Thursday, May 31, 2007


Where have the months gone? Summer’s right around the corner and I have yet to post a bona fide script review for 2007. I can’t say that I never procrastinate, but I do try to meet my obligations. I pay taxes. I work. I shower and shave on a daily basis. Well, maybe not every day, but often enough. I still have a few more scripts to go, and expect to be done soon.

I don’t do it very often, but once in a while I invite a writer to resubmit his or her work if I think their first submission had promise. Such was the case a few months back with Ian Goh’s BORN IN THE RAIN, a lovely little screenplay that, at the time, I chose not to feature in a full review. (Though it did earn a small writeup in my previous post.) Yet when Ian recently contacted me again offering a revised version of the script, I couldn’t pass it up. Though I think it still fails to correct the significant flaws I saw in the material the first time around (more on that later), there’s so much that the script gets so wonderfully, perfectly right that I can now give it a hearty endorsement.

It’s always important for critics to keep an open mind (or is that “open minds”?), and The Unsung Critic is no exception.

Written by Ian Goh
35 Dairy Farm Rd,
#01-01 Dairy Farm Estate, Singapore 679052
Phone: +65 98715383

What a little thing of beauty this is – an offbeat, humorous, witty and bittersweet tragicomedy that balances a fine line between both cynicism and sentimentality. I could say that at times this story almost drowns in cute, gooey schmaltz, and is most certainly not a tale for cynics…but then I could also say at times it is so sharp witted, so clever and engaging, that even the most cynical minds will find much to enjoy and admire. It’s the sort of thing where you feel all sorts of emotions, leaving you both happy and sad, frustrated yet riveted, fulfilled yet wanting more.

Above all, though, I could say that BORN IN THE RAIN is a story crafted with a lot of love by a writer who actually gives a damn. How refreshing it is to read the work of someone who pours his heart and soul into his characters, rather than merely hammering out another script he thinks will easily sell.

You see, that’s the big problem I’ve had with most of the submissions I’ve received. They’re not stories, but soulless products…the aspiring screenwriter’s means to an end. (The end being that six or seven figure script sale, or a three-picture deal at Columbia.)

In the last nine months I’ve read scripts about science-fiction heroes, mafia antiheroes, superspy agents, serial killers, monsters, and even murderous shopping malls…but never have I read anything like BORN IN THE RAIN. Even with its faults, it always feels fresh and original.

The script follows the life and loves of a Brishen, a young man of oddity not unlike Holden Caulfield, Max Fischer, or Harold Chasen before him. (And if you don’t know who those guys are, shame on you.) When Brishen was seven, his father left him for another woman, so he grows up under his mother Roseline’s care -- a loving, if senile, woman.

The main story begins as Brishen is in high school, but he is not your common teenaged virgin misfit. He has a sharp, determined wit, revels in his status as a social outcast, and is surprisingly experienced in the ways of women. (The latter point deserves a significant carp, however, as Brishen’s lack of charm makes any girl who so easily falls for him a real stretch of the imagination.)

Brishen keeps his emotional distance from everyone as he tends to his mother, who is dying of liver cancer in a hospital. Her nurse is Rachel, whom Brishen was once involved, and who dutifully endures Roseline’s ruthless lunatic rantings and ravings on a daily basis. (More on Rachel later...)

Enter Amanda, a fellow student at Brishen’s high school, whom Brishen is paired up for class. Their relationship is thorny at first – Goh deserves significant credit for writing their razor-sharp exchanges – but when Roseline dies, the two teenagers form a real bond…that, naturally, soon blossoms into love.

This is not your ordinary, clichéd teenage romance, but a quirky, bittersweet and tender character study of two souls so wounded, they’re almost too frightened to love again. Knowing too well that love can be short lived, they still can’t help themselves from sharing it.

The middle act is a road trip, where Brishen, Amanda in tow, decides to visit his long-lost father. Not wanting to give it all away, I’ll just say that Brishen finds out much, much more than he ever bargained for.

The script’s first 3/4ths are often wonderful, showing not only a strong sensitivity to character, but written with a genuine cinematic style. Different moments and scenes are comically juxtaposed with dialogue and voiceovers, proving that there’s a real writing flair to go along with all that heart.

Up to this point, I only had a few reservations here and there. Unlike Amanda, Brishen’s previous love interests are neither adequately explained nor explored. Rachel, in particular, is a poorly defined character, and when she resurfaces in the script’s final act, it…

Well, I’m jumping ahead of myself now. Let’s backtrack a bit.

Another problem I had was with Goh’s use of a flashback device interspersed throughout the story. An unnamed old man narrates Brishen’s tale -- whether it’s Brishen himself isn’t clear until the end -– and while this keeps with the tone of Goh’s narrative, it adds little to the story. To use a voiceover is one thing, but to jump back and forth to redundant scenes featuring the old man seems not only excessive, but takes away from the flow of the central story.

The timeframe of the juxtaposing stories isn’t very clear, either. When the old man’s identity is revealed, it’s a bit confusing because both his story and Brishen’s story seem to be contemporary. (If Brishen’s teenage years were set in the 1950’s, it’d make more sense.)

Then comes the final act.

I’m sure it would work for some; I can appreciate what it means, and what Goh was trying to do. But how else can I say it? It annoyed the hell out of me.

Rachel makes a surprise return, and with her actions she pushes the story in a completely different direction. For me, it was the wrong one. Yes, I know life does that, but in the film it left me feeling both irritated and angry instead of moved or emotionally stirred.

This is why I was so conflicted over BORN IN THE RAIN. To use a bad sports pun, so much had worked up until this point, that when Goh threw a fast ball, I didn’t just duck. I fell onto the ground, got dirty, and had a bloody nose.

To Goh’s credit, his rewrite streamlined many of the first draft’s problems, and most of the script moves at a brisk pace. But it feels strangely incomplete. Plot doors are opened, but never fully explored, much less closed.

As it is, the final act might still work if Goh goes back and explores Rachel’s character a little more fully. Why is she this way? What causes her to do what she does? There isn’t so much as a single hint or foreshadowing about any of what is to come, and it feels jarring and maddening when it happens.

Those might seem like some really ugly warts, but the rest of BORN IN THE RAIN is truly, utterly beautiful. As frustrated as I am with it, I also love it. Like the magnificent film version of THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP – and even that movie had its critics – this is a quirky, unusual, and highly original love story that goes in all sorts of directions.

Is it commercial? Would it make money? Frankly, I couldn’t give a shit. All I know is that I will never forget it.