Wait till you hear how Kaufman thanks the Academy that once gave him an Oscar
Charlie Kaufman's feelings of eternal sunshine seem to be over.
"Frank or Francis," the Oscar-winning screenwriter's newest film, is a twisted and bitter broadside against nearly every aspect of the movie business, from filmmakers to critics to audiences.
TheWrap got an early look at the script, which Kaufman will direct. Here's his Hollywood 101:
Moviegoers are dumb sheep who flock to idiotic movies and don't know how to handle anything the least bit out of the ordinary.
Movie bloggers are ill-tempered losers who live with their parents, except when they're pretentious snobs scared to be creative and desperate to tear down other people's creativity.
Actors make deals with the devil (or whatever equivalent they can find) to have success.
Oh, and it’s also a musical.
Though none of Hollywood escapes Kaufman's withering gaze, "Frank or Francis" — which Kaufman is slated to begin shooting in January with Nicolas Cage, Jack Black, Steve Carell and Kevin Kline – reserves particular vitriol for the Academy Awards.
Despite the fact that the Academy has nominated Kaufman three times (plus another nod that went to his alter ego and nonexistent brother Donald Kaufman) and sent him home with a gold statuette for "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" in 2005 (below), his screenplay essentially paints the iconic awards show as an empty pageant designed to celebrate mediocrity.
"Everything wrong with our society is on display here tonight," says one character at the outrageous Oscar ceremony that makes up the screenplay's climax. "Vanity, greed, political corruption."
He goes on, addressing the audience: "What does your bottomless need for money and glory and power and pathetic substitutes for the love and attention you never received as children lead you to? Do you really need this bowling trophy?"
I won't spoil things by going into any detail about what happens next – or about what happened to bring the character to that point – but "Frank" is the dark underbelly of Christopher Guest's "For Your Consideration," which treated the Oscar circus as the height of silliness, fit mostly to be mocked.
In truth, the movie's really not about the Oscars or about Hollywood so much as it's about the gluttony and anger that courses through the internet.
"America is a country of over-entertained, overfat, under-schooled asshats," says one voice of relative wisdom. "Can you expect the Academy to be any different?"
Given Kaufman's track record (his directorial debut, "Synecdoche, New York," along with "Eternal Sunshine," "Adaptation" and "Being John Malkovich"), it's no surprise that "Frank" is strange. The script is dense and complicated and wicked, at times very funny and at other times damn near unfilmable.
Its credit sequence, for instance, is deliberately jumbled with credits of two other movies-within-the-movie.
One of the lead characters (reportedly the role that will be played by Cage) is an actor who feels trapped in the fat suit he wears in the popular lowbrow comedies that have made him famous.
Another is a film director who's using a mechanical model of his brother's head (Kline) to create a perfect Oscar and box-office hit.
The Frank of the title (Carell) is a writer-director-actor whose rivalry with a blogger leads him into the murky waters of the internet, where everybody's got a fake identity.
And Francis is that blogger, a pathetic film snob consumed with jealousy, and baffled at how eviscerating popular movies by charging their directors with plagiarising decades-old work by "the Spanish Rectangularists" somehow fails to make him attractive to women.
(Black will reportedly play the blogger, though there's a smaller blogger role that fits him as well.)
The film is also populated by a variety of other misfits, malcontents and wannabes, none of whom are particularly sympathetic or endearing.
I won't even get into the severed thumb in the Oscar emcee's pocket, or the "Uka-Ladies" website, or the way in which Frank discovers (and with a texting slip, commemorates) the ultimate career move.
And then there are the songs. Throughout the script, dialogue suddenly shifts into lyrics — and those lyrics are clearly not the stuff of the Top 40.
Here, for instance, is Frank's musical response to a Francis slam: "Arguing that Frank Arder's age / Somehow invalidates his work / Suggests you've entered a new stage / In your development as an ad hominem jerk."
(Good luck with that, whoever writes the music.)
The biggest song, though, is sung by, according to the script, "everyone in the world." Its moral is that everybody (maybe even oddball screenwriters?) is in the same boat: "I may think that I'm a tough guy / A misanthrope or loner / But strictly on the level / Not a thing gives me a boner / More than being loved / By everyone, everywhere, always."
Even Kaufman's tenderest sentiments in "Frank or Francis" are delightfully adrift in a sea of bile — and toward the end, in a summation delivered by a character about whom the less said the better, Hollywood once again gets a thorough takedown:
"America's biggest import, by far, its biggest influence on the global community is itself. Its values, its ideals, its ridiculously inflated opinion about itself. Its idea of celebrity … And how is this export disseminated? Movies, TV, music. You are a cog in this cancerous lie spewing machine."
And you know, if "Frank or Francis" turns out to be good, and if it makes some money, that lie-spewing machine will probably give Charlie Kaufman a big welcome and keep right on feeding the mouth that bites it.