Profanity, Done Right
Hence, when I see it done well, I love it.
I've often mentioned to friends a few of my comic axioms -- things that in my opinion are simply funny. Period. Monkeys, for instance. They're just funny. I'm not saying I'm going to write a movie with monkeys in it (although... nah), but I just think they can't help but be funny. Pet monkeys are even funnier. You know, people have to put diapers on them things?! Get a baby, for God's sake! At least they grow up and learn to take care of themselves. And don't you realize how silly you look with a diaper-wearing yet hairy primate perched on your shoulder or hanging onto your back? Let's not even discuss the way that relates to the old cliche about such animals and the place you've got it latched onto.
Anyway, to get back on track, another axiom I've mentioned is old ladies cursing. I just think that's funny. Or at least I did. I'm learning to revise my list of comic axioms and remove that. It is definitely overplayed, and not quite as funny as it once was. So I guess it wasn't comedically axiomatic after all. But I think the principle behind it remains true. It is funny because it is unexpected.
Well, I just was watching a film in which profanity was used in similar fashion. It was not unexpected because the character wouldn't talk like that (in fact it would be bad writing if the cursing, or "swearing" as some people call it but I never did, were actually out of character). It was unexpected because it was virtually the only time there was any profanity uttered in the whole film. Thus it was hilarious, and worked so wonderfully.
I'm referring to My Best Friend's Wedding. I had never seen it before, but was watching it now as research for the next screenplay I intend to write, whenever I finally finish Hell on Wheels. I always like to think ahead to my next project while I'm still in the midst of one. Anyway, the next one is a wedding themed comedy, not out of line with this film, or even Monster-in-Law, which I also watched recently.
So anyway, if you don't want to read any details of this film, stop reading now. But for those of you who have already seen it, or don't care, I'm referring to the part when George, Julianne's gay best friend, is introduced to Michael, the titular best friend. (Heh heh -- I said titular.) Anyway, Julianne tells Michael that George is actually her fiance, and George is visibly flabbergasted. Julianne covers for him by continuing to ramble at the mouth, and spouts the following line:
He's racing back to New York. He just came in for a few hours to, uh... to uh... fuck me!
The curse word at that point was completely unexpected, and thus truly hilarious. And though I've never been a huge Julia Roberts fan, I actually did gain a lot more respect for her acting in this film. Her facial expressions were fabulous throughout, and the deadpan look she gives Rupert Everett as she utters that word is priceless.
That, my friends, is the right way to do profanity in a screenplay. Well done, Mr. Bass!
Tags: screenwriting, profanity