May 14, 2021


"Hey, I don't remember saying that..."

I've said in previous posts how dialogue can really pull double duty in revealing character, motivations, dynamics, etc. Because it is such a flexible facet of the screenplay form, it is arguably the most vital part of it by far. Here are a few touchstones to consider when crafting your dialogue.


A farce needs an impeccably staccato symphony of energetic words, a western is more visually oriented than dialogue-heavy, and a musical may require characters to act in a heightened tone to fit surrounding songs. It's about execution, after all, and few other things in film are immune to the effects of the wrong tone.

"I'm not an American, I'm a nymphomaniac."
This line fits the tone of the film, folks. Trust me.


Indeed, dialogue can make a character "leap off the page" and gives the reader an idea of what they're like without the help of visuals.

Keeping Up Appearances forms its premise around basically one joke:
how much of a snobbish, "prim and proper" force of nature one woman can be.


In real life, people say "um", "er", and countless other sounds and punctuation that would be anathema to a traditional screenwriter. But I say, it's a subtle and sneaky way to humanize your characters. Keep in mind the need for rhythm and flow in your dialogue, of course. 


Characters oftentimes repeat important words, information, quotations, etc., whether from an in-universe source or from other characters. Of course, have fun with this. Does a character misquote another? Are they mocking the original line? Or repeating a word of advice? Even intentionally cheesy can work if you aim for earnestness, sweetness, and heartwarming.

Or alternatively, smarmy and sociopathic.


Never forget to read your dialogues back in your head (and even aloud). You'll gain a better idea of wording, flow, voices, etc. It can even just be a difference in one more or one less syllable, so trust your reader's instinct.

Copyright © Chynna Moore

January 25, 2021


Few things define an era better than its politics and films, whether borrowing too many aspects from each other, or capturing an optimism that would soon evaporate in the next decade. While it seemed to get lost in the shuffle of political satires released during the Clinton administration, Peter Segal's 1996 effort has become (for this writer) a microcosm of the post-TCM/Grumpy Old Men era, nestled in that "Cold War is over, let's rest on our laurels" cultural zeitgeist.

Jack Lemmon as Former President Russell Kramer

James Garner as Former President Matt Douglas

Dan Aykroyd as President William Haney

John Heard as Vice President Ted Matthews

Bradley Whitford as Carl Witnaur

Everett McGill as Colonel Paul Tanner,
continuing his run of playing villainous government officials.

Wilford Brimley as Joe Hollis

Lauren Bacall as Margaret Kramer

Intended as yet another Jack Lemmon-Walter Matthau vehicle, My Fellow Americans came off the heels of box-office hits Grumpy Old Men (1993) and Grumpier Old Men (1995), but with Matthau having to drop out for health reasons, he would be replaced by James Garner, himself coming off a successful run of Rockford Files T.V. movie revivals.

Truth be told, Garner pulls off the "ladies man" part of Douglas
better than 90s Matthau would have.

Armed with a solid script and excellent cast, MFA is a surprisingly difficult movie to gauge in that there's so much going on in it. But while it barely made back its budget and was considered weak for a political satire, it, like many 90s mainstream comedies, comes off as more and more wide-eyed with the passage of time.

It's an old premise, but the "two enemies forced to work together" plot
is the movie's glue, given the talents of Garner and Lemmon.

Former Presidents Kramer (Lemmon) and Douglas (Garner) are drawn into an elaborate conspiracy involving bribery, assassinations, cover-ups, and a nationwide manhunt. All the while, they have to contend with both each other and the truth of their unfulfilled lives after their presidencies.

Kramer merchandises his image to all hell in the hopes
of staying relevant after his presidency.

MFA is certainly dated in more ways than one, but its script, cast, direction, and chemistry bring it well above its negative critical reception.

Lemmon somewhat outshines Garner due to having more of a character arc,
and Kramer is surprisingly earnest and vulnerable given the genre.

Douglas is hardly a stretch for Garner's (underrated) capabilities,
but he's perfectly ornery and has terrific chemistry with Lemmon.
(Especially considering the role wasn't intended for him.)

Heard is pitch perfect as Matthews, a few-years-removed riff
on former Vice President Dan Quayle.

Matthews offensively apologizing to the black golfer he hit with his ball
is unfortunately all too timeless today.

The film's only tonal off note is when Genny (Connie Ray), mother of a homeless family
that's driving Kramer and Douglas, explains how she and her husband lost their jobs
and home due to the presidents' policies. The scene is played almost totally seriously, at odds
with the earlier lighter-hearted satire. (The piano music doesn't help, either.)

Sela Ward as Kaye Griffin
Ward only has roughly two scenes in the film, which is a touch weird,
given how the film doesn't have many female characters to start with.
Did she originally have more scenes, or did I overestimate Sisters' popularity?

A more contentious point is that this movie has a serious lack of Bacall.
That, and I don't quite buy her as Lemmon's wife.
Why not have her as his badass campaign manager instead?

While stereotypical, the LGBT characters are equally as kind
as the other characters who help Kramer and Douglas,
and (spoiler!) even help save their lives.


Being a 90s kid too young to remember much of that decade, MFA represents for me a warmer, sunnier, safer time, when normalcy and optimism prevailed, and things were in a state of calm. Of course, this outlook has the downside of obscuring systemic problems that were already rife in the 90s, but were conveniently ignored by the white mainstream. 

Still, as I've said before, MFA and Kramer's character arc come off as idealistic in light of what would later happen in real life (especially as reflected in other political satires). Even just a few years later, a movie like MFA probably couldn't be made with the tone that it has. In its present state, MFA may dip into sentimentality at times, but one could make the argument that those "dips" were emblematic of the time, when treacly shows and movies were still popular.

But the microcosm I referred to at the start of this post is how MFA would turn out to be one of the last in a series of comedies aimed at an older adult audience, with casts having at least one Old Hollywood star as a headliner. 

It's mind-boggling now to think of how short the post-Grumpy Old Men era truly was. Seemingly overnight, studios were scrambling to cast Matthau and Lemmon (and/or their contemporaries) in comedy vehicles dependent on their chemistry. Adding to the trend was a renewed interest in Old Hollywood, a large chunk of which was precipitated by Ted Turner's 1986 purchase of the MGM film library. Growing cable channels not only aired classic films, but commissioned many T.V. movies starring the same actors. (Lemmon, Bacall, Gregory Peck, and George C. Scott easily come to mind.)

Lemmon and Scott would even star together in the T.V. movie adaptations of
12 Angry Men (1997) and Inherit the Wind (1999).

After 1996 (or '97) however, things would take a turn. Not only were younger stars like Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler now headlining the biggest comedy hits (and hitting that much-desired 18-35 demographic), but the culture at large was skewing younger and younger. (Even my memory of the time had the Y2K/aliens/dance music aesthetic hit virtually overnight.) Perhaps the best indicator of this shift in retrospect was Bacall, much-hyped for her nomination for The Mirror Has Two Faces, famously losing the Best Actress Oscar to Juliette Binoche. 

But even had this era lasted longer... well, I don't mean to sound morbid, but... the stars were dying. And since the 80s, in increasingly rapid succession. 

Matthau would pass away in 2000, with Lemmon following a year later.
Close friends Garner and Bacall would pass away less than a month apart in 2014.

It may have ended abruptly, but seeing this era's renewed appreciation for the stars and talents while they were still around (and seeing these films appreciated by younger folks now) warms my heart as a classic film and T.V. buff. 


In addition to its great main cast, MFA boasts a multitude of character actors and future stars, including (but not limited to)...

90s villain mainstay James Rebhorn as defense contractor Charlie Reynolds

Conchata Ferrell as a truck driver who picks up Kramer and Douglas

While MFA won't win any awards for its depiction of Mexican immigrants,
it does give a small role to Michael Peña in turn.

Comedian and future Simpsons writer Dana Gould as a sandwich delivery boy
who Douglas has tackled by his Secret Service agents as a distraction

Director Paul Feig as a reporter who gets a cramp from writing
down Matthews' cringeworthy apology

John O'Leary as Ben, the night guard of Kramer's presidential library

The legendary Esther Rolle as Rita, the White House Chef


Jack Lemmon as one half of a duo on the run who hides on a train?
(And with a Marilyn impersonator to boot!)

Before he would perfect the "walk and talk" on The West Wing
Bradley Whitford pioneered the "spin and talk" and the "jog and talk".

In case you forgot this was made in the 90s,
James Garner on the toilet singing "Macarena".

Believe it or not, The Odd Couple II would later pretty much
steal this immigrants scene (and do it noticeably worse).

It was only in screencapping for this post that I noticed these priceless
facial expressions from Bacall.


Although I thought he did a fine job with this film, Garner and Lemmon didn't get along with director Segal, as Garner stated in his 2011 autobiography The Garner Files that Segal "was a self-appointed genius who didn't know his ass from second base and Jack and [Garner] both knew it."

Chris Roberts' podcast I Saw It On Linden Street has a greatly informative episode on MFA here.

All political satires grow more and more relevant with time, but My Fellow Americans proves that satirizing the worst of politics could at least at one time be done with a reassuring counterbalance of American optimism and sense of justice, and the film deserves more notice for its talent, its place in time, and as a companion to the Matthau/Lemmon renaissance.

"You son of a..."

Copyright © Chynna Moore