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MANHATATTAN PICTURES, Inc.

 

TITLE:  FOUR STEPS TO CLOSURE

 

Analyst:  Doug Rice

Length – 141 pages

Location – Arizona, California, Nevada

Circa – Present Day

Genre – comedy/drama

          Budget – Low

          WRITER:  Consider

          RECOMMENDATION - Pass

 

LOGLINE:

 

After graduation, four college friends, all struggling with romantic relationships, rediscover their close friendship when they take a road trip together to lay to rest the ashes of one of their beloved mothers.

 

Excellent

Good

Fair

Poor

PREMISE

 

X

 

 

CHARACTERIZATION

 

X

 

 

DIALOGUE

 

         X ------

------- X

 

STORY LINE

 

 

 X

 

 

 

COMMENTARY:

 

           

FOUR STEPS TO CLOSURE is rough and simplistic, but also a surprisingly above-average screenplay, especially for one that seems born out of the realm of many failed scripts:  the post-college-graduation crisis.  FOUR STEPS TO CLOSURE falls in a category with innumerable projects from amateur writers trying to document their own personal problems and who think, in college, “hey, me and my fiends are like a movie.”  However, FOUR STEPS rises above these failed attempts from other writers.  The screenwriter has created very real believable characters (not caricatures) and placed them in a very intriguing premise.  This premise, in which four friends road-trip, is commonplace, but the spin it possesses, in which they rediscover themselves and their friendship while fulfilling a beloved mother’s last request, is heart-warming and charming.

           

The characters are quite simplistic, but not to fault.  Their simplicity accurately depicts the typical college graduate and their varying outlooks on romance.  They are very real and definitely empathetic.  Audiences would easily find a connection with one or more, whether the audience member is in the same predicament or nostalgically reflecting on such shared experiences.  In this light, FOUR STEPS TO CLOSURE is a time capsule, accurately capturing a moment in the development of young people through these characters.  This is a strength of most ‘coming-of-age’ stories.  With regard to these characters, the screenwriter also displays a bit of competent story sense, since the characters do change, evolve, and boast complete character arcs.  The changes in the characters of Mike (with intimacy issues) and Damon (battling issues of religious faith) are admirable in particular.        

           

The premise and tone is also what sets this story apart from its weaker competition.  Obvious inspirations for FOUR STEPS seem to be the hits SWINGERS and GOOD WILL HUNTING, and FOUR STEPS seems to borrow elements from both.  Its first half is an often funny, sharp look at the romantic ups and downs of twenty-something men (one scene even has a character mentioning SWINGERS, a possible homage).  The second half of the screenplay goes deeper, and abandons the light charm and humor for bigger issues such as faith, death, and love.  As it does, the story takes on qualities similar to GOOD WILL HUNTING, such as finding closure and taking a chance on love, but never copies the film.  FOUR STEPS does this by boasting a spiritual/supernatural dimension that proves to be appealing.

           

However, FOUR STEPS TO CLOSURE is still a bit rough.  One flaw is, in drawing these characters, the screenwriter can’t help that Damon and Mike shine.  As a result, they split the attention, and though all the characters have their own crises, one protagonist does not emerge.  The body of the story is Damon’s story;  it is about the loss of his mother and his search for meaning in religion and faith.  But the story’s conclusion steers its focus on completing Mike’s intimacy issues (Even in SWINGERS, the characters have separate identities and problems, but the plot’s motivating force and most complete character arc is one protagonist:  John Favreau’s character.  It bookends the narrative).  In FOUR STEPS, the need for focus on one protagonist is lacking.

           

The most obvious weakness of the screenplay is its structure.  While the screenwriter does show competence with his characters, it is the structure of the narrative that is uneven and misaligned.  The story sense is strongest in the narrative in small doses, limited to each scene;  the characters all seem to enjoy “telling stories” of inspiration and comfort, and these stories-within-the-story are admirable.  But in the big picture, the plot points that define the standard three acts are misaligned.  The heart of the story is Rose (who serves as motivation, inspiration, and ultimately as a prevailing guidance), but her introduction is late.  She deserves an earlier entrance and would serve the narrative better as a more developed character.  As is, she is a catalyst – just the narrative’s inciting incident.  A fuller existence in the story – early – would be, perhaps, more convincing and justifiable for her later influence on the story.

           

Also erring the structure is Rose’s death.  Like all great stories, the plot is a journey.  With FOUR STEPS, the journey is literal – the boys go on a physical journey, as well as emotional.  Since Rose’s death and last request is most definitely the inciting incident and turns the story toward its second act, the event is oddly place as more of a midpoint (near page 70!).  This leads to a 141 page screenplay, which is too long for the scope of its subject matter.  The narrative’s setup is the offender here, taking too long to draw the main characters and introduce Rose.  These first 60 pages or so repeat themselves a bit, and does not move as swiftly as a first act should.

           

Besides this flaw in the structure and storyline, the screenwriter shows promise.  The humor needs to be funnier, the drama needs to be less melodramatic, and the issues need to go deeper (especially in Damon’s loss of faith, God, religion, and heaven).  But the screenwriter has, nonetheless, written a charming story that is rather entertaining, and definitely better than the many, average projects that try to tackle the same issues.

 

 

MAIN CHARACTERS:

 

            MIKE – 23; assertive, handsome, womanizing college graduate (p.2)

            SEAN – 23; sensitive, hopeless romantic friend (p.1)

            DAMON – 22; nice and likable (p. 4)

            JORMA – 23; manic, devoted to his girlfriend (p.3)

            ROSE – 53; Damon’s sweet, caring mother (p. 39)

            SKYY – 26; beautiful, free-spirited, kind ‘hitch-hiker’ (p. 75)

            ALLISON – 23; Jorma’s girlfriend (p. 3)

 

SYNOPSIS:

 

At Arizona State University, four friends introduce themselves and their outlook on romance.  MIKE gets a lot of women and doesn’t feel the need to settle with one, while SEAN is devoted to his on and only.  JORMA cares about his girlfriend despite their many troubles, and DAMON loves only one woman in his life:  his mother.  But they all have one major thing in common:  they all value their friendship.

           

Graduation is approaching, and Sean is dumped by his girlfriend.  His friends convince him to come out to a party.  That night, Jorma stays behind to console Sean, while Damon and Mike head out to the party.  When Jorma catches up with his friends at the party, they advise him to leave his girlfriend, ALLISON, instead of trying to take her back to his home state of New Jersey with him.  Jorma isn’t so sure.

           

The next morning, Jorma has yet another squabble with Allison, and the two agree to spend that night apart, with their friends.  All together in a women’s studies class, Mike objects to the professor’s ideas about society’s unfair conditioning of women to be passive.  The class turns on him, especially when he admits that the sole reason for taking the class was “to meet women.”  He leaves, but seems to consider the episode very funny.  That night, they successfully convince Sean to come out to a club with them, and they make sure he goes.

           

At the club, Sean is insecure about talking to girls since he’s had a girlfriend for so long, and Mike flirts with some girls, lies about being an artist, and leaves with one.  While Jorma and Damon talk, Allison pages Jorma on his beeper with a message that reads “I miss you.”  Sean, Jorma, and Damon stay behind and toast their special friendship.

           

The next day, the four guys go t the house of ROSE, Damon’s beloved mother, to celebrate her birthday.  They all cherish Rose like their own mothers, and Rose entertains the boys with her story of true love, that tells of how she met Damon’s father in Las Vegas when he sang Bobby Darin’s “Beyond the Sea” to her and how she drove to Santa Monica to be with him.  The guys love the story and seem to be inspired by it.  She tells Jorma that, sometimes, “to get from point A to B, you got to stop at C, D, E and F.”  Later that night, Rose tells Damon to never let his friends get away from him.  She also tells her son that she’s been diagnosed with Cancer, and does not have much time left.  Damon is devastated, as are his friends, but she tells Damon to “be brave for your mother.”

           

Graduation arrives, but the guys are still depressed about Rose.  Damon starts losing his faith in God, and questions the existence of a God and Heaven.  Mike, depressed about Rose and Damon, comes home really drunk one night and starts to cruelly insult his friends.  Jorma attacks Mike, and the two fight.  Sean and Jorma storm out, saying they never want to see him again.

           

Over a month has passed since their fight.  Damon remains at his mother’s bedside, lamenting over his friends’ broken relationships.  Jorma and Sean are still friends, but Mike has been mysteriously secluded and Damon spends all his time at the hospital.  One night, Mike pays a visit to Rose and apologizes for his behavior.  Rose comforts him and encourages him to find a true love.  Mike insistes that after she passes, her soul will come back in another’s body and be his love.  She promises to do so and give him a “sign” that it is her.  She professes her love for Mike and his friends, and Mike leaves.  He knows he will never see her alive again.

           

Rose passes away, and the guys call on Mike to come comfort Damon.  He does, apologizes to Sean and Jorma, and visits Damon in the hospital’s chapel, where Damon throws a bible at the crucifix.  Mike consoles him, saying, “We’re your family now.”  Soon after, they all view a videotape in which Rose explains her last request:  that Damon spread her ashes in four separate cities (Santa Monica, San Francisco, Las Vegas, and Sedona) and that Sean, Mike, and Jorma go with him.  She emphasizes the importance of their friendship.  Her message moves the young men.

           

The guys pack up their Ford Expedition and prepare to leave.  Allison says goodbye to them and she and Jorma agree that the time apart may do them good, though Jorma hopes that they will go to New Jersey together after the trip.  Their first stop for the night is Blythe, California, which is a real “dump” of a town and more like a rest stop.  At a diner, they encounter a beautiful waitress, SKYY, who is bullied by the rude patrons and mean boss.  Mike intervenes when she is accosted by a truck driver, and the guys scare off the menacing trucker.  That night, Damon is unable to sleep and notices Skyy taking a break at the diner when he goes out for some air.  They talk and Skyy explains that she was going cross-country with a boyfriend when he dumped her and she just never left, but dreams of someday leaving.  She comforts Damon about his loss of faith in God, and tells him to “be brave for your mother.”  This sends chills down his spine, since his mother said those exact words to him before.  Skyy is like an angel in Damon’s eyes.

           

The next morning, Damon thanks Skyy for her kind words and asks her to come with them.  Skyy is unsure, but is convinced.  Mike isn’t too happy with this odd turn of events, and believes that Skyy is some kind of con artist.  They arrive in Santa Monica, and Damon ceremoniously throws a portion of his mother’s ashes into the sea from the end of the pier.  At a rest stop, Mike and Skyy have a talk, in which Mike insists that romance is for suckers and that his very happy being alone.  Once on the road again, Damon thinks about his mother and asks for a sign that she is still “with” him.  Jorma wonders if she likes him, Skyy considers Mike’s irresistible charm, while Sean curses his ex-girlfriend.

           

They arrive in San Francisco, where Jorma calls Allison, only to listen to Allison say that she has decided not to go back to New Jersey with him, though she does love him.  She hangs up and Jorma is heartbroken.  Mike and Skyy have another private talk, in a pool, and she rebuffs Mike’s claim that she is scamming them in some way, perhaps looking for more than a ride.  She insists that she is just going to Las Vegas and that everything will work out for her.  Mike finds this attitude impressive, and perhaps for the first time, Mike is truly charmed by a girl.  Skyy goes to the aid of the devastated Jorma, and consoles him.  She comforts and inspires him, noting that he “will find happiness” and that sometimes when “going from point A to B, you’ve got to stop at C, D, E, and F.”  This sends chills down his spine, recalling that those words were the exact words of advice Rose gave him before her death.  Talking with Damon, Skyy is warned by him that Mike is charming with women, but he is a cold, selfish individual when it comes to letting women get close to him.

           

The group then heads out for Las Vegas.  Once there, Mike and Skyy go for a walk and Mike offers a homeless man his sandwich.  He tells her a story about a homeless man and his rare unselfish side, and Skyy is convinced that Mike is a good person inside.  When Skyy notices that Sean is depressed, she comforts him in the same manner she did with Damon and Jorma.  She convinces Sean that he is attractive, talented, and that any woman would be lucky to have him.  She contends that his luck will soon change.  Afterwards, she visits Mike in his room, where he apologizes for his remarks in the pool.  She accepts his apology, and they kiss before dropping down onto the bed together.  Meanwhile, Sean, Jorma and Damon gamble, and Sean is on a winning roll.  Back in Mike’s room, Skyy proposes that she stay with Mike and that they try to be a couple.  Mike is leery and afraid of the many possible “what ifs,” but Skyy seems to be changing his way of thinking.  Later, on the hotel’s rooftop, the guys count Sean’s winnings, which is a substantial amount.  Damon removes some of his mother’s ashes and lets the wind take them.

           

When the go cruising down the Las Vegas strip, they stop at a 7-11 store.  When Jorma goes inside, an armed robber enters and starts to burglarize the store, but is frantic and nervous.  Unaware of the robbery, Damon enters and yells for Jorma.  The robber is startled and fires a shot at Damon, which strikes him in the shoulder.  Jorma tackles the robber.  Everything goes black for Damon, who suddenly finds himself walking toward a bright light.  There, he finds his mother, who comforts him.  He tells her how much he misses her, and Rose tells him that he will be fine;  it is not his “time” yet, though.  Damon awakens to find a doctor hovering over him.  “You’ll be just fine,” he says.

           

Over the next day or so, Sean reads a bible to Damon in the hospital, Mike and Skyy start falling in love, and Jorma gathers the courage to burn a picture of Allison.  As Damon recovers, Sean suddenly feels renewed, like a new man, as does Jorma, who has found “closure.”  Skyy wants to know if she will be going back to Arizona with Mike, but Mike is hesitant.  The next day, Mike finds that Skyy is crying and packing her bags – she won’t wait around for Mike’s answer5 and his stubborn nature of not willing to take a chance.  Jorma convinces Mike that he is making a mistake, and Mike realizes it.  He dashes for the bus station to stop Skyy from leaving.  He finds her there, and professes his love for her.  When they get in the car together, a song come onto the radio:  Bobby Darin’s “Beyond the Sea.”  Skyy gets excited, saying that the song was her favorite song as a girl.  Mike is stunned by this apparent “sign” from Rose.

           

Now in Sedona, they all have closure.  Damon found his lost faith, Jorma found his true path, Mike opened his heart to someone, and Sean found peace in living without a girlfriend.  Content with their lives and each other, they scatter the remaining ashes from atop a breathtaking mountain.

 

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