News Coverage Coverage: Notes on Your Screenplay, "Judge of Character"
TITLE: JUDGE OF CHARACTER
GENRE: Drama/Satire (?)
LOGLINE: A young conservative judge’s past comes back to haunt him during his nomination to the Supreme Court, sending the government—and the country—into turmoil.
This is an infuriating story that left me limp with exhaustion. I can’t deny the power in the writing—I couldn’t stop reading, even though I literally tore up the pages containing the final montage and set fire to them in my travel mug in an attempt to cleanse myself of rage and disgust. I would rather think about anything else in the world right now, but you paid for this coverage, so let’s go.
You clearly want your protagonist BART O’KAVANAUGH to be a compelling anti-hero, but he’s just anti. In the present, he’s a dishonest, oily suck-up when he isn’t crying or pathetically defending his love for beer (in a Senate hearing room!). In the past, he’s the worst kind of frat bro: a drunk second-rate jock who picks fights in bars and assaults girls at parties. Neidermayer from ANIMAL HOUSE would hate this guy. So would your entire audience.
The minor characters (senators, mostly) are even worse. They’re a crowd of horrible people who just blur into one, like HUMAN CENTIPEDE, but they all have assholes at both ends. And don’t try to help us tell them apart with cheap tricks. You call the weak, wishy-washy senator JEFF FLAKE, and you call the obnoxious southern senator LINDSAY GRAHAM (as in “cracker”—yeah, I see what you did there). Give them some personalities, or integrity, or decency (please?), or else just cut them. (Exception: SENATOR MAZIE HIRONO. Give her more to do.)
By contrast, BART’s accuser, DR. CHRISTINE FORD, is admirable (and admirably written; good work). The risk she takes in stepping forward to testify, the slings and arrows thrown at her by powerful men, the upswelling of protests and activism inspired by her brave act—my heart goes out to her. Why isn’t this movie about her?
Much of what you have your characters say is straight political-drama material. Some of it is bad parody. Examples:
P. 45: BART’s retort to a senator who has asked if he ever drinks to the point of blacking out, “I don’t know. Have you?” Is this meant to get a laugh? I mean, it didn’t, but I at least hope it was meant to.
P. 48: Senator GRAHAM: “You’re looking for a fair process? You came to the wrong town at the wrong time, my friend.” This is a poor attempt at Aaron Sorkin circa A FEW GOOD MEN, although I appreciate the irony.
P. 118: You try to get us to believe that the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF FUCKING AMERICA would mock a woman who is a sexual assault survivor at a nationally televised rally, to the point of mimicking her voice. No. Just no.
I do have to compliment you on the long, long, long speech by swing-vote SENATOR SUSAN COLLINS (p. 129-133). I swung from fury to hope to even more fury. When it was finally clear she wouldn’t vote BART down, it came as a real punch in the gut. Accompanied by yet more fury.
I feel sometimes like you were going for a DOCTOR STRANGELOVE or even an IDIOCRACY-type satire with this screenplay, but the flashback where BART starts a fight in a bar with a man he believes is the lead singer of UB40 is really the only scene which even approaches that, because it’s so absurd.
The rest (have I mentioned this?) made me rage. DR. FORD comes forward to testify, and her testimony is dismissed as a case of mistaken identity? Sexual assault survivors confront SENATOR FLAKE in person, so he asks for an FBI investigation and gets it—but the FBI doesn’t even interview BART or DR. FORD, let alone dozens of people who wanted to come forward? BART cries and screams during a hearing, and yet still gets 50 senators to vote for him? I’m not usually a double punctuation person, but seriously?!
It’s like this screenplay takes place in an alternate universe where the most powerful people in the nation are incapable of even pretending to care about evidence, or procedure, or the reputation of their institutions, or the fact that anyone can take 25 seconds to look up “Devil’s Triangle” on Urban Dictionary to see that it is NOT A GODDAMN DRINKING GAME.
And then there’s that ending montage. Do you really not see how grotesque it is to cross-cut BART’s ceremonial swearing-in where the PRESIDENT coos about how much BART has suffered with the sequence where DR. FORD goes back to a safe house where she’s in hiding from people making death threats against her? And then have BART smiling into the camera saying he will take his seat on the court “with no bitterness” right before you fade out? Are you an actual monster?
Congratulations for making me feel something, I guess, but I just can’t believe this shitshow could happen. Not even at the movies.