Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Simple Storyline With Depth

To continue Irish Movie Month, I viewed Once, a simple story about a guy named Guy and a girl with no name. If you watch this movie, beware. It's about a street musician in Dublin and the language reflects that. The opening scene, although funny, uses the f-word in every sentence as two people interact. That is the worse of it, though. I think they did that to set the scene and maybe create a shock factor. The rest of the movie sprinkles in the foul language like dollops of cow patties over an otherwise beautiful field.

The writer/director, John Carney, said in the extras on the DVD, this story was something "you could write on the back of a postage stamp." And it was, literally. Here is what the movie was about. Two people suffering from similar broken relationships help each other heal by encouraging their music interests. This is the elevator pitch. It's also the entire plot.

But the plot, sparse as it is, has a surprising depth. It's actually a musical, with Guy singing in at least 60% of the movie. But with just a few well placed snatches of dialogue, we feel the couple's pain.

Guy is a singer/guitar player/song writer living on tips as he sings on the streets. He also works in his father's vacuum repair shop. Girl is a Czech immigrant who plays the piano in a music store because she doesn't have one of her own. When Girl meets Guy, she immediately recognizes his songs as ones written for a lost love. Guy, a definite loner, doesn't know what to think of this straight-forward woman who speaks her mind.

Girl draws Guy out by letting him see her world. She brings him to the music shop where she plays a classical piece. He immediately sees a kindred soul, and teaches her one of his songs. They play and sing together, bonding a friendship that will last.

Girl finally gets Guy to tell him about his lost love. He tells her in song, and thus "Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy" is written in the back of a bus. He tells her his girl slept with someone else (although, remember the cow patties--he didn't say "slept") and is now living in London.

Girl invites Guy to her flat, where he meets her baby daughter and her mother. Now we know that our Czech girl has a past.

Guy invites Girl to his place where she meets his Da, and Guy, being a...well...a guy, misinterprets Girl's attention asking her to stay the night. Highly offended, she leaves. (You go girl!) It takes some fancy talking the next day to convince her how sorry he is, and the friendship continues.

He tells her he's going to take her advice and go to London to find the woman who still has his heart. Girl is thrilled. But before he goes, he wants to make a music demo to take with him. She helps him rent a studio and agrees to play piano and sing on the CD. They gather a small band of street musicians for backup, and proceed to rehearse.

Girl tells Guy that she's married. No divorce. It didn't work out and she left with her daughter, but she doesn't want her to grow up without a dad. The romantic in me wants these two to get together in a happily ever after, but I don't think it's to be.

The band is finally ready to record and they lay down several tracts. During a break, Girl finds a piano in another room and plays a classical tune. Guy joins her and encourages her to sing something she's written. She starts, but breaks down before it's over. She cries on Guy's shoulder as he makes the observation that the song is about her child's father. She affirms this, but never says what happened between them. This simple act gives her character depth, and confirms that Guy and Girl are on the same path.

A day after the recording is done, Girl tells Guy that she's spoken to her husband. They're going to make it work. Guy calls his lost love in London letting her know he's coming. She sounds happy to hear that. Before he goes, he buys a piano in the music shop and has it delivered to Girl.

The end.

The theme of this story is "healing." And even though it's a simple story about Guy and a girl, their lost loves and their music, it's a story with depth. They both have real pain. They both hide that pain in their music. They both resolve that pain through each other's encouragement.

Can you write a simple story with depth? Sometimes we get so bogged down in the "rules" that we miss the simple story. I encourage you to write that story with heart, make it simple, give it truth.

If you want to hear "Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy" here is a link. Caution: There are a couple of cow patties in this cute stick-figure video that's also included on the DVD.

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