On the Silver Screen – The Rewrite
Hugh Grant stars as Keith Michaels in The Rewrite, the story of a form award winning screenwriter who is forced to accept a teaching position to pay the bills when he has no luck finding work as a screenwriter.
A film about screenwriting should tread carefully as it will ultimately be laughed at for not following the rules that it blatantly states throughout the film. The Rewrite follows a fairly standard structure, i.e. character starts out with one huge flaw, has his circumstances changed and meets someone who helps him to accept and grow beyond said flaw then ends the film as a better person that he started.
In general I think The Rewrite tells the story really well, Keith Michaels is a fairly likeable character with some pretty effective witty dialogue. Some of the responses he gives to what people say are fairly inventive and actually got a few laughs out of me. I liked that he was a world weary, bitter man who is still able to enjoy a joke and is intelligent enough to be self aware as to what he is actually doing with his life. Hugh Grant doesn’t stray too far out of his comfort zone in his performance but he is good at this sort of thing.
The scenes spent teaching the class all about screenwriting are pretty well done and give some interesting insight into that side of film making. I know some of it to be untrue based on my experiences of taking a screen writing course but it works well enough for the story. Much mention is made of helping his students through their three act structure and through that we see Keith go through his own three act structure basically spelled out to us as he goes. At times I was reminded of School of Rock in the respect that the film is something of a love letter to the subject matter but there was more of an earnestness to how School of Rock handled the subject.
Even though the film follows its own defined structure I found it to be structured quite strangely. There was a lot of sagging in the second act as there was a lot of focus on too many different character stories that ultimately weren’t very well fleshed out. The subplot with Karen (Bella Heathcote) is the one that I found most confusing as quite a bit of time was spent establishing her as being intelligent and independent as well as being aware of what she wants from life. Her lack of naivety was a big part of what made her interesting but the film pretty much forgets about that and reduces her to a scorned ex lover. There are a few other character subplots that felt somewhat out of place like Clem’s (Steven Kaplan) promising career as a writer not being given as much prominence as it needed to have the passing of the torch theme that they were clearly going for.
Naturally a film like this will have a love interest and this one comes in the form of Marisa Tomei’s Holly Carpenter. The relationship was handled really maturely and starts off as an uneasy friendship where Holly calls him out on his faults and challenges him down the path of self improvement. She’s an annoyingly -to Keith- optimistic person who likes to hope for the best in life which provides an obvious yet effective contrast to Keith’s defeatist pessimism. Grant and Tomei have great chemistry making their scenes together a lot of fun to watch.
The supporting cast are really good with J.K. Simmons being as great as ever playing Dr. Lerner, the faculty head who always has a Marine inspired reference or willing to wax lyrical about his family. Chris Elliot is also notable as the wonderfully pathetic Jim who you just can’t help but feel sorry for. His friendship with Keith is really funny.
A big part of the film discusses character developments and what obstacles that character must overcome to do so but I never really got the impression that Keith Michaels changes an awful lot. He definitely does evolve and seems less jaded by the end of the film but fundamentally it doesn’t seem like he has learned all that much by the end of it. His love of teaching comes in early on so there’s no real buildup to the revelation that he wants to keep doing it.
A flawed film by any standard but generally really enjoyable. Hugh Grant and Marisa Tomei are great in this film despite Hugh Grant not venturing too far outside of his comfort zone as performances go. There’s some interesting insight into story structure and how films are written in the narrative but the film has a strange structure and far too many subplots to have a clear focus on Keith Michaels becoming a better person. There are some really funny moments and a talented supporting cast helps keep this film entertaining.