Talky Tuesday: Let’s talk structure

Life in lockdown, now with broadband internet (long story) and always with Amazon Prime. Tonight’s viewing pleasure was the 2008 buddy stoner comedy Pineapple Express, and looking at it as a writer, I have to say that this thing is perfectly structured, at least going by the bullshit rules that the late and not lamented Syd Field tried to push on everyone.

In a way, it reinvents the screwball comedies of the 1930s as a modern road trip bromance, and all of the heavy lifting is done by its stars, Seth Rogen and James Franco, in a script written by Rogan and Evan Goldberg, and directed by David Gordon Green.

But what I’m really looking at here is the story structure, and it follows all of the beats, as Rogan’s character Dale plods through his life as a 25-year-old process server who’s dating an 18-year-old high school girl (yes, eww, despite what he says), only to one evening witness a murder committed by a drug kingpin and a dirty cop.

He runs to the only safe haven he can think of — the apartment of his pot dealer Saul — and thanks to a particular unique strain of pot that gives the film its title, the feces hit the rotary oscillator early on, and then everything escalates from there.

What’s great about this film is that it makes us really care about these two guys in the first act and then, exactly twenty-seven minutes in, pulls the rug out. For the next hour, it’s a game of out of the frying and into the fryer… then into a deeper fryer, and so on and so on in a beautiful Matryoshka trick of “How much worse can we make it for these dudes?”

Hint: End of Act II… it looks like all of Dale’s relationships have gone down the toilet, including his safety net Saul, and entirely because he happens to smoke pot. It goes surprisingly deep for a film that starts out looking like it’s just about a couple of lovable goofs who love to get stoned.

Bonus points: Corrupt Cop Lady and Kingpin mistakenly determine that Dale and Saul are evil masterminds who are so dangerous that they make the Yakuza shit their kimonos. (Yes, the film only ever specifies that the Big Bad’s nemeses are “The Asians,” but casting and language hints strongly indicate Japanese.)

But, back to the film and its structure and story.

The end of Act II moments, in terms of the characters are absolutely heart-rending and devastating. This is when we realize how much Dale and Saul feel about each other.

And at the very end… Dale and Saul can and do kill for each other, and for all intents and purposes, this film isn’t an action/adventure flick. Rather, it’s a romance about two dudes. At the beginning, Saul is just some dude Dale buys his weed from. By the end, Saul is the bestie forever that Dale would and will die for.

Meanwhile, toss in the apparently invulnerable Red, who both accidentally rats out Saul and wants to be his bestie, and the real end-game of the film is a hetero-polyamorous gang bang, at least above the table, in a diner right out of Pulp Fiction.

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