Dichotomous Pairs

Long story short, Kevin Hart is hilarious, but first let me tell you a true story: I was on a train last week to go see Andrei Tarkovsky’s Nostalghia in the West Village. A must-see, last day of a week-long run, rarely on the big screen, etc., and I was late. As the train crossed the bridge I could see I wasn’t just going to miss the previews – which are mercifully only about five minutes at Film Forum – I was going to miss the first five minutes or more of the film.

Michael Ealy and Kevin Hart.

Michael Ealy and Kevin Hart.

I have a Plan B for this situation, because I’ve been late to films longer than I’ve had a smart phone.  I get off at Houston Street, and walk past the Angelika, the Sunshine and then the Village East and beyond till I find a film I haven’t seen yet that’s starting reasonably soon. I ended up at About Last Night, the new comedy from the director of Hot Tub Time Machine.

What a turn my day took!

About Last Night is a remake of a 1986 comedy (written by Tim  Kazurinsky and Denise DeClue) based on Mamet’s Sexual Perversity in Chicago. This time the rewriting credit goes to Leslye Headland (Bachelorette) and somewhere between her and star Kevin Hart, the comedy pops, one joke after another. Myself and three other people were at this matinée, 75% of us rolling in our seats.

Now don’t laugh, but this was on my mind a few days later when I went to BAM for a screening of Mean Streets (screenplay by Martin Scorsese and Mardik Martin). The raunchy office camaraderie in About last Night is one of the few things left from Sexual Perversity in Chicago, and it occurred to me how many films of all genres have two friends as their narrative backbone. More so in the early 70s, probably – when Mean Streets and Sexual Perversity were both written – when writers were still working under the long shadow of Lajos Egri and the whole notion that the way to start writing a story was to craft two characters and make them dichotomous opposites in as many of their characteristics as possible.

Both About Last Night and Mean Streets are about pairs of young guys in which the straight man is the protagonist and his wild friend presents complications and unexpected opportunities. From this starting point, if you’re writing a drama, you think of all the ways your antagonist tries solving his problem, and how they go wrong. If you’re writing a comedy, just…well, just cast Kevin Hart.

Mean Streets, for all its sprawling narrative flaws, is still my north star: