The high concept trapped inside I Love You Too

by Allen Palmer on May 27, 2010

in Film analysis, Screenwriting tips

I love you too Megan Gale Brendan Cowell Peter Dinklage Peter Helliar Yvonne Strahovski

Peter Helliar’s debut feature is disappointing but buried deep in the film is a high concept that might have made for a huge hit.

I went to a comedy night for cancer charity CanTeen and Peter Helliar was one of the funniest comics on show. He’s a talented comedy writer and, as an actor, he could be Australia’s Seth Rogen but his first feature doesn’t deliver on that promise. Yet, within it was the seed of greatness.

The problem with the film is that it doesn’t have a strong dramatic concept. In the first act, Jim (Brendan Cowell) is unable to say “I love you” to his girlfriend of 3 and a bit years, Alice (Yvonne Strahovski), and she dumps him. OK, so he’s got a flaw. But what goal does this give him that can drive the drama of a 90 min feature? Not a whole lot.

He chances upon Charlie (Peter Dinklage) who happens to be a master writer of the love letter and there is the hint here that a Cyrano de Bergerac storyline might emerge. Or perhaps something like the wonderful Il Postino where the lovable but unsophisticated postman gets poetry tips from Pablo Neruda in the hope of wooing the gorgeous Beatrice Russo. But the idea doesn’t really develop and Jim and Charlie take an entirely desultory approach to their task. This presents 3 problems.

Firstly, because our hero isn’t actively pursuing a goal, against mounting forces of antagonism, it doesn’t create enough conflict so the film’s pace flags in the middle.

Secondly, because there isn’t enough conflict, there isn’t enough comedy. Peter Helliar is a funny guy but in films you need more than one-liners. You need structure so the conflict – and the laughs – can escalate.

But the biggest problem with the absence of a committed, concrete goal is that it means Jim can’t be transformed by his experiences. If you want us to be moved by the ending of the film, we need to feel the hero has been to hell and back and forever altered by journey. Here, Jim just sits around chatting a lot of the time which might make for good therapy but it’s not the stuff of great movies.

After an hour, feeling the film must surely have fired its best shot, I was actually on the verge walking out when a bit of magic happened.

Early in the film, Jim discovers that Charlie has an undelivered love letter for a “Francesca”. Part of the compact – that I didn’t buy – is that Jim will deliver this letter for Charlie but we don’t know who Francesca is. However, around the hour mark, we discover that Charlie, played by person of short stature, Peter Dinklage, is madly in love with supermodel Francesca (played by real life supermodel, Megan Gale).

One of the most famous movie pitches of all time was this: “Arnold Schwarzenegger, Danny Devito, Twins”. These guys don’t have quite the same household name brand recognition but I still think that this sounds like an intriguing proposition and an arresting image for a one-sheet: “Peter Dinklage, Megan Gale, Lovers”.

Not only is the idea of a shambling 4’ 6” guy wanting to date a svelte 6’ 2” supermodel a highly promising idea, Dinklage and Gale absolutely light up the screen. (Margaret Pomeranz agreed.) The star of In Bruges and Death at a Funeral is able to communicate his wound without talking about it and Megan Gale has a warmth and vulnerability that left me frustrated that this was only a subplot and not the main event.

What a shame. Trapped inside a feature that suffered for the want of a big idea was a high concept that was both infinitely more marketable and unquestionably more affecting.

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