Written by Neil Monaghan /Reviewed by Antonio Rozich
When you get a script to review, you always worry about one thing — what if the first 7 pages don’t catch your attention. It’s much easier to go through a movie you find boring than a dull script. And whether a script will be dull or not, depends on the first 7 pages. If it turns out to be boring, you know you’re stuck here with an additional 110 of these. Fortunately, the first 7 pages of With Friends Like These by Neil Monaghan are the same as the last 110 — a fantastic script that makes me wonder why isn’t on the big screen already.
Right from the bat, Monaghan introduces a bunch of characters but manages to make you remember each one. From a woman frustrated with his husband and her social standings to a freshly baked actor plagued by a silly commercial he did way back when.
This provides a solid foundation that keeps the story rolling the entire time. The story follows a group of mid to high-class people, each one with their flaws and virtues. Keep in mind, it’s the flaws that push the story.
Although it sounds obvious, the script is best compared to mid-Woody Allen’s work, along the lines of Hannah and Her Sisters for example. The main reason for this comparison is that like most of Woody Allen movies, it is great, but in someone else’s hands, it would likely be hot garbage. Having a bunch of emotionally scared 30 to 40-year-olds mingling, cheating, and lying can be extremely boring, except if you know how to add some witty humor to break the cringe.
Monaghan manages to do on fewer than one occasion. The humor is subtle yet you feel it every time you need to. Some of the jokes the characters make might even fly over your head, but they form a tight net with every next tied to the former.
Furthermore, the jokes (as well as the rest of the dialogue) don’t have that “one-mind effect.” Sometimes, especially in the scripts, you can read through the words. Even though there might be a 30-year-old American guy and a 60-year-old French woman talking, every word or gesture feels like it’s coming from the mind of a single person, the writer. But here, every joke, word, or a sentence, feels fleshed out and fits naturally to the character saying it.
Besides moving the story forward, this also proves to be crucial to keeping the script from falling apart. Monaghan takes an interesting yet risky route of telling the story from different angles, depending on each character’s POV.
Although you revisit the same situation over and over again, it always feels fresh and new. The mere shift in the perspective is enough for Monaghan to create a new story. Also, what is revealed in each revisit never seems to drain the “intrigue resources” so that the next revisit doesn’t have anything worthwhile to show. Each perspective is like a piece of an obvious puzzle that was there the whole time, you just didn’t bother to look.
Finally, each of these “character chapters” ensures to introduce the following in a natural way. This way the story runs smoothly without feeling disjointed or having that effect where it snaps the reader (or the viewer) out of the fictional illusion.
What makes a fresh movie or a movie script isn’t the story itself, but how the writer handles the story or the idea. The idea, although original to the writer, can often be a dull replay of everything the inexperienced writer consumed beforehand — movies and books included.
But, a story can also be refreshing even when you feel like you experienced it somewhere before. The thin line between a dull and a witty story isn’t in the story itself — that’s just the end result. The thin line is in the hands of the writer, their experience, and awareness of what they are writing. Monaghan does it terrifically with his script for With Friends Like These. A sure success if it hits the screens, no matter if it’s the big screen or it pops up on your Netflix.