Posts Tagged Character Development
Via: Daily Prompt – Roots
Title Mr. Church
Starring Eddie Murphy, Britt Robertson, and Natascha McElhone
Director Bruce Beresford
Writer(s) Susan McMartin
Genre Comedy Drama
Release Date September 16, 2016
Filming Location Los Angeles, California, USA
Parental Guidance PG-13 for thematic elements
IMDB Rating 7.7
Synopsis: In 1971, 10-year-old Charlie Brooks (Natalie Coughlin) wakes up one morning to find “a black man cooking in their kitchen”. Mr. Henry Joseph Church (Eddie Murphy) is the cook Richard, her mother Marie’s (Natascha McElhone) ex-lover, hired to take care of Marie for the next six months that she has to live while cancer consumes her. Charlie, who is unaware of her mother’s condition, is immediately put on edge by the absent Richard’s overstepping their privacy to place this mysterious man in their home though his meals are “like a party all the time” and her friends all cotton onto the advantages of having a cook quickly. Mr. Church raises a lot of conflicting emotions in Charlie with his jazz and his books (that he offers to lend books to Charlie from like a library) and, especially, his cooking. Over time, Charlie gives in. Six months turn into six years and Marie continues to live while Mr. Church continues to take care of them. An older Charlie (Britt Robertson) is now an avid reader, a student who has been accepted to Boston University but might not be able to go due to financial constraints, and she is weary of expecting her bed-ridden mother to pass on any minute. She avoids her mother even as she checks her breathing to ensure she lives and finds solace in the presence of Mr. Church, to whom she has latched onto as the surviving parent. But Mr. Church remains a mystery as much as ever and protects his off-duty hour whereabouts determinedly. Friendship has bonded the three into a family and Mr. Church is ever-present to soften the blows while Charlie ventures onto adulthood and navigates its many curveballs.
Experience (a few spoilers): I have always loved Eddie Murphy, ever since I watched a re-telecast of Coming to America on TV when I was about ten/eleven. So I put on Mr. Church fully expecting him to live up to his acting prowess and he did not disappoint. Generally a comic actor, Murphy put on his drama mask with the grace and appeal that made me want to run a Murphy Marathon featuring all his classics.
From the get-go, he had me hooked. The quiet efficiency with which he chopped and stirred and sauteed in the kitchen to his gracious compassion for the young Charlie and her sick mother. The character is beautifully written and presented, not needing to be thanked but doing his best to fit into the lives of this pair without trying to do any more than his job. But behind his humility lurks humor, which peeks out whenever he presents a dish to Charlie and watches her battle with herself to continue rejecting him while devouring his food.
Here, I must say something about the child actor. I truly enjoyed Coughlin’s performance as well. Short as her part was, she brought that sweetness to the character that made me feel more sympathetic towards young Charlie than annoyed, which could easily have happened given the level of her hostility. Though often rude with the openly belligerent rejection of Mr. Church, Charlie was apparently a kind soul in her heart, if wary. And even though the movie did not explore the angle that the advent of Mr. Church denoted her mother’s inability to keep up with chores, hence harking her imminent demise, I believe Charlie’s distrust may have stemmed from such intuition. In any case, every time Coughlin’s big blues rounded at the sumptuous food laid before her, I felt like giving her the auntie-cuddle.
The older Charlie did not always inspire as much hold though I could also like her fairly enough. It must be the overall sense of goodness that emanated from Charlie’s character, from childhood to adulthood. I could feel sympathy for her teen self as she transferred her sense of security to Mr. Church while trying to deal with her mother’s (a woman she continued to believe the most beautiful woman on earth) impending death. Her withdrawal is real and her acceptance of life’s pitfalls also feels real. Robertson does a good job performing the role of the watchful-yet-retiring teenager and later the transgressing-and-learning adult. She is the character that has to grow and Mr. Church is the rock on which she founds herself.
McElhone did a great job in playing a woman trying to make the most of her last days with her daughter. The mother’s love is apparent and there is a particular scene in the bathtub that she performed superbly. The scene could easily have turned sappy but Marie’s struggle to make her daughter understand the importance of not giving up on life while waiting for death felt chokingly real. She depicted physical weakness while trying to muster emotional strength as she confesses her biggest regret is something beyond her control. I think that is the scene that dotted her t’s and crossed her i’s for McElhone’s take on Marie’s role.
The overriding themes of this movie, home, acceptance, and friendship, is so beautifully slipped into the consciousness that even when tragedies strike, it’s ok – reassurance is just around the corner. It is as though the Mr. Church’s personality permeates the plot. It is one of those stories where nothing much happens other than life, and we are reminded every phase of the film that in life, tragedy is part and parcel of happiness. It allows the audience to realize that it’s not so bad. I cried many times through the movie but there was a joy. I felt peace. And the lovely way the scenes were scripted and directed, it did not allow any of the actors to overstep their roles. The steadiness with which the story progressed, I could have watched it for hours more. Again, it was as though Murphy’s portrayal of Mr. Church toned the entire movie, even the frames where he wasn’t present. And Robertson’s character did its best to compliment, reminding us that home is where you can trust to put your roots down.
Recommendation: Oh, yes, you must! Whenever you feel a bit down on luck, this movie is sure to make you feel more grounded. Although I really missed Murphy’s toothy grins, it might be my favorite movie of his now.
Andy clipped her client on the chin, forcing him to throw his head back with the blow. Next, she got down on her haunches and threw one leg out, swiveling it to push her client’s legs out from beneath him. All six-feet-three-inches and two hundred pounds of him came crashing down with an outraged gasp on the boxing ring bed, making her jump up to regain her footing as the structure quivered all around them. Grinning down at Bob around her mouthguard, she prepared herself to face his rebuke. However, he seemed less than inclined to satisfy her irritable mood today.
Bob groaned into a sitting position and rested his elbows on his upraised knees. Spitting out his mouthguard into a gloved fist, he leveled his resigned moss-green eyes up at her. “That must’ve been some meeting you had with your old man yesterday,” was all he commented.
Andy spat out her own mouthguard, disgusted by his consoling tone. She was itching for a thrash-out and he was refusing to take the bait. What must a gal do around here to get an able and willing male opponent in the ring? “Meetings with my dad are nothing if not out of the ordinary. You should know that by now.”
Bob grunted non-committally. He pushed himself off the bed with the sheer strength of his legs alone, his calf muscles bunching and releasing with the effort. Andy tried not to gulp audibly. Her pelvic floor muscles, however, she thought she heard squeak with yearning. Not that she would respond to such yearnings; Bob was her client, after all. Read the rest of this entry »
“Hi, Dad.” Andy stared into a pair of eyes identical to hers in more ways than just the shade of larkspur and hooded lids. They matched her discomfort too. “Can I come in?”
He shrugged and walked away from the open door to his condo. Andy walked into his Florida home for the first time, closing the door behind her as she tried to rein in her curiosity. Driving up to the complex, walking through the grounds and lobby, riding up the designer scented elevator, she had been amazed by the glamor and upkeep of the property. The inside of her father’s apartment, however, suited more with his lifelong philosophy.
There was something called minimalism and then there was how Allen Tybalt lived.
Growing up with an austere man such as Allen had been challenging every step of the way. His job had their family moving a lot. Even though he was always away for on-site projects, Andy and her mother had to keep accompanying him to new cities every couple of years because Allen insisted that they live as a unit.
Allen had been a power plant engineer, the best in his field apparently. He earned a sack full of salary every month but never allowed Andy’s mother to decorate their myriad of residence as she wanted. Whenever her mother proposed the idea to buy something for their home, Allen would insist the venture unnecessary since they would have to move again anyway. That a family subjected to as many location transfers as theirs be unencumbered by possessions was perfectly logical so her mother never argued. Besides, few people won an argument with Allen.
It was just as well because Andy’s mother died in a road accident when Andy was just twelve years old so she doubted her mother would have gotten much time to enjoy a fully decorated home.
“You have a nice setup here, Dad,” Andy now said, looking around. “Suits you.” Actually, upon closer look, the furniture did appear to be very vogue even if sparse. “I’m not sure how easy it will be to pack the Zeng Fanzhi painting if you decide to move,” she added, staring at the article in question hanging over the long blue crushed velvet couch.
“I hide the money behind that. Besides, I won’t be needing it where I’m going next,” Allen grumbled. Read the rest of this entry »
Via: Daily Prompt – Label
Are writer’s quick to judge? If writers habitually sit around in public places, siphoning characters out of their neighbors, are their inspirations founded on preconceptions programmed into their outlook of society? I mean, sure, they add onto what they see but would it be correct to say that their imagination is still founded on stereotypes that they are prepossessed to notice?
Today, a friend of mine was hashing over a story idea with me for a novel he wishes to write in the near future. Without giving away much of anything, there’s a part where the protagonist, after facing a tragic defeat in love, begins to imagine various alternate scenarios where he might come off as the winner. While the protagonist is aware that these various attempts to change his fate are imagined, he is unable to distance himself from the illusions. I, in my turn, threw in Dumbledore’s dialogue from the King’s Cross scene in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”
Dead silence followed this ejaculation from the other end of the line. My friend has not read the HP books and, if he has seen the movies, it was probably without much reflection. I try not to hold this against him.
I went on to explain to him, “Perception is reality. How you perceive things adds to your experiences, which is what shapes you. If your character should imagine various alternate scenarios in search for romantic success and continue to fail, can it not add to his growth even if the incidents didn’t really happen?”
He seemed to like the concept very much and we discussed it further. I mentioned to him the Wickham-Darcy controversy in Pride and Prejudice [another classic he has not read but I don’t complain] and described the scene where Elizabeth reads Darcy’s letter, discovers Wickham’s true nature, and realizes what a gross error in judgment she has made. And her epiphany is not in the clarity she receives in finally learning what a villain Wickham is but in learning her own failing. That she had let a bruised ego direct her away from properly assessing Wickham’s abuse of Darcy. That her pride in the ability to discern the characters of others was not as deserved as she had assumed.
“But the crux of this conflict is,” I explained to my friend with the level of excitement I always feel when discussing Austen’s works, “if Elizabeth had not initially got her evaluation of Darcy so wrong, would she have learned to appreciate his goodness as strongly as she did later? Maybe if she perceived reality correctly the first time – if she had always known the truth – he would be just another rude guy but who has his heart in the right place? Maybe reality alone was not enough to make her fall in love with him? She needed to experience the lie to become fit to love him. Maybe sometimes a character needs to experience the lie in order to appreciate the truth. The unreal in the now can contribute to creating a desired reality for a later period.”
Hah! Now I’m counseling others on writing. Go figure.
I recently came to learn that most of my fellow writers pick characters off real life. They sit around in coffee shops and roadside bistros, watching their neighbors and making up stories about them. This practice is, apparently, more common than when you watch TV on mute and try to feed dialogues to the people on the screen. Mind blowing, right? I always wondered how writers felt so comfortable tapping away at the keyboard in coffee shops. Turns out, they are really just describing their surroundings. Not a bad writing tip, I thought. Should speed up the process of character creation some.
My characters come completely out of my head – just as my stories come to me when a real life situation strikes me as though it didn’t pan out the way they should have. So I try to “fix” things, albeit in fiction, where my muddled heroes and heroines stumble around until they learn “the right way” of living. I’m a big fan of justice, and when justice is not to be found in the real world, I make up worlds of my own. I’m really a very balanced person.
The problem is if my characters come right out of my head, how do I allow them to become independent of who I am? When I already know the way I want my characters to behave at the end (to serve the moral I wish to convey), how do I let their journey become independent of mine? Also, it would be a terrible bore if every character turned out to be an extension of me. Read the rest of this entry »
There’s a loaded word. I always felt that nuances exist on the precipice of stereotypes. You take the expectations cultural dogmas have conditioned in you and add a little something-something. Voila! You have nuanced characters for your stories. Personally, I use the following template to guide me when creating my characters. This should help a few writers.
Title The Book of Love (originally titled The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea)
Starring Jason Sudeikis, Maisie Williams, Jessica Biel
Director Bill Purple
Written By Robbie Pickering and Bill Purple
Release Date January 13, 2017
Parental Guidance PG-13 for thematic content, language and drug materials
IMDB Rating 5.5
Synopsis: Henry is your average joe, his creativity only peeking out when he is off designing architecture for his real estate developer company, which is what he is brilliant at. The only thing that keeps his life from fading into the mundane is his oddball wife, Penny, whom he monikers hurricane. Penny tries to stamp her mark on Henry’s life by pushing him to do the eccentric things she lays out and simply “be bold!” Penny is expecting to deliver their first born in the coming month and he just gets an offer to be made partner at his office when Penny has a fatal road accident and Henry’s life is turned upside down. Recovery comes in the form of Millie, a homeless girl rummaging through his garbage. They interact over a cabinet he is ready to dispose of that she could use and she comments that the magenta sneakers he is wearing with his suit “is the shits”, which is what Penny had said to convince him to put them on the morning before she died, and he suddenly remembers that the last promise he had made to Penny was to help out the homeless girl who goes through their garbage. After a bit of harmless stalking, Henry discovers Millie is trying to build a raft to cross the Atlantic Ocean and he decides to dedicate all his time in helping her and in the process rediscovering his reason to go on.
Experience: Given the number of book-turned-movies playing at the cinemas these days, amazingly The Book of Love is not a book turned into movie. I walked into this movie without having seen the trailers or reading the synopsis, which in itself is very unusual for me. But I have always loved that Peter Gabriel song “The Book of Love” and find Jason Sudeikis one of the more versatile but underrated actors of Hollywood so it wasn’t difficult to hit the play button with so little nod to movie prerequisites. It turned out to be one of those uncalculated risks that provide the exact morale your life needs at the time.
While the plot was not something I would call riveting, the script has been very well written. Despite the lack of brief on its premise, I could pick up on the cues of what was about to come early on. The director cut straight to laying out who the lead characters are, that something was about to happen to render upheaval into this young couple’s lives. In fact, I could tell Penny (Jessica Biel) would die soon as she made Henry (Sudeikis) promise he would take care of the homeless girl if he meets her. I could also tell how much Henry doted on Penny by the way he gave in to her every whimsy regardless of the level of contrast they drew to his personality as well as work life (wearing the magenta sneakers with his suit to a major career altering meeting). I could smell the devastation brewing but not in the way that the end was given away. I did not feel like, oh! It’s just another movie about a guy getting over his wife’s death, I was intrigued by the idea of how… how will Millie (Maisie Williams) the homeless girl help him get over her death, how did he come to love her even? Obviously Millie is too young to be of romantic interest, which would have been just abhorrent so soon after Penny’s death.
The cinematography of the movie also sets the mood. The color scheme, mostly muted tones to set the atmosphere of loss with the only contrast allowed in the spaces of the house where Penny, who was also an artist, spent most of her time, like the kitchen or the bedroom. There is a lot of clutter everywhere that Henry goes, as though he needs to find a way to draw himself out of the rubble. The director used a lot of montages in the movie to pace the travel through time, both in flashbacks as well as how Henry’s life progresses. There are two junctures of the movie portraying the moments of changes in Henry’s life that really resonated with me. First, at the wake at the house, where everyone moves in slow motion, discussing the death matter-of-factly while Henry sits ignored until he really attempts to isolate himself. The other is when Julia (Mary Steenburgen), Penny’s mother triggers him into a panic attack when she pushes him into realizing that he might be having a breakdown as he risks his career to build a homeless girl build a raft to cross the Atlantics. Pivotal moments when Henry is both at his worst and his best because after each panic attack, he works out a puzzle, somehow left behind by Penny.
Which brings me to the overall theme of the movie. A bit of study online showed that the most highlighted quote from the movie is “Sometimes, things are better when they’re not perfect.” But I felt what defined the movie best was “Death ain’t about the people who died anyway. It’s about the ones who have the shit luck of having to go along without ‘em.” The central trope of the movie depicts how each character deals with Penny’s death. There is Henry, who after withdrawing into himself focuses his energy into fulfilling his last promise to Penny by helping Millie and thereby pushing further the moment when he must truly accept her absence in his life. There is Julia, who strives for control in Penny’s death just as she has during her life, and focuses on the minutest details involving the funeral, the obituary, charity, etc. as though it is just another responsibility she must take care of – clearly, her daughter leaving the world before her is a burden, especially given the guilt of never cherishing the time she had her. There’s Henry’s boss, Wendell (Paul Reiser) who lacks even the basic sense of empathy to put aside the company goals to allow Henry the time to grieve but you can also see how he is embarrassed by this lacking. There are even “Dumbass” (Orlando Jones) and Pascal (Richard Robichaux), the guys who were working on the renovation of the house and who were endeared by Penny who took care of them while they were around, who take it upon themselves to help Henry through his grief. Without revealing too much, in the end you get to see even Millie had a reason to deal with Penny’s death. But there is a likeness in the way both Henry (for Penny) and Millie (for her father) use fulfilling promises and the lost dreams to get over their own losses, which sort of answers the conundrum of the movie. I enjoyed how this theme remains consistently throughout the movie as each character’s arcs are developed.
When speaking of the characters, of course something must be said about the actors’ portrayals of them. First and foremost, I was thoroughly convinced by Sudeikis. Despite being a comic hero, he was able to invoke the tragedy Henry undergoes. In fact, I especially enjoyed the nuance he rendered the role with subtle moments of comic disaster he ends up in. Initially, I felt it a bit unbelievable that he could be propelled to fixate on the raft-building so soon after Penny’s death but his motivation came out to dispel that disbelief. Another actor I felt did a good job was Jones. He took what minimalist role he had and really bit into it. Williams, on the other hand, though played the other lead role, did not come into character until halfway through the movie. However, that might also be because her bayou drawl was a bit contrived and unnecessary even to the plot. Also, I could see how narration by Millie created bridges to allude to each segment of the movie, I did not really see why it had to be there. The only actor that really was the oddball was Biel’s. But while Penny the oddball was a necessary and endearing element, Biel was something the movie could have done without. Biel just did not have the ethereal quality that Penny needed to make her peculiarities blossom. In fact, Biel looked a bit haggard all through.
Recommendation: Again, if plots are dead important to you, I would suggest skip the movie. It is a bit whimsical yet ordinary, which the narrator warns of in the prologue of the movie. However, if you just like good character building, acting and enjoy a good script and direction, you will enjoy this movie like I did
Title Lola and the Boy Next Door
Series Anna and the French Kiss #02
Author Stephanie Perkins
Genre Young Adult Romance
Publisher Dutton Books
Publication Date September 29, 2011
Synopsis: Lola Nolan is an aspiring fashion designer with grand, over-the-top concepts that sort of define her personality. She is also a good daughter, a good enough student to keep her parents satisfied, a good friend most of the time, a fairly good employee at the movie theater where she works part-time and a pretty good girlfriend to keep her rocker boyfriend Max interested. Too bad her love interest does not fully suit the rest of her world. But Lola gets by juggling between Max and all her other responsibilities. Until the dreaded Bell twins return to the neighborhood and Cricket Bell is once again brought to the forefront of her life, throwing her emotions and life into chaos. Her childhood friends Calliope and Cricket had transformed into two divergent roles in Lola’s life as they all grew up next door to each other. While national ice skater Calliope lost interest in Lola and saw her as a nemesis there to steal her twin brother’s attention away, boy-inventor Cricket became Lola’s lifetime crush. Thankfully, they were rarely around and Lola thought she grew out of her feelings for Cricket when the Bells moved away to pursue Calliope’s career. And she also had Max… But as the Bells move back in next door, Lola is compelled to wonder the accuracy of her self-assessments.
The following section may contain some spoilers…
Experience: I loved this book and I am going to just dive into it. Despite the title more or less giving away the ending (either Lola will leave her present boyfriend for the boy next door or fumble with her feelings for the boy next door and return to her boyfriend), it is truly one of those journey-through-the-plot kind of novel and it is even more ripe with unfolding revelations because of the way Stephanie Perkins used her trademark first-person POV to reach each movement of Lola’s character development. The series of events that occur in Lola’s life, how she deals with each in the present either in reflection of her future aspirations as well as her past experiences kept me on edge. It was not very difficult to guess which ending the book will reach after reading a few chapters but it was very, very important to see how Lola would reach that conclusion all the same. Her reactions kept the suspense alive and the plot churning. And it was very interesting how Perkins managed to blend the character arc as a response to the plot conflict, which by the way was truly plot-driven and not just something the character built up in the protagonist’s head.
Moreover, as Lola transforms in the book, through her viewpoint, we also see this kaleidoscope of other very relevant characters transform, or rather their true natures reveal themselves. In fact, what makes Lola… the book so great is that Lola wouldn’t be Lola if it weren’t for the people in her life. Her parents support her career aspirations and this is an important aspect of Lola, who is really one of the most colorful characters I have come across in years. I kept imagining a butterfly with beautiful sparkly wings but one that could just as easily become a gray moth. And while her fashion sense made her a misfit in school, it’s also sort of okay because she has a great supportive best friend with whom she not only shares couture related traditions but who is also able to sanction Lola’s love affair with Max despite not being able to get along with Max herself.
Which brings us to the romantic conflicts. Max is obviously in a relationship with Lola because he is intrigued and attracted by her creative sense. But at the same time, it’s her quirky outfits that sort of niggle on him too, though he tries to claim that it is really her secretive ways. But this suggests Lola, who is all about expressing herself through her fashion, is really hiding from him because she is not fully sure of herself. An abject contrast to her relationship with Cricket, with whom she seems unable to hide anything about herself at all. Meanwhile, Cricket, as an inventor, actually feeds Lola’s aspirations with tangible contributions. Yet, she cannot consciously accept herself to be in his company because of their past conflicts. Honesty in relationships as well as with oneself is definitely a key theme of this novel. But then, the contrast between Max and Cricket is not only explored by Lola’s reaction to each love interest but also by through the interactions each possible hero has with the important people in Lola’s life. Despite the superficial similarities between Max and Cricket (creative, attractive, somewhat successful and with unique dress sense), the people Lola’s life respond differently to each.
In all this, enters Lola’s former drug addict and somewhat dissolute birth mother with whom she cannot abide and who is again living in her house and making life uncomfortable for everyone, another potential angle for Lola’s growth and self-acceptance. And even Anna and St. Clair, the wonderful heroine and hero from Anna and the French Kiss (first of the series), make appearances to further confuse Lola with their extremely adorable and heartwarmingly cohesive relationship by providing a contrast with her own relationship with Max while throwing her more frequently into Cricket’s path.
Really, with so many people so greatly invested in her life, how can a girl, who is simply trying to keep her boyfriend happy and not get involved with a former-present crush with all the seeming ability to devastate her again, not get confused? But, just as an aside, I would love to have as many creative and crazy people in my life even if they were a bit meddlesome.
Before I finish this review, I must also put in a word for Perkins’s method of world building in this novel. While in Anna…, Perkins spent long beautifully written passages describing Paris through Anna’s eyes, in Lola… she better employs her narrative genius to create individual settings to develop the reader’s sense of each character. Because, again, for Lola, all these people are essential. Perkins delves greatly into helping readers visualize Lola’s and Cricket’s bedrooms, her baker dad’s kitchen, Max’s apartment, even the living room where Lola’s mom moves in and transforms, each space an extension of the characters’ personalities and each a setting where some significant scenes of the novel unfold.
Last but not least, I always love Perkin’s name selection. Lola and Cricket, gotta love it!