Written By: Alan Cohen, Alan Freedland, Adam Sztykiel, & Todd Philips
Scene Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-TAGAPKuoGo
Peter, because of Ethan, has been put on a no-fly list and now must travel cross-country with him if he hopes to see his wife give birth. Peter was just beat up, partly due to Ethan’s fake ID. Ethan’s father has recently died, and his overly simplistic personality is grating on Peter.
- Peter wants to ridicule Ethan’s acting ability.
- Ethan wants to prove he has the talent to make it in Hollywood.
- Ethan asks if Peter’s okay. Calmly, Peter taunts Ethan for having a fake ID. Says it’s ridiculous, especially since Ethan isn’t a “real actor”.
- Ethan asks for Peter to give him a scene to perform. Peter gives him one- tell Julia Roberts that you have terminal cancer.
- Ethan performs poorly. Peter plainly calls it awful. Gives Ethan another scene — “Football coach who needs to fire his team up at halftime.”
- Ethan leaves, says the scene is stupid. Re-enters in character, starts giving a comedically bad speech.
- Peter stops him, changes the scene. Tells Ethan that his character is getting a call from his wife, who wants a divorce.
- Ethan plays out the scene. Takes the call. Begins crying into the phone. Peter is offput.
- Ethan continues, says into the phone that he doesn’t want to be left alone. Peter is obviously uncomfortable.
- Ethan finishes the scene and leaves the bathroom.
Why It Works:
Quiet Tonal Shift: When I first saw this scene, my jaw dropped. Not because it was necessarily astounding, but simply because, without even realizing it, this comedically premised scene had morphed into an intensely dramatic one. This isn’t bad by any means- in fact, transitioning from comedy into drama is one of the hardest things to do tastefully. Regardless, the writers pull off the switch here, in large part due to the scene’s clear set-up and the depth afforded to each character.
Clever Format: The set-up of one character giving the other exercises in acting is already a fun one and sets the audience expectations for a variety of situationally based jokes. And though we get some good moments of levity in this scene (the Julia Roberts moment is particularly funny), our expectations blind us to the reality beneath the scene- Ethan’s need for connection. When the scene’s emotional core shines through in it’s final beats, the audience’s emotional guards have naturally been lowered, making everything that much more emotional.
Depth in Character: It’s easy to write Ethan’s character off as an idealist trope, befitting the comedy genre. Rather than fall into this rather plain route, the writers do something special here- they turn Ethan into a deeply layered character, someone defined not by their quirks and comedic potential, but by the emotional heart within them. Ethan, despite his jovial demeanor, is someone terrified of being alone. Though this somber level of character isn’t often considered a mainstay in comedies, it adds a surprising level of impact which, as evidenced in this scene, creates for emotionally poignant moments.
Comedy is, undoubtedly, one of the best ways to bring about emotional shock. Scenes like this, which set the audience expectations for comedy and, as a result, lower their defenses, make it all the more powerful when a dramatic gut punch rounds the corner.