"The Family Man"
Partial Story Analysis
By Vernon Zimmerman
following are beginning notes for a rewrite.
Wants to be Frank Capra's "It's A Wonderful Life" including
the bell to signify the emissary from heaven played by Don Cheadle,
the angel from the "Other Side".
In the Capra movie, Clarence the angel's mission was clear. To show
George Bailey what life would have been like had he not lived.
In this movie, Cheadle's mission is to give the hero a "Glimpse"
of an alternate life, a la "Sliding Doors." A glimpse has
no intrinsic meaning in itself.
In the Capra film, George Bailey, the James Stewart character was going
to commit suicide out of a sense of failure. Clarence the angel intercedes
to show George what terrible things will happen if George is not around
to prevent them from happening. Therefore, his life has important meaning
to many people.
In this story, all is going well for the hero and there is no reason
for an angel to provide a "glimpse," or intercede and intrude
on the hero's life.
Any difficult questions are quickly skimmed over by the writers, typical
of contemporary writing where the hard questions are not answered but
sidestepped and avoided. Ugh. It's a trend alas.
Terrible title. Titles are money. Not this one.
Lots of story problems. Here are a few:
Hero at minute 15 gets a phone message from a girlfriend he left
behind in 1987, 13 years earlier. He confers with his business head
boss and decides not to call her back. Why not? He loved her then,
what harm to call her back now?
(This boss later shows up in Act II by conveniently breaking down
in his Rolls Royce convertible right in front of Big Ed's tire shop
where the hero can corner him and thrill him with his interpretation
of the ex boss's business deal put together by Saul Rubenik)
This critical happening is based on coincidence and accident; the
two major no-no's of story telling (according to Aristotle). This
could have been easily fixed. But in the current version a contrivance
that remains annoying and unbelievable.
Later in Act III, when the hero spontaneously goes to her apartment
in Manhattan (again we don't know what prompts this move), she acts
surprised to see him even though he is now in the present tense
and she called him in Act One in the present tense! Why then is
Major goof. What the hey?
Next, he lies down on his bed and at minute 20 is suddenly catapulted
to an alternate life as if he had married her in 1987. There is
no reason for this to happen. No set up in story, especially since
the hero decided rightfully not to call her back. He went to England
13 years earlier and never saw her again.
The major problem with this is we never saw what happened to cause
the rift! Why didn't he spend the year in England and return to
marry her? She was still in New York. She was available, never got
married we learn later, and still loved him. What the heck happened
This kind of writing is all for author's convenience, cleverness
over effectiveness. Skipping major story junctures for ease of not
answering major points.
The author conveniently skips over all this pivotal story juncture
with a convenient title "13 Years Later," killing the
momentum of the story before we get to know these people and who
Nowhere do we find out what happened in the intervening 13 years,
killing the suspense. Hogwash.
the pivotal speech in Act three, hero tries to convince his old
girlfriend at the airport to give it another shot. Hero paraphrases
the speech from "As Good As It Gets", sickeningly ripped
off by every new writer lacking imagination. The "you made
me a better man" speech.
The audience knows where it came from and it's unflattering plagiarism
Hero in Act II gets the hang of his time warp and alternate life
in a few weeks with the aid of his daughter, aged four, who thinks
he's an alien imposter.
Cute but really doesn't pay off. Daughter drops out of story thereafter,
then reappears in the end to provide the bike bell bit.
Adolescents apparently wrote this movie with an adolescent sensibility.
The whole part of the story with Big Ed, her father, and how he
got the job at the tire store and how he left the brokerage in Manhattan,
in Act II, is glossed over in one quick speech in the car.
This is important stuff!
In reality, there are some scattered gags and laughs along the way,
but not enough to compell one to recommend it to others.
In Act III, hero is jolted back into his Act One life but again
there is no trigger, no time limit, and no reason for this happening
which undermines the importance of his alternate life experience
in Act II. It's again arbitrary.
In the end, the daughter's bike bell "rings", like the
Christmas ornament in the Capra film, but why now?
Answer? Author's convenience, only. Nothing in the story sets this
up because that is the difficult task, providing character motivation
and reasons for things to happen in the story.
All of the above could have been addressed and solved before shooting
the film at no additional cost.
The clarified story telling and additional character motivation
would have made the film a bigger box office attraction and a greater
critical success instead of the mixed reception it received.