Thursday, May 31, 2007

Zooey Deschanel Cast In Shyamalan's The Happening - A Look At Her Role On The Page

The two lead characters in M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening, formerly Green Effect, have now been cast. We have Mark Wahlberg as Elliot Moore, ostenisbly the lead, and Zooey Deschanel as Alma Moore, his wife, just one peg below on the billing. Both roles are abosultely crucial - indeed, their relationship is essentially the subject of the film.

The first scene gets things off and running nicely. Here's a little excerpt from the script draft I have, just to give you an idea of what I mean:

WE ARE STARING at a door to a hallway. A concerned man in his early thirties steps in like he's about to say something. He has a guitar strapped around his shoulder.

A six-inch replica of Degas' Little Dancer smashes into the bedroom door next to the man. Its ceramic bits shatter and fall to the ground.

ELLIOT MOORE stares down at the pieces.

I don't believe you meant that.

ALMA MOORE stands half dressed. She looks like a librarian and has a kind face. She stares at him with exhausted eyes.

You're in denial. I just threw something at you.

You threw something near me. I saw the video of you playing softball in high school. You were an assassin. If you wanted to hit me you would have hit me.

Alma laughs even though a tear rolls down her cheek.

You're driving me crazy.

She checks herself in the mirror. She is crying and fixing her makeup.

Who wants to be treated by a therapist who looks like this? I'm like Frankenstein. (softer) You're going to be late for your class.

She gathers herself. She starts out the bedroom door. She has to squeeze by Elliot in the doorway. They are close. He stops here.

See, you worry about me.

ALMA (whispering)
You know I keep trying to do this so you won't get hurt. You just won't let that happen. (beat) There are things you're not accepting here.

Tell me one.

How about the fact that you;re never going to be a musician. You;re a science teacher. (she shakes here head) A really good one.

ELLIOT (hurt)

And us. (beat) We're just not a good fit.

Anything else?

Yes, I'm going to tell you one of those secrets you should never tell your spouse. When I walked down the aisle and you were waiting, I got this sudden feeling I was making a mistake. Do you hear what I'm saying, Elliot? I was waling up the aisle and I wasn't sure I was making the right decision. (beat) We fight all the time. You're a good guy. We're just not good together. You see that don't you?


ELLIOT (whispering)
I don't believe a word you just said.

Her face hardens. She walks out into the hall and to the small foyer.

I want you to know I'm not doing this to hurt you.

Why are you acting this cynical? You're not this cynical.

She puts on her coat. Takes her purse. She pulls of her ring.

Alma, don't -

She puts the ring on the foyer table.

You believe me now?

She stares at him. He's wobbly for a moment.

We'll talk about this later. We're angry.

That must be it, Elliot.

She shakes her head before walking out. She closes the front door.

Alma hesitates on the top of the stairs of her brownstone. She turns back to the front door to open it. Stops. She looks at the door sadly and then starts down the stairs.

Elliot is alone with the guitar on his shoulder. He stands in the empty home.

Okay, breathe.

Good scene, isn't it?

And that's how we meet them. Not a good match? Maybe that explains the casting of Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel. I don't think most of us would have considered them the obvious double. Indeed, when I was told Bryce Dalls Howard was up for the role of Alma, Wahlberg still seemed like an odd fit. That's the point, I suppose: we believe they don't fit, then as the story unfolds they convince us that, actually, there's a reason they got married.

I think both characters are well written, and interesting to get to know, and I could easily bear spending two hours in their company. If indeed the film is two hours long - this is quie a snappy script, and may well end up clocking in at no more than one hour forty or so.

There's a solid human relationship, or more than one, at the heart of every Shyamalan film - perhaps aside from only Lady in the Water, which may be the single most powerful factor in why it failed to resonate with so many people. The one at the heart of The Happening is a clearly drawn one - the couple that hit the rocky patch, get lost in a spiral of fighting as their faith in the relationship is put to the test and then have to discover if, indeed, they are meant to be together. And the way it has been written here, throughout the entire script, is never less than plausible.

There's another crucial relationship at the heart of the film too: between mankind and plant life. I'm sure you've read that the film is about an 'ecological apocalypse'. What that means, in practice, is that plants around the world begin releasing a deadly neurotoxin. Those who breathe it in end up breaking down and, quite quickly and certainly shockingly, killing themselves however they can: workers on a skyscraper just step off of the scaffolds and fall; a man lies down in a field to be cut to death by a farming vehicle; hair pins get thrust into throats. There's a shocking amount of violent imagery.

But, as I said, it might look like a thriller, feel like a thriller, be paced and often shot like a thriller, but it is also, and most importantly, a love story and the parallels between the eco-disaster and the troubled marriage won't be too hard to fathom.

No comments: