Review of: The Perfect Gentleman III 

reviewed by Rfordyce on 11/15/2011
Rfordyce
Guy from The Bronx makes good.
Jan, I finally got round to your script; my apologies for the lengthy wait. I hope I can give you some useful notes.

‘The Perfect Gentleman’ is a variation on an extremely well-known theme, as exemplified in the Oscar-laden ‘My Fair Lady’ which you give several nods to in the script. So you’re up against some pretty stiff competition, including George Bernard Shaw! To pull off a challenge like that you need some outstanding ideas and the execution to go with them.

You’ve certainly put a lot of time and effort into this and there are several good things going for it. First off, changing the Audrey Hepburn character into a vagrant from the Bronx is a pretty cool move. There’s a lot of mileage to be had from that. And secondly, moving the upper-class action to Europe rather than England preserves the theme but gives the setting a bit more flavour. So the concept itself is a bit of a challenge but you’ve made a good start.

Let’s talk about Guy. Your whole story revolves around Guy’s transformation, so it needs to be good. Really good. At the moment I think you’ve got a long way to go. He should be a totally changed person when we see him at Cannes. Certainly his appearance has changed – but not much else. His opening lines are:

‘All but the last part. I'm not going to kill anyone for you.’

Poppy cringes at his thick Bronx accent. Really? I’m no expert on USA dialects, but this doesn’t sound much like a Bronx accent to me – either in delivery or phrasing. You need something more like:

‘What kinda dumb broad you? I ain’t gonna kill no fancy wardrobe for no-one.’

I know it’s difficult to convey an accent in a script – if you try to vary the spelling it can become a turn-off for the reader. But if you’re going to make a big deal out of his Bronx roots you need to make some kind of attempt to capture the sound in the rhythm of your dialogue. At the moment he talks exactly the way Poppy and Mia do. You could get a lot of comedy out of the Bronx speech but you need to work for it. At the beginning, his Bronx psyche should be oozing out of him. And that means peppering his speech with the sort of phrases you’d expect to hear from a Bronx boy – including a few sonsabitches, dickheads and motherfuckers. Then throw some nasty personal habits into the mix. He picks his nose and eats it. He doesn’t flush the toilet. He smokes roll-ups and slurps Budweiser. The audience should be saying to themselves, ‘There’s no way this Guy can be a gentleman.’

I don’t really think the Rumi angle works very well. Yes, it’s nice that he’s already got an appreciation of literature and an ear for Beethoven when we first meet him, but I think that works against the comedy. It just seems at odds with his background. I think it would be OK to introduce it at a later stage; maybe Rupert encourages him to read poetry and appreciate the music as well as teaching him to dance.

Likewise his extended grieving for his mother seems to me to be mawkishly sentimental when you should be primarily playing it for laughs. The scene where he tells the whole story to Poppy doesn’t ring true to me. It seems too facile that a hard-bitten, streetwise person like Guy would just blurt all this out in one go. Again, I think you could introduce it in the scenes at Cannes, where you could have him revealing this at the height of an argument with Mia, then storming off to catch a plane. That would provide a much more dramatic route.

Poppy and Mia are competently drawn but I think you could do more to differentiate them. With Poppy almost 20 years the elder, you could make her much more matriarchal so that Mia could be more wayward and impulsive. That could work quite well within the story. At the moment they seem to act and talk in a very similar way.

In terms of the storyline, there are several things that don’t seem to stack up. First of all, the wager that Guy can be turned into the perfect gentleman is one that seems to sprout tendrils all over the place. It should be straightforward enough; by the end of the first Act you want to have the wager firmly established. The girls think they can turn Guy from a Bronx tramp into the perfect gentleman; Harry thinks it can’t be done. A deadline is agreed upon, stakes are established, and the rules are plain for all to see.

But this is very far from being the case. On page 9, the bet is made, but it all seems a bit vague. How is Guy’s transformation into a gentleman going to be measured and judged? We don’t really know. A bet should entail winners and losers. What does Harry stand to win? What do Poppy and Mia stand to lose? Very little, seems to be the answer in both cases. But having set up the bet, you keep moving the goalposts...

On page 16 Harry decides he wants his money back with interest if he wins. Then on page 24 we suddenly find out that the wager is to be decided at Cannes. There’s been no mention of Cannes before then. On page 69, after Guy’s faux pas at the Wall Street club, Harry announces that ‘the bet is finished’. But a few pages later it seems to be back on the agenda. Then on page 81, Harry demands that a woman must fall in love with Guy, followed closely by Poppy’s announcement that ‘the shelter’ for the homeless (which hasn’t been mentioned before!) is not only going to be provided by Harry if he loses... he has to run it as well!

So the initial bet just seems to grow more branches all the time, leaving the reader very confused. I’m not saying the rules of the bet can’t be changed during the story – but it would have to be as a result of some plot development, a raising of the stakes. In any case the whole project seems heavily stacked against Harry – he doesn’t actually stand to win anything.

I think also you need to make it clearer where Harry earns all this money he’s squandering. The reader knows he’s an investment banker, but only because you’ve mentioned it in a descriptive passage (page 4). You need to demonstrate it to the viewer as well.

Another aspect which could do with some reinforcement is the girls’ motivation. It needs a stronger focus. The girls have been jilted, so they’re both pissed off. But that’s not quite the same thing as a desire to have a true gentleman around. We need to understand why they don’t just want a new lover – they want someone who’s stylish and considerate. So you need to show Poppy and Mia on the receiving end of some pretty boorish conduct. You have a montage doing exactly this on page 8, but it seems to sit rather awkwardly at this point in the script, as a series of flashbacks taking place while the girls are in the taxi. An alternative might be to move this to the beginning and use it to introduce the characters during the opening credits. But lay it on thick with a trowel. Show the ex-boyfriends behaving really badly – farting on the sofa, puking up after a boozy night, getting caught watching porn videos – all that stuff. That would then establish the girls’ need for someone a bit more cultured.

Structure-wise, the story falls into three parts which would normally correspond to a typical 3-Act structure:
1. The set-up of the bet and the search for a candidate, i.e. – Guy;
2. The education of Guy as a gentleman, and the various escapades he has to go through;
3. The events at Cannes and the final resolution.
So on a 125-page script (which is much too long, by the way, but more of that later) your first Act ends on page 24, about one-fifth into the story. That’s a little early. Your second Act ends around page 82, or two-thirds in. That’s seriously early! So I’d say the divisions within the story are OK but the dramatic structure needs a fair bit of work. Your final Act needs to be shorter, punchier and really racking up the action.

Last but not least, your script is riddled with spelling and punctuation errors - just look at the list below – and there are others I could have added. When you’re trying to get your script past a studio reader, it’ll kill your chances stone dead. The great bulk of these should be picked up by a good quality spell-check program, and the rest by a thorough proof-read.

Other reading notes:

1 Underlining I believe is still frowned upon by most script editors.

1 Try to avoid ‘we see’s.

6 INT. REAR OF CONCERT HALL- CONTINUOUS
You use the CONTINUOUS slugline a lot when it’s not suitable. LATER would be better in most cases. CONTINUOUS means what it says: i.e. the action unfolds in ‘real time’. It can’t be CONTINUOUS here because there has to be a time lag between Mia resting her head on Harry’s shoulder in the centre seats, and asking Guy for directions near the back of the hall.

10 ...her free-lance job at Nissan.
How are you going to convey this information to the viewer? It’s not enough just to tell the reader.

10 her manuscript for an anthropology book...
Same comment.

39 GUY And anthropology is... POPPY The study of man.
Guy’s already answered his own question on this (page 25). Doesn’t make sense for him to be asking it again.

40 Slow down... We should get going. A little contradictory!

45 You tend to over-write. There are scores of little passages throughout the script which could be pared down or omitted entirely. You need a more rhythmic, punchier tone to keep the reader engaged. If you go through the script and weed out all the places where you drift into novelistic prose, it would reduce your page count quite a bit. Just one example

Colin Firth?

They shake their heads, yes, maybe. Guy hears, smiles, waves.

INT. MIA AND POPPY'S PENTHOUSE VESTIBULE - DAY

Poppy and Mia wait for DICTION EXPERT #1 (70) to arrive.
Guy sits in living room reading Poppy's anthropology book.
He looks debonair in his tweed coat. Finally doorbell rings.

DICTION EXPERT #1
Heellooo

You could pare this down to:

Colin Firth?

Guy hears, smiles, waves.

INT. MIA AND POPPY'S PENTHOUSE VESTIBULE – DAY

Poppy opens the front door, revealing:

DICTION EXPERT #1

Heellooo.

55 A lot of viewers won’t recognise the bridge in Central Park, or even connect it with his mother’s death. You need to find a more cinematic method of showing this.

65-66 Good scene in Wall Street club.

74 GUY So you're an anthropologist? This has already been discussed. You need to vary the dialogue.

93 I'd say he is a Yorkshire Man. Traces of Scottish Highlands. ??? They’re a long distance apart!

99 It's been in her family for 1000 years. Seems a little unlikely!

Countesses don’t fling themselves at strangers in the full glare of the public, no matter how macho and handsome the man is. They’re much too careful of their reputations to act like that. And presumably there’s a Count somewhere in the mix? Doesn’t he object to being a cuckold?

123 I don’t really understand the ending. Mia and Guy were re-united in the previous scene, but now it’s a year later and they’re apart again?

So the bad news is I think you’ve still got quite some way to go. But hey, it’s only my opinion and I’m sure you’ll get some very positive reviews. The good news is, the basics are there and everything can be fixed. I know how hard it is to put together a good script, so good luck with it. See you round the Message Boards!

Spelling, punctuation, typos, etc:
1 ... chooses an emerald chiffon dress to don.
3 ... throws her cell, and its housing separates.
4 ... checking his Rolex.
4 Neither of them is a gentleman...
6 Poppy worries a locket open... Worries??
7 He points to a well-dressed concert goer...
8 What if we hire professionals to help us?
9 He pats both their knees, happy he has cheered them up.
11 What have we got to lose?
11 ... our specimen?
12 Is that..?
12 They back-up, startled.
13 ... his brown pointy... pointy??
16 ...it'll only make me work harder.
17 Here, put your clothes in this.
20 ...brushes past them... (several instances of ‘passed’ for ‘past’ in script)
21 ...and he stumbles over...
21 ... take an axe...
25 Guy plays with shaving cream, not liking the smell. You omit commas quite frequently. Won’t highlight it again.
29 Resigned, Guy calms himself...
30 ...Guy chases down a cab heading downtown. His new clothes and hair are drenched.
30 You can't just think you’re a gentlemen, you...
32 ...we know you've seen one musical.
33 ...but let’s start...
36 ... gripped with sadness
37 ...takrd a bone to stir coffee. takrd??
38 ... pushes Mia's drawings aside to make room...
40 ... can you do all that...
43 Hey, take it easy...
45 Colin Firth?
46 The final expert is waiting...
47 Why put it off another minute?
48 Ready to get to work...
48 So, my young fellow...
53 Je ne sais quoi, if I do say so myself.
55 ... tilts his head quizzically.
57 Where are your shoes?
59 Where are your index cards? (Rupert would speak ‘correctly’.)
61 ... cease their repartee...
69 Does this mean we're not going to Cannes?
74 Guy jumps to the boy's aid...
74 Other mothers... grab their children and run.
75 It's just that mothers are responsible...
75 They walk through the park to practise...
75 Guy lets a woman know...
78 He takes her hand and they stroll...
80 and lets it slide through...
82 ...we'll up the ante too.
82 ...on the first night...
82 Whatever we can do to help you...
83 ...except Mia, who peeks over partitions...
83 ...the Palme d'Or.
83 You speak French?
83 Un petit peu.
83 Ma Cherie.
87 He admires the watch, glinting and sparkling.
92 When you label something...
92 ...you put it in a box and you’re prevented from...
97 ... bundles of newspapers...
97 ... bundles of newspapers...
98 Guy ends it...
98 ...she gets no attention.
102 ...right now I’m delighted...
103 if she falls in love with him in spite of it, we
all win.
116 ...greets foursome in vestibule...
117 Suddenly, Poppy gets an idea.
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