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MORIARTY Thinks MARCI X Is... Well, Click And See!!

Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.

Earlier tonight, when I sat down to start writing this article, I e-mailed Harry to ask him what he thought of this as a title for the piece:

MORIARTY Thinks MARCI X Is "Like Jon Benet. Only Cuter. And Alive"!!

He quickly sent me back his answer.

"Ummm... no."

Now, before you start screaming at me, there's a reason I wanted to use that joke in the headline. Besides, it's not my joke. The credit belongs to Paul Rudnick, bless his black, black heart. And if it offends you, then I seriously suggest that you avoid the theater when Paramount releases MARCI X later this year, because it is a blistering, take-no-prisoners comedy that left me gasping in shock as much as I laughed.

Originally, I didn't even care about reading the script. I heard the concept described to me (incorrectly) a while ago, and thought it sounded like the sort of high-concept generic live-action comedy crap that Touchstone was squeezing out circa 1988. "Jewish American Princess learns to rap from a famous gangsta rapper." Yeesh. The casting of Lisa Kudrow and Damon Wayans didn't win me over, even though I think both of them are capable of being very funny if the material is right. And when I read that Richard Benjamin was directing...

Here's one of those guys. He made a couple of very good films right up front with MY FAVORITE YEAR serving as a wonderful tribute to the days of YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS and a showcase for one of the great Peter O'Toole performances, and RACING WITH THE MOON serving as an early showcase for the work of Steve Kloves and Sean Penn as well as the exquisite face of the young Elizabeth McGovern. Then he seemed to just lose his ability to pick a script. MY STEPMOTHER IS AN ALIEN? MILK MONEY? MERMAIDS? THE MONEY PIT? MADE IN AMERICA? What? Does he just have a fetish for the letter "M"?!

If so, he's struck paydirt again with what is easily the best thing Paul Rudnick has ever written for the screen. Rudnick has a lot of fans in town, due in no small part to his column for PREMIERE magazine written each month under the byline "Libby Gelman-Waxner." I can't imagine what would make someone write a column using a fictional character's name, but I guess it takes all kinds. I thought his ADDAMS FAMILY VALUES script actually improved on the first film in every way, and there were some great dark laughs in it. If nothing else, it proved he had a way with the punchline. JEFFREY, based on his off-Broadway play, is filled with sharp dialogue, but ultimately it's a little too sitcom for my tastes, relying on easy gay stereotype instead of making the point it seems to reach for so very hard. IN & OUT? Don't get me started. Toothless. Unfunny. Obvious. Misses every target. I actively hated this film from about the 20 minute mark to the end, and the only reason it took me 20 minutes to decide was because the chuckleheads around me kept screaming like something funny was going on. As I walked out of IN & OUT, I thought Rudnick was all hype and no substance. When ISN'T SHE GREAT?, his script about Jacqueline Susann, was made into a Bette Midler film by Andrew Bergman, it looked like the sort of thing I'd never see outside of a Ludavico treatment.

At the start of the week, I was doing some work online and got an IM from the irresistable Marla Singer asking if I'd read MARCI X. I told her no, and was immediately rewarded with an impassioned rant about why I had to read it and how funny it was and how great the film would be and I would thank her after I read it if I would only trust her and take the chance and she was going to go ahead and make me a copy and I'd see I'd see just how right she was. Dizzy, I think I agreed to read it, and she dropped one directly into the pneumatic tube system that leads back here to the Labs. I fished the script out and headed for my favorite reading spot. Now that I've finished it, I have to say again... she's got exceptional taste.

Dated February 21, 2001, this "white shooting script" seems like it's pretty close to what they're about to start shooting. Producer Scott Rudin has a monster hit on his hands if he just avoids a few easy pitfalls with the project. First of all, the rap music in the film has to be authentic and GOOD. It can't be lame white-guy rap, and as great as most of the script is, any of the rhymes Rudnick has written in the script qualify as "lame white-guy rap." For a satire as pointed as this, the only way to truly roast a target is to be as real as possible. Second, this can't be toned down. Right now, it's the single most hysterically savage satire I've encountered since SOUTH PARK - THE MOVIE, and it hits almost as many of its jokes as that film did.

It's on page three that MARCI FELD (Lisa Kudrow) is delivering a speech in honor of her father, famed media mogul Ben Feld, and three of her heiress friends are watching her with a combination of envy and loyalty. Rudnick establishes a HEATHERS-level rapport between the girls and goes for his first "did I really just read that?" joke of the script:

KIRSTEN: She is such a wonderful daughter. She's like Jon Benet.

LAUREN: Only cuter. And alive.

The script pretty much never looks back from that point on. It must have been liberating for Rudnick to unleash his wit to the extent he does here. As Marci's father gets up to accept his award, something calls him away from the stage. Marci follows to find her father and his top employees gathered to discuss something that's just come up:

MARCI: Could I get an Evian on ice with lime? Now?

EXECUTIVE #2 (handing her a glas of water; he's anticipated her demand) Here you go.

MARCI: Crushed ice?

EXECUTIVE #2: I'm sorry, there's an emergency. There wasn't enough time.

MARCI: Are we at war?

Close. It seems that one of the record labels that Feld owns, Felony Assault, has just released a new CD by rap star DR. S (Damon Wayan), and the first video is causing an international uproar. Marci, her father, and the board all watch as clips from the album's first single, "Shoot Your Teacher," are shown, followed by footage of protests and an interview with Senator Mary Ellen Spinkle, a self-appointed media watchdog, who is calling for a total boycott of Feldco and all its subsidiaries. Ben has a heart attack, and is admitted to the hospital, leaving the board to try and solve the problem on their own.

Marci, of course, steps in to handle things, and here's where Rudnick really pulls off something tricky. By all rights, we should hate Marci. She's overprivileged, pushy, manipulative, and completely clueless to the real world. There's something about the writing here, though, that harkens back to when writers knew how to build real screwball comedies, the kind of films where dizzy heiresses and wealthy socialites would trade pithy bon mots before falling in love. Marci is the character Katherine Hepburn would have played if this had been made back in the '30s. It's a perfect fit for the particular comic abilities of Kudrow, and as I read the script, I could hear her voice clearly. I don't know if this was done as a rewrite specifically for her or not, but it's amazing how well Rudnick seems to have built this for her. It's a charming role. There's an open, inquisitive side to Marci that keeps her from being that insufferable brat she is capable of being. She lives in a bubble, yes, but it's not a malicious thing. She doesn't mean to shut herself off from the world. It's just the way she was raised. When she announces t the board that she's going to take over in her father's absence, you can't help but admire how determined she is:

MARCI: I serve on the boards of three major museums. I am a Guest Editor at Vogue, Vanity Fair, and Mademoiselle. And last year alone, I raised over seven figures for literacy, muscular dystrophy, and cancer. In this town, I am cancer.

The board members all protest that Marci doesn't know anything about the world of rap, but she won't hear it:

MARCI: Well, I happen to adore black people, and they worship me. And do you know why?

JACK: Why?

MARCI: Because I tip.

After she convinces the board, she goes to speak to the president of Felony Assault, and here's where Rudnick really starts getting specific. TUBBY FENDERS is definitely supposed to be Suge Knight, and when Marci goes to talk to him, she has to have the meeting in jail. He warns her not to fuck around with Dr. S and not to expect any apologies from anyone, but Marci is determined. She goes directly to Dr. S at a concert, which is where she meets the woman Dr. S is dating, YOLANDA QUINONES, a "gorgeous, haughty supermodel/actress/would-be singer" who is known for her outrageous posterior and her diva attitude.

Hmmm... wonder who that's supposed to be.

Marci confronts Dr. S and tells him that he'll be apologizing publically at the upcoming MTV Awards, and until then, she's enrolled him in Anger Management classes. He responds by trying to humiliate her from the stage, even having her brought out so he can tell the crowd how she's trying to change his "art." The film's central idea - what is "real" and what isn't, and how an artist can ever hope to keep it "real" in the face of success - is introduced in these scenes. Dr. S tells Marci she ain't real because she can't rhyme, and she takes the mic and gives it her best. This is a tightrope of a comic moment for Kudrow, because if she can't win us over, the scene won't work. She's supposed to be performing in front of a hardened crowd of gangsta rap fans, and she somehow makes them cheer her by the end of the scene. A big part of it is going to be attitude. Kudrow seems willing to do anything for her comedy, and she'll need that courage here. She ends up convincing him to go to one anger management class, and he agrees because of how she handled herself onstage.

What begins to develop between the two of them is very funny and very odd. Rudnick has built this as a prototypical romantic comedy, but it still seems surprising when Marci and Dr. S actually fall for each other, leading the black community to ostracize him for not "keeping it real." We actually see Marci's consciousness being raised over the course of the film as she begins to see the world through eyes other than her own for the first time in her life, and Rudnick manages to offer up some cogent points about artistic responsibility and censorship as Congress gets involved in the furor over Dr. S and his album. There's a breezy sense of movie reality to things. Congress and corporations don't move this fast, and Marci would never be allowed to do half of what she does in this film, but we're willing to accept it because this is the world that Rudnick has created.

I love how Rudnick gives every single character great lines at some point in the script. Yolanda gets off some magnificently funny diva behavior as she sulks about Dr. S and his involvement with Marci, and when she plots with Tubby to do something terrible to Marci, her dialogue gave me the giggles:

YOLANDA: You know, my booty, she is very sensitive. She has moods. But Tubby, just now, from your words?

TUBBY: Yeah?

YOLANDA: My booty - she is smiling.

I also love the way Marci and Dr. S play off of each other. I don't think Damon has had a comic role this good before. He gets to spar with Kudrow in scene after scene, and he has a trump card that he plays mercilessly: lust. He drives Marci crazy, and he figures it out before she does. There's a scene at a charity auction that will bring the house down, guaranteeing one of those loud, sustained laughs that just keeps building and building, this film's equivalent of the fake orgasm scene in WHEN HARRY MET SALLY. There's another scene where Marci and her socialite friends recreate "Journey Of My Spirit," a performance by the Dance Theater of Harlem, for Dr. S and all the customers at his nightclub that should leave people either helpless with laughter or shaking with rage.

Oh, yes... some people will be mad at this film. Some people will get crazy mad at this film if everyone does their jobs right. The worst thing that could happen here would be indifference. No one was ambivalent about BLAZING SADDLES when they saw it, so they shouldn't be ambivalent here. This is a cutting story about where we are racially at this particular moment, and it also has a lot to say about what happens when legislators decide what we can see or say. Not that I believe that would ever happen. Not here. Surely not.

I've talked with Harry a few times since the premiere of THAT'S MY BUSH on Comedy Central last week, and now that I've seen two episodes, I have to admit... I think it's disappointing. Maybe they'll figure it out and really start turning out something special, but somehow I doubt it. It seems to me that they missed the mark with the satire on the show. We don't need another show that deconstructs the sitcom. Everything from IT'S GARRY SHANDLING'S SHOW to SEINFELD to THE SIMPSONS has already done that brilliantly. What THAT'S MY BUSH had the potential to do was be timely political satire disguised as a sitcom. Imagine if they were writing and taping with only days to spare between when the shot and when they aired. They could have had an episode last night that had to do with the situation in China, or the way gas prices are skyrocketing, or something that is happening right now. That's the show that would have people talking about it the next day. Great satire always depends on the ability to shock us to some extent, to get though all those protective barriers we set up. Once it's gotten our attention, then it can make whatever points its making. MARCI X surprised me by being as savage as THAT'S MY BUSH is toothless, reminding me of just how fresh this type of comedy can be when it's done right. That's not to say it's perfect, since it isn't. I think the final musical number is a giant leap of faith, and if it falls flat, that's what your audience is going to remember. I also think the moment where Dr. S and Marci finally bond in front of Congress is too convenient, too easy. Still, this is a comedy first, and on that front, it succeeds almost completely. I intentionally didn't quote the lines that made me laugh the hardest, since I'd hate to rob you of the same delicious reaction I had. Suffice it to say, I love this script... "in the butt."*

It's a long road between the script I read and the film you'll see. Let's hope its a charmed one for this potentially piece of comic bliss. Until then...

"Moriarty" out.

* - I swear it makes sense if you've read the script. Seriously. Really. I promise.

Readers Talkback
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  • April 12, 2001, 10:31 a.m. CST

    Tubby = Puffy, not Suge

    by RogerTheShrubber

    Sorry to burst your bubble, evil one. Haven't read the script, but I think it's pretty obvious that your surfboard fell off the Zeitgeist on this one.

  • April 12, 2001, 11:13 a.m. CST

    "Black people came to this country in chains, but it took Jewish

    by marla singer

    Mr. Moriarty - Glad you liked the script as much as I did. (and no, Mr. Note leaver above, Dr. S resembles Puffy more than Tubby. But Im glad you're indepth knowledge of the script helped you suss that one out. Thanks!)

  • April 12, 2001, 11:19 a.m. CST

    "Malice" reference?

    by Rigby

    The "I am cancer" speech Moriarty quotes sure sounds an awful lot like the Alec Baldwin "I am God" monologue in "Malice." It will be interesting to see how they stage it. Since almost no one saw "Malice," this seems a pretty obscure reference.

  • April 12, 2001, 11:22 a.m. CST

    Here's what I don't like about "Addams Family Values"

    by Rigby

    It doesn't make sense to me how bent out of shape everyone gets over Joan Cusack's plot to kill Fester. In this family, all of her diabolical shenanigans would be embraced! Every time she tried to kill Fester, he'd just get more turned on. The rest of the family would cheer. Instead, Rudnik gives them conventional reactions that just aren't as funny. The summer camp stuff is priceless though.

  • April 12, 2001, 11:36 a.m. CST

    The living are so conceited.

    by Milktoast

    I always wait for Rudnick to write a good movie but they all end up with just a few good one liners here and there. Usually the come down to Moriarty's first impression of this story...1988, Touchstone. Hope it leads to bigger things for Damon Waynes.

  • April 12, 2001, 1:27 p.m. CST

    Re: To Rigby and the Old Man

    by Anton_Sirius

    Rigby- Actually, the Addams' DID accept Debbie the way she was. Watch the electrocution scene again, and watch them play along with her dementia. The problem wasn't that the Addams' didn't accept her, but that she didn't accept herself. That and her terrible fashion sense, of course. And as for you, Mr. Evil Genius, I wish you (and everyone else) would stop worshipping at the altar of Kate Hepburn. She was passable at screwball at best, and was pretty bad if she didn't have Cary Grant to bail her out. What that Marci X role sounds like is a modern recreation of Carole Lombard, the true Queen of Screwball. Now THERE was a funny dame.

  • April 12, 2001, 1:33 p.m. CST


    by Sith Witch

  • April 12, 2001, 3:05 p.m. CST

    I am alway aprehensive about rap comedies

    by Isidore

    I do think that the one thing this entire project hinges on, if it is made at all, is can Lisa Kudro rap? Or more important can the team that has to teach her how, give her some good rhymes, and pass her off as believable? That was what I hated about Bulworth, Warren Beatty couldn't even get a decent beat, much less rap. The only non-documentary I have seen so far that pulls off the whole package is "Fear of a Black Hat." It may have been a spinal tap ripoff, but it still spoofed that whole era pretty well. Of course I don't listen to any of that, it just pisses me off when it is done wrong, like this movie no doubt will be. They (those in charge) don't know what goes into making a good record, but still try without any help. Oh well.

  • April 12, 2001, 3:06 p.m. CST


    by Sith Witch

  • April 12, 2001, 3:59 p.m. CST


    by cifra2

    Well, despite the fact that he is not one of my favourites screenwritters, I do like what he did with Addams Family Values and In & Out. Even Jeffrey had good laughs. On the other side is, for example "My stepmother is an alien". Anyways, his strong point is what in Spain we call "mala leche" (bad milk, or something similar): he's good at satire, and so you have the dysfunctional Addams Family and the oh-how-great-it-is-my-gay-teacher finale in In & Out ... politically correct? Only at first sight... everybody was SO nice with Howard Brackett, from Greenleaf, Indiana. Bad Milk samples: In & Out - My mother says this marriage won't last. - Your mother is an alcoholic, my dear. Addams Family Values (about Pugsley) - Oh, he must be a ladykiller! - You bet. Please, do not mistake Bad Milk with Dark Comedy. It is stronger.

  • April 12, 2001, 6:47 p.m. CST

    This just sounds...awful

    by KCMOSHer

    If this piece had been written on April Fools Day, I would have thought it a joke. 'My booty is smiling?' That's supposed to be a good J-Lo joke? Puleeze. Not a single line referred to in this review was even the slightest bit funny. I'm a fan of both cutting satire like South Park - BLU and Rudnick's brilliant Addams Family Values, but this just sounds horrific. I really do not want to pay $8 to see Lisa Judrow (or ANYONE from the friends cast) attempting to rap, even for laughs. You want to see cutting rap parody that's still timely? Watch Fear of a Black Hat. Want to see funny racial satire that's still timely? Watch Blazing Saddles. This sounds like pure unmitigated feces.

  • April 12, 2001, 9:51 p.m. CST

    "Libby Gelman-Waxner"

    by Bono

    "'Libby Gelman-Waxner.' I can't imagine what would make someone write a column using a fictional character's name, but I guess it takes all kinds." Duh! The reason is that he is WRITING AS THE CHARACTER, not as himself.

  • April 13, 2001, 1:47 p.m. CST

    Marci X Dance Scene

    by mrschan

    I got to peek in on the Marci X dance scene with bongo drums. I am assuming this is for the Harlem Dance parody. Anyway, Lisa was in good spirits (especially for having been dancing for around 2 hours straight) and the number looked fun. That helps no one. But I figure I'd share. 'til then, me

  • April 13, 2001, 1:56 p.m. CST

    To Know Hip-Hop Is To Loathe FEAR OF A BLACK HAT

    by mrbeaks

    Chris Rock cut closer with CB4, but even that was scattershot at best. As for Rudnick, read his plays (I HATE HAMLET, THE MOST FABULOUS STORY EVER TOLD, JEFFREY) to best appreciate his singular gift for garish satire.