Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Full Synopsis For Tennessee!! **SPOILERS**

Written By: ---
Genre: Drama/Road Movie
Pages: 111
Read By: Chris Sorensen

Date of Coverage: Wednesday, March 6, 2006
Recommendation: Pass

Concept good
Characterization good
Dialogue fair
Storyline good
Structure fair

Logline: When cab driver Carter learns his brother has leukemia, he leads them on a
journey from New Mexico to Tennessee in the hope of securing a bone marrow transplant
from their estranged father.

Story begins with a flashback of an 18 year-old version of CARTER sporting a bloody lip and speeding away from Kansas in an old car. He leans his head out of the window, tasting freedom… from what, we don’t yet know.

Jump to the present. Carter’s now in his late thirties. He drives a beat up old cab for aliving, shuttling about Albuquerque’s low life. He lives in a mobile home with his brother ELLIS (20’s), an amateur photographer with a love for photographing mountains.

The sky falls when Carter discovers Ellis lying in a pool of blood and developing fluid. The doctor’s verdict: acute leukemia. While Carter gets tested as a possible bone marrow donor, Ellis pens a secret letter to his father. When Carter proves to be a negative match, Ellis reveals his own plan: head to Knoxville, Tennessee to find their FATHER. Perhaps he’ll be a match
Carter has reservations about this plan. Search out their father? Memories begin to flood over him including a vision of a pretty young girl named LAUREL.

Ellis’s need wins out – Carter collects him at the hospital and they head out on the highway in Carter’s cab. While camping out, talk of childhood camping trips gives birth to a frightening dream/memory for Carter – his drunken father striking him. Waking, Carter drowns the memory with half a bottle of Jack Daniels.

The cab’s transmission dies in Texas. When the brothers order a single breakfast betweenthem, it’s pretty clear they don’t have the cash to fix the car. This is remedied by KRYSTAL (20’s/30’s), a waitress who sneaks them extra coffee, bacon. Ellis takes a
shine to her, and when he learns she has always dreamed of heading to Nashville to try to become a country singer, he invites her along for the ride… if she’ll provide the ride.

Krystal’s reaction – thanks, but no thanks. Ellis goes to work on Krystal. He makes sure that she overhears him talking about her on the payphone in glowing terms. As Ellis leaves, Krystal realizes this may be her last chance. She heads out the door after him.

Sitting in Krystal’s driveway is a tarp-covered car. Before Krystal goes into the house to pick up some things, she lets drop a few tidbits of information – she’s married and her husband FRANK is a cop. High tension as Krystal sneaks into the house, grabs her guitar
and maneuvers unseen past a gang of hubbie’s poker buddies. Outside, she reveals the car -- a bright yellow Mustang. They’re off.

Oklahoma. They head to a Tecumseh bar where Krystal and Ellis toss down tequila and cut up on the dance floor. Carter abstains until urged by Krystal – big mistake. Carter gets trashed, and unconsciously gropes Krystal while dreaming of Laurel. A bouncer steps in, Carter fights back. Boom, he’s down for the count.

Back in Texas, Frank discovers that his beloved car is missing. Oh yes, and also his wife. He issues and APB and heads out on the highway.

Krystal criticizes Carter’s drinking. He can’t be selfish. Ellis is the one who is important right now. Carter speaks up – she has no idea what he’s given up for his family.

Arkansas. Krystal leads Ellis into a closed tourist cave where they go skinny dipping (and more). Outside the cave, Carter wrestles with the urge to down a bottle of Jim Beam, ends up smashing it on the ground.

While driving, Carter and Krystal talk. She tells him Frank is bad to her. He tells her little about his own father, but hints at his love for Laurel. When Ellis gets a bad fever, Carter has to share his brother’s illness with her (and the reason for the trip). The release of secrets gives rise to more memories for Carter – his father drinking Jim Beam and ramming him with a table for losing a football game.

Frank tracks them down, first to a motel, then to a Waffle House. A car chase ensues during which Krystal makes some tricky maneuvers, getting away from Frank and allowing them to sneak aboard a freight train bound for Nashville.

Once in Nashville, the trio exits the train only to discover that they’ve left behind the duffel bag with all their cash. Krystal chooses to pawn her guitar, but Carter has a better idea. He hands her a flyer for an open mike night at a local saloon. Prizes awarded.
Krystal comes in second. She gives the boys her winnings for bus fare, says her goodbyes and heads back to the saloon. Frank is waiting for her. He tries to get her back, but her mind is made up. She’s staying in Nashville.

On the bus, Carter and Ellis reminisce about a good memory of their father, the time he let them lie on a runway and watch planes land over them. Ellis’s nose starts bleeding. Carter rushes him to a hospital.

Carter says he’ll go find their father alone. Ellis makes a request of his brother – take photos of the surrounding mountains. Says there is a good view from across the street from a particular middle school. Carter agrees. While snapping photos, he spies Laurel coming out of the middle school.

Carter heads out on his own to find his father. As he travels, more memories pop up – he and Laurel had made plans to go to South Carolina together.

Back at the hospital, Ellis leaves his hospital bed, orders a taxi and sends the cab driver off with a shoebox.

Carter finally finds his father – at the Cedar Springs Church Cemetery. He returns to the hospital, takes Ellis out to the airport. They lie there watching planes land and say their goodbyes without saying goodbye.

Carter gets in touch with Krystal, who visits and sings for Ellis. Ellis asks Carter to climb in bed with him, which he does. Ellis dies next to his brother.

Carter’s memory floodgate drops. He relives everything about the night they left Tennessee. His father attacks his mother, he fights back. He packs up Ellis and his mother in the car, says goodbye to Laurel and heads out, just like at the beginning of the story.

When Carter makes one last visit to his father’s grave, the groundskeeper hands him a shoebox – the one we saw Ellis send off with a cab driver. A note from Ellis reveals that he knew his father was dead, that the trip was his way of getting his brother back toTennessee, back to Laurel and back to hope.

Dealing with themes of familial estrangement, violent childhood pasts and alcoholism, the script plays out like a road trip version of Affliction.

The main problem lies in the fact that while we are clued into the violence and hate that gave rise to Carter’s exodus from Tennessee, the scars it left remain mostly hidden in terms of their effect on the action of the story. Other than a scene he feels up Krystal after drinking too much, this emotional baggage he’s been carrying around for years doesn’t have any hold over the forward movement of the story.

The drama that is Carter’s past is much more interesting than anything he comes up against in the present story. I think of The Prince of Tides where the main character is hiding the dark secret about one terrifying night in his childhood where attackers rape him and his family. It works because the act of uncovering that truth, his therapy is the present action of the story. I don’t mean to belittle Carter’s ability to overcome vehicle breakdowns, to evade police and to search out his father, but there is a major disconnect between his demons and his journey. They run parallel, rarely intersecting.

This gives rise to a secondary problem – with the absence of a strongly conflicted main character whose struggle plays itself out in the present, we are forced to look to other characters to drive the story for us. It is ultimately Krystal who gives Act Two any shape
or meaning. It is her flight from her oppressive husband that gives rise to the main tension. It is her attraction for Ellis and her rehabilitation of Carter that cause relationships to grow. If there is a choice role in the script, it is Krystal’s.

It’s a shame that what works so well in this script come way too late to make up for lost opportunities. The fact that Ellis has known about his father’s death all along, and that the entire trip is actually for Carter’s benefit sheds wonderful new light on the Act Three scenes. This made for a difficult second read. While less than thrilled with Act Three the first time around, knowing this secret made the second read much more compelling.

The concept was melodramatic without pushing the envelope of credibility too far. Easy to latch onto, provided a clear journey.

Just as this script has a wealth of amazing touches (a love scene which takes place in a closed tourist cave, Ellis getting Krystal to go with them by talking her up on the payphone), it had just as many clich├ęs. When they find themselves out of cash, Krystal
competes in a music contest and wins $250. The bells of convenience were ringing loud and clear as I read that section. Carter’s father was an abusive alcoholic who would
berate him for his performance on the football field. Isn’t this the cookie-cutter father from so many other stories? Friday Night Lights was on a few nights ago – Carter’s father was a character in the film… to the letter.

I suppose the dialogue was pa$$able, but I found it difficult to hear much difference from one character to the next. Ellis seemed the most fleshed out, dialogue-wise. The language he uses in describing the mountains is the only dialogue that sings. Carter’s silent sections give me a much better idea of who this guy is than his actual lines.

The first act is padded. Too much stagnant time with too few surprises. Things don’t kick in until we meet Krystal on page 29. That would be fine if her departure on page 76 didn’t mark the total end of her impact on the story. I guess I don’t understand why
Krystal appears other than to give the boys a ride. Sure, she has a little romance with Ellis. Sure, she calls Carter on his drinking. My feeling is that she is simply a tool to help raise the tension and to help the physical journey across country to continue. Carter didn’t
need her to show up to finish out the story. Her appearance caused complications but didn’t help to illuminate the character of our main guy, Carter.

Ultimately, the characters in Tennessee journey much further physically than they do


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