Sunday, January 14, 2007

What Kind of Writer Are You or How Rocky Balboa changed my life....

My husband, having watched all the Rocky's back to back on the Movie Network, was lobbying hard for us to go see Rocky Balboa. I of course didn't have much interest in this so I thought I would put a pin in his hopes by reading him some terrible reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. Well, to my suprise and my husband's delight -- the movie had a positive fresh rating. Really positive. So, I clicked on some of the reviews and almost all of them started with something like this -

I can't believe I'm saying this but it's good.

So, here I am, having spent one of my precious movie nights (just before Golden Globes too!!!) saying -- Rocky Balboa is actually really good. And more than that the Drunk Writers (actually just Maureen and Sinead) had been talking about what kind of writers are we? What are our strengths and how can we exploit them and how far can we take them? Excellent questions -- I'm telling you, I sit at these conversations and eat Sinead's fries, drink and wonder how I got so lucky.

But Rocky Balboa hammered it home for me -- the kind of writer I am. I am the HIGH NOTES writer -- which I'll explain in a second. Back to Rocky.

First of all let's remember how simple and brilliant the first one was. How sweet and endearing that character was right off the screen. That guy is back - in spades. He's a former superstar making the most of what he's left with. Adriane has died "of the woman cancer" and his son is trying hard to get out from under his father's shadow. He's come full circle -- regular joe, good guy, rusty charmer with a heart of gold, head of granite and he reaches just a little beyond what's in his reach. Rocky isn't saving the world from the russian's here.

Yes, the premise - that a computer program has pitted former heavy weight champs against the new one and the fact that Rocky wins lights a fire under the new champ and of course Rocky and it all leads to an exhibition in Los Vegas - yeah, totally far-fetched. IF YOU DON'T WATCH SPORT'S TV EVERY MORNING (which I do - thanks husband.) this is the sort of thing that sports commentators talk about all the time. So, it works and it doesn't. But what it does do storytelling wise is create a nice subplot for the current champ - a guy whose got everything but respect. But, you ask, how does fighting a 60 year old former boxer earn him respect? Well, Stallone looks amazing. He looks bigger and tougher and fitter than the champ - that's how. And of course the commentators going on and on about all his heart and his will to fight, makes the audience believe it too.

And the scene that earned Stallone the Oscar the first time around - the "I just want to go the distance. No one's ever gone the distance with Creed and that's what I want to do - I know I can't win - but I don't want to be a bum" speech - the motivation speech, the scene that has to make us as the audience believe in everything he does, he pulls off again in Rocky Balboa.

He tells Pauly he's "got something, a monster, something. Something in the basement" and he's crying a man cry a real cry, snorting and snot and confused and hurt and wounded and it's so BELIEVABLE. We know it's grief over the love of his life dying, his son not having much to do with him, the plush red velvet of his former life is growing thin and shiny and he wants to remember what glory felt like. Man, I've got chills thinking about it right now. He shows it, he doesn't tell it and it's great. That scene takes the audience a long way in understanding why he's doing this stupid thing.

Then, of course, the Rocky machine kicks in and it's the music and the working out montage and he's drinking raw eggs and climbing those famous steps - not as fast, not as seriously, but he's doing it and by that time, my heart is hammering and I might have been crying a little bit and then it hit me.

He's hitting the high notes. He's hitting the high notes, the big scenes so well, with such charm and precision with just enough sense of humor and just enough real emotion that I don't care that it's all a little ridiculous. That there was some weird scene with a kid and a dog and several other scenes that didn't seem to go where they needed. Some really cardboard characterization and dialogue. But, none of it mattered once he was crying and the music started - I was in.

That's the kind of writer I am. Obviously without all the success of Stallone. But it's the kind of writer I am trying to be.

I started thinking about what other kind of writers are out there and here are a few that I think are sort of valid.

Those writers that create the question "what's going to happen next" with extremely tight plots. We forget weak characters, or total lack of description because we can't turn the pages fast enough. The Poison Study and The DiVinci Code worked like that for me.

Other writers it doesn't matter what they write because thier voice is so very compelling. PT Anderson the film maker - he's that way for me. Emily Giffen, Kinsella, Alice Hoffman for sure.

I'm sure there are more, but I'm sober and tired and actually pretty pleased with having answered this question for myself - it stops me from having to wonder what do I do after Superromance? I keep doing what I'm doing in bigger and better ways, because I just want to go the distance. I don't want to be a bum.
Yo! Adriene!!


Wylie Kinson said...

You know... I've read the reviews that say it's surprisingly good and my husband has gone on, and on, and on about that movie and how I should see it, but it didn't interest me one bit. Not one iota. I would be embarrassed to sit in the theatre, shifting uncomfortably as this old man makes a fool of himself, my eyes would be rolling so far back I'd have a headache...

Damn it, Molly -- now I want to go!!!

You ought to be a movie reviewer. I would dub you "The Convincer!" Your comments alone practically had me in tears. I WILL see this movie. My husband thanks you.

Molly O'Keefe said...

Tell your husband he's welcome!!! If you liked the first one at all you'll like this one and even if you don't it's a pretty good lesson in storytelling -- there's not much razzle dazzle so what he does wrong and what he does right are all out there.

PT Anderson? That's not right is it? Who am I thinking of? Magnolia? PT who?

Maureen McGowan said...

Yo! Molly!

You will never be a bum!

Great post. And your big scenes always hit the reader (this reader, anyway) right in the guts.

Kimber said...

I saw a woman reading your book (BF's Baby), waiting for the subway. The train was crowded so she happily decided to take the next one. I think the entertained look on her face said it all. She didn't want to put down your book.

Maureen McGowan said...

Paul Thomas Anderson is right, I think.

Oooo... i just looked him up on IMdb to be sure and he has a film in production staring Daniel Day Lewis. here's the plot info: A story about family, greed, religion, and oil, centered around a turn-of-the-century Texas prospector (Daniel Day-Lewis) in the early days of the business.

With PT Anderson at the helm it could be interesting...

Molly O'Keefe said...

Is it a remake of Giant???Oh can you imagine??????

Maureen McGowan said...

They give two different working titles on imdb... There Will Be Blood and Oil.

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