Monday, January 10, 2011

Structure Analysis - The Kids Are All Right

Standard disclaimer: There are plenty of spoilers in this analysis, so please read on if you're okay with me ruining everything for you. :-)

I finally got around to seeing this movie on DVD and was really excited to write an analysis for it because it seemed to defy standard screenplay structure in that there didn't appear to be a single protagonist. On first viewing, I thought that the entire family was one big collective protagonist and that Paul was their antagonist. But as I laid out each of the structural points, it became clear that there actually is a single protagonist – Nic. She is definitely the one who drives the action for everyone in her family and is clearly the one character who stands diametrically opposed to Paul.

But even though this script actually does follow standard screenplay structure very closely, it's another great example of how a screenwriter can generate a tremendous amount of drama within that structure by creating a full cast of vivid and active characters. Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg clearly put a lot of thought into every single one of their characters and gave them each distinct personalities and unique goals, which is a sure way to generate lots of conflict and drama in every scene. This movie provides an excellent example of how to write great characters, so I can't recommend it highly enough.

I do need to point out that the analysis below is based on the actual movie and not on the screenplay, since the movie differs greatly from the only version of this script that I could find. Thanks to Kim Nunley for sending me that script and for her excellent blog ( that contains lots of good information about movies and screenwriting. And now, on to the analysis.

The Kids Are All Right
By Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg
Released in 2010 and nominated for a ton of awards. Literally, 2000 pounds worth of awards.

Genre: Drama
Number of pages: Movie 101 minutes; Script 122 pages
Protagonist: Nic Allgood
External Goal: To stop Paul from taking her family away from her.
Internal Flaw:  She can't see how much her actions are hurting the people she loves.


Statement of Theme
Page 3: Nic and Jules ask Laser what he gets out of his relationship with Clay. The theme is about trying to find happiness outside of the family (specifically from someone other than Nic), versus working on being happy within the family.

First Catalyst (10%)
External: Page 11 (11%)
Paul calls Joni. He meets her and Laser for lunch. This is clearly the inciting incident because it's the point where Paul has his first contact with the family.
Internal: Page 3-7 (3-7%)
This is the only structural point that is more generalized than a single event taking place on a single page, though it's pretty close. The internal story is about how Nic's actions are driving her family away, so from page 3-7, Nic alienates everyone in her family with her perfectionism and judgmental attitude. Nic 
insults Laser's friend, she forces Joni to write all of her thank-you cards on her birthday, and she makes fun of Jules, questions her decision to start yet another business and can't even enjoy an intimate moment with her.

Second Catalyst (17%)
External: Page 23 (23%)
Laser tells Nic and Jules that he and Joni met Paul. This brings the entire family into the Paul story. As is typical of  character-driven story, this structural element happens later than the 17% point in order to establish all of the characters' stories and personalities first.
Internal: Page 18 (18%)
Nic complains to Jules about Laser wasting his potential, which turns into an argument about their relationship. She can only think of people as being successful if they're like her.

Plot Point 1 (25%)
External: Page 26 (26%)
Paul comes to visit the family for dinner. This begins the journey of the entire family getting to know Paul. Let the fun begin!
Internal: Page 27 (27%)
Nic interrogates Paul about how different he is from his sperm donor profile, expressing her clear disappointment. She demands that Joni read him her valedictorian speech, but Joni refuses. As always, Nic can't see the effect that her actions are having on others.

Twist 1 (37.5%)
External: Page 34 (34%)
Jules starts working on Paul’s back yard. She says they should just let it grow as lush and fecund as possible. (Metaphor alert!)
Internal: Page 37 (37%)
Nic is disappointed in Laser for not writing a get-well card to his grandfather. Laser snaps at her and cancels his weekend plans with her to spend more time with Paul. The rebellion against Nic has begun.

Mid-point (50%)
External: Page 45 (45%)
Paul compliments Jules on her work and they kiss. The relationship with Paul has now officially become toxic to the family and can only get worse if it continues from here.
Internal: Page 50 (50%)
When Paul brings Joni home on his motorcycle, Nic confronts him for breaking her "no motorcycles" rule, making her opposition to Paul perfectly clear. They are now in a head-to-head battle over her family.

Twist 2 (62.5%)
External: Page 66 (65%)
Paul tells Jules that he’s falling for her. He actually starts to believe that he can replace Nic in her own family.
Internal: Page 68 (67%)
Nic tells the family that she wants to give Paul more of a chance so she suggests that they go to his place for dinner. But by this point, the rest of the family has developed issues with Paul, so they're not into it. As usual, Nic gets her way.

Plot Point 2 (75%)
External: Page 76 (75%)
Nic finds Jules’ hair in Paul’s bathroom and bed. She realizes they’re having an affair.
Internal: Page 72 (71%)
Nic connects with Paul right before finding out about the affair, but only by excluding her entire family as she and Paul talk over them and then sing a painfully awkward Joni Mitchell song together about hurting the people that you love.

Paul comes to the family’s house to try and see Joni one last time before she goes to college. Nic tells him that he's just an interloper and then the whole family sides with Nic over Paul. Jules then apologizes to the family and begs their forgiveness. The moms bring Joni to college and Joni misses them immediately. Laser tells Nic and Jules that they shouldn’t break up, so they hold hands and start the process of making up. Basically, everyone re-commits to the family, showing that they don’t need anyone else to make them happy. Structurally, Nic has defeated her antagonist and accomplished her external goal of stopping Paul from taking her family away from her, while also beginning the process of overcoming her internal flaw by seeing how much her own actions have pushed her family away. 

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