to make his well-written script a great movie. Every script is in this state prior to the completion of principle photography, though, and what I read has me nearly shaking with anticipation because, if done right, this could really be a fantastic film. As a writer, I spent years trying to capture that all-inclusive slice-of-life narrative and squeeze it “perfectly” and “magically” into 90-120 minutes of dramatic excellence. Not unlike Dazed and Confused, Clerks, etc. pulled off perfectly, where an engaging plot pulls the audience with masterful subtlety through the key characteristics and themes of life. I’m glad to see that while Jim Heffernan certainly writes his characters with this aim, he doesn’t seem to be fooling himself into thinking that he’s going to write and film his “Mona Lisa” with this film, though that’s not to say that it won’t be his masterpiece – only time will tell. I made the mistake of believing that with several feature film length scripts before finally realizing that I had to do some more mundane works before trying to tackle my “masterpiece”. Perhaps Jim did too and he’s already done these mundane works, or maybe he won’t need to – some feature-length directorial debuts are instant classics. If “The Angry World of Brian Webster” is done poorly, welcome to the team, Jim, it just means you’ve learned a lot hopefully and will do better next time. But, if you do this one right, I will have quite a bit of admiration and respect for doing what I sought to do when I was a baby-faced nineteen year old confused existential zealot, wanting so badly to express via film my fear of having a previously solid feeling of purpose slip into nothing but nostalgia.
Thanks for reading!
Paul M McAlarney is a writer for and founder of the BOSTON INDEPENDENT FILM REVIEW.
Paul is an alumnus of the UMASS Amherst and Boston Sociology undergraduate program. While not writing local independent film reviews, Paul is a writer of novels, theater, and the screen, as well as a film director, podcast co-host, entrepreneur, and vacuum cleaner salesperson. Paul can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.