The WGF Blog:

Dispatches from the far reaches of the WGF.

This Week’s Script Cavalcade: O Brother Where Art Thou?

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Few films can better achieve the subtle literary epic quality that Joel and Ethan Coen manage to conjure in their Depression-era rural rollick O Brother, Where Art Thou? They masterfully homage an august and timeless Homeric work and contract and expand it narratively to wring out something altogether unique and memorable to modern audiences. The film follows the foibles of three stumblebum miscreants as they make their way through many a trial and tribulation across the dusty Mississippi Delta, encountering a collection of charming crackpots along the way.

The dialogue. The dialogue caroms and coos like the electrifying washboard bluegrass that injects this screenplay with such aural color. The pages hum with a full spectrum of forgotten musical traditions of the past, from gospel to Appalachian ballads to tin pan alley blues. The screenwriters really tap into an amusing and antiquated patois that captures adequately the era and parlance of the Deep South. Our loquacious lead, Ulysses Everett McGill, offers us a wonderfully confabulated cobble of words throughout. Labyrinthine yet lyrical:

The symbolism. The screenplay is fraught with interweaved symbolism that furthers the storytelling skillfully. Everett is constantly fussing about his hair and a fervent customer of a certain brand of hair treatment. The laughable and alliteratively labeled Dapper Dan can becomes a visual symbol of our protagonist’s fatal flaw: His narcissism and inexhaustible braggadocio. The Dapper Dan tins ultimately nigh lead to his downfall as the scent of the pomade is caught by the jailers’ hounds constantly nipping at their heels the entirety of the script.

And that symbolism just keeps providing a tide of insights. During the climax of the script, our hero is bound and knee-bent before a noose. His long and windy misadventures have inextricably led him to this miserable end. Everett peers skyward and the emotional walls finally come crumbling down. He rises above the vanities and insecurities that have hobbled him throughout the narrative. His emotional trajectory culminates at this moment of truth wherein he is resigned to acknowledge his shortcomings and make sincere entreaties toward redemption. His heartrending valediction:

And like strained mercy sprung forth from Poseidon’s trident, a biblical and baptismal flood comes deus ex machina-cally crashing down upon him and washes away the mistakes of the past. An earnest salvation upon his fervent pleas of contrition.  Absolving him and revealing to us Everett: battered, bruised, but better for it. A changed man by the script’s last page.

The character relationships. These three fools and charlatans are a finely tuned ensemble of comedic craft. From our first glimpse of them, it’s a sad sight. They’re truly men of constant sorrow. A certain pathos of pity is taken on these wretched ne’er-do-well vagabonds. We’re introduced to them in chains and on the run and generally always a hair’s distance away from their next felony. But they still pilfer our sympathies. We like them. We root for them. Through their bumblings and bickerings. It’s an antebellum Three Stooges.

All that’s missing are a few well-placed nyuk nyuk nyuks.

So this script is a wealth of writerly wisdom when it comes to cleverly employing bygone source material and winnowing out something fresh and anew. The script’s stark and sepia-toned realism laced with laughs and coarse katzenjammers. So grab a gopher, dab a little smellum in your coiffure, and R-U-N-N-O-F-T to the library and have a go at this gorgeously garrulous script.

You’ll also need to ride a roll top desk to withstand the veritable deluge of new scripts that have just washed ashore our sagging shelves. The latest and greatest include:

  • All of the scripts for HBO’s bitingly beady-eyed dark comedy miniseries Big Little Lies created by David E. Kelley based upon the book by Liane Moriarty.
  • Starz’s fantasy-drama series American Gods based upon the novel by Neil Gaiman.
  • A clutch of season two scripts for Aziz Ansari’s Millennially mendacious Master of None.

Also, catalog, for your clicking druthers.

Shake a leg, Junior.  We’re bona fide.