Wednesday 4 March 2015

Disguising the exposition

I've been looking at confrontational dialogue scenes in movies lately, the ones where he and she face off, and maybe get a few home truths off their chest. I expected to find lots of them in romantic comedies, but was surprised to discover how few rom/coms have such a scene. 

You don't believe me? It's true. Think of the (financially) most successful rom/com of all time, My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002). Lots of conflict, but it's with the family, not the boyfriend. In What Women Want (2000), the second most successful, the conflict is with himself, his daughter, his boss and most of all, the weird ability he suddenly develops. Or think of movies like Sleepless in Seattle (1993), or Serendipity (2001), where the happy couple barely get to exchange opening pleasantries, forget about having time to work up to a righteous indignation. 

There's a great confrontation scene in Jerry Maguire (1996), where she slugs Tom Cruise, but that's the old girlfriend, not RenĂ©e Zellweger. There is a face-slap scene in When Harry Met Sally... (1989), something I've discovered even aficionados of the movie don't remember (but that's a subject for another time). In Only You (1994), Marisa Tomei gets to beat up Robert Downey, Jr., and in You've Got Mail (1998), Meg Ryan confronts Tom Hanks; but I had to go to an action movie like Die Hard (1988) for a great spousal confrontation scene, or Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), where the Best Punch Award goes to Karen Allen, not Harrison Ford. 

Some of the finest confrontation dialogue scenes take place between married couples. Check out the first meeting between the exes in That Old Feeling (1987) for a great example of two people building up a full head of steam.  

When exes meet, there's liable to be some friction.
Another is The Out-Of-Towners (1999), a remake of an old Jack Lemmon movie. It was while watching it again that I came to appreciate just how far you can go in disguising an exposition scene. 

Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn play a married couple who are in New York so he can attend a job interview. He needs the job because he just got fired for being too old, but he hasn't told his wife yet. Now comes the moment when she has to be informed. It could have been the dullest piece of exposition imaginable; instead, it's the funniest

Steve Martin tells the group, "I got fired!"
scene in the movie. They seek refuge in an old church to escape the close attention of a large and aggressive dog, only to find themselves being welcomed into an AA-style meeting for people with sex problems. Check out the movie to see just how well a simple piece of exposition can be turned into a classic encounter.

First posted: 12 September 2011

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