Once again, it’s time for my favorite recurring blog post of the year. As you’ll recall, I published a 2011 version of this post last January. As always, this post is based on my transcription of dialogue from the films themselves (occasionally aided by English subtitles on DVDs), rather than from the shooting script. This means that the stage directions are mine, here to inform you about what is happening in the scene. Also as always, WARNING: TONS OF STRONG AND OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE AHEAD. This year’s movie dialogue was so strong that I didn’t have room for Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola’s script for Moonrise Kingdom in this post. That’s good.
By all means, let’s start with Quentin Tarantino and this opening scene from Django Unchained. In a deserted spot in the Texas countryside late one night, Dr. King Schultz (driving a horse-drawn cart) encounters two slave-driving brothers named Ace and Dicky Speck, who have six chained-up slaves in their custody. The exactitude of Schultz’ language helps make the scene funny — the line about astronomy aficionados cracks me up. Behind his diplomatic language, Schultz is really passive-aggressive and condescending toward the slavers, and this is probably what provokes the armed confrontation. Given that this results in the slavers being dead, I’m not overly concerned. Nor, I suspect, is Schultz.
DICKY (yelling): Who’s that stumblin’ around in the dark? State your business or prepare to get winged!
SCHULTZ (driving up to them): Calm yourselves, gentlemen. I mean you no harm. I’m simply a fellow weary traveler. (to his horse) Whoa! (to the Specks) Good cold evening, gentlemen. I’m looking for a pair of slave traders that go by the name of the Speck brothers. Might that be you?
ACE: Who wants to know?
SCHULTZ: Well, I do. I’m Dr. King Schultz. This is my horse, Fritz.
(The horse bows its head.)
DICKY: What kind of doctor?
SCHULTZ: Dentist. Now, are you the Speck brothers? And did you purchase those men at the Greenville slave auction?
ACE: So what?
SCHULTZ: So I wish to parley with you.
ACE: Speak English!
SCHULTZ (laughing): Sorry. Please forgive me, it is a second language. Amongst your inventory, I’ve been led to believe, is a specimen I’m keen to acquire. (to slaves) Hello, you poor devils! Is there one amongst you who was formerly a resident of the Carrucan plantation?
DJANGO (from the darkness): I’m from the Carrucan plantation.
SCHULTZ: Who said that?
(He gets down off his cart, lights a lantern, walks up to the slaves, and examines their faces in the light. He stops at the fifth slave in the line.)
SCHULTZ: What’s your name?
SCHULTZ: Then you’re exactly the one I’m looking for. Do you know who the Brittle brothers are? (Django nods.) Who are they?
DJANGO: Big John. Ellis. Roger. Some down there call him Little Rog. They was overseers at the Carrucan plantation.
SCHULTZ: Not anymore. (pause) Tell me, if you were to see any of these three gentlemen again, would you recognize them?
ACE: Hey, quit talkin’ to him like that!
SCHULTZ: Like what?
ACE: Like that.
SCHULTZ: My good man, I’m simply trying to ascertain…
ACE: Speak English, goddammit!
SCHULTZ: Everybody calm down. I’m simply a customer trying to conduct a transaction.
ACE: I don’t care. No sale. Now off with ya.
SCHULTZ: Don’t be ridiculous. Of course they’re for sale.
ACE (pointing his rifle at Schultz): Move it.
SCHULTZ: My good man, did you simply get carried away with your dramatic gesture, or are you pointing your weapon at me with lethal intention?
ACE (cocking the rifle): Last chance, fancy pants.
SCHULTZ: Oh, very well.
(He drops his lantern and pulls a pistol, shooting Ace in the head. He then shoots Dicky’s horse, which falls over and crushes Dicky’s leg beneath it. Dicky screams in pain. Schultz picks up Ace’s lantern and re-lights it.)
SCHULTZ (to Dicky): I’m sorry to put a bullet in your beast, but I didn’t want you to do anything rash before you had a moment to come to your senses.
DICKY: You goddamn son of a bitch! You shot Roscoe! And you killed Ace!
SCHULTZ (calmly): I only shot your brother once he threatened to shoot me. And I do believe I have… (counting slaves) …five witnesses who can testify to that.
DICKY: Damn leg’s busted!
SCHULTZ: No doubt. Now, if you can keep your caterwauling down to a minimum, I’d like to finish my line of inquiry with young Django.
DICKY (screaming): God fucking dammit!
SCHULTZ (to Django): As I was saying, if you were to see the Brittle brothers again, would you recognize them?
SCHULTZ (cheerfully and loudly): Sold, American! Mr. Speck? Mr. Speck, how much for young Django here?
(Schultz unshackles Django, observing the blisters on Django’s ankle under the leg irons.)
SCHULTZ (to himself): Leg iron’s a nasty business. (giving his rifle to one of the other slaves as he searches for his wallet) Could you hold this for a moment? Django, get up on that horse. Also, if I were you, I’d take that winter coat the dear departed Speck left behind.
(Django moves to the corpse.)
DICKY: Nigger, don’t you touch my brother’s coat!
(Django walks over and steps on the horse’s body, causing Dicky to scream more.)
SCHULTZ (counting money): One hundred, ten, twenty, and five for young Django here. (He drops the bills on Dicky.) And since he won’t be needing it any more, I’d like to purchase your brother’s nag. (He drops a coin as well.) Also, Mr. Speck, I’m afraid I will require a bill of sale. Do you have one?
DICKY: You go to hell, dentist!
SCHULTZ: I thought not. (walks over a slave holding a lantern) No worries, I come prepared. (to the slave, as he writes on a pad of paper by the lantern’s light) Thank you. This will serve nicely as a bill of sale.
(He gets up on his cart and prepares to ride off with Django.)
SCHULTZ (stopping by the slaves): Now, as to you poor devils. As far as I see it, when it comes to the subject of what to do next, you gentlemen have two choices. One, once I’m gone, you could lift that beast off the remaining Speck, then carry him to the nearest town, which would be at least thirty-seven miles back the way you came. (tossing them the keys) Or two, you could unshackle yourselves, take that rifle, put a bullet in his head, bury the two of them deep, and then make your way to a more enlightened area of this country. The choice is yours. Oh, and on the off chance that there are any astronomy aficionados amongst you, the North Star is that one. (He points.) Ta-ta!
From the testosterone-filled Tarantino, let’s change lanes with Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress. In many ways, Stillman’s dialogue is just as stylized as Tarantino’s. Here, college student Lily and her friend Alice have been at a bar when a guy they don’t know sends them a round of drinks. Lily reports this to her three florally named friends, and they proceed to analyze it to death.
ROSE: That’s a playboy or operator move. Operators like that are to be avoided.
VIOLET: Why? It seems very generous to me, sending a round of drinks over to people you don’t know. Drinks are expensive.
ROSE: Sending drinks to two gorgeous girls? His intention was to seduce and he assumed he could.
HEATHER (confused): Both?
VIOLET: That seems a bit harsh. You don’t know what he was thinking. (to Lily) Was he alone?
VIOLET (to Rose): You see? He was alone and probably lonely. He could see that Alice and Lily were college students. College students are well-known for their intelligent conversation. After all, they can always talk about their courses. That was probably what attracted him.
VIOLET: Perhaps his view was even loftier. To court Lily with a view to matrimony. We’re in the north, but occasionally a Southern gentleman can wander into these parts.
VIOLET: Seeing Lily across a crowded bar filled with the usual undergraduate slobs, why wouldn’t a thoughtful young man seek her out? She’s lovely. Isn’t it incumbent on men and women to find ways to meet each other? Buying drinks for a person you don’t know seems to me to be a particularly generous one.
HEATHER: Yes, most guys don’t even pay for the women they do know.
ROSE: What you’ve described is a playboy or operator move.
VIOLET: I’ll grant you that it’s a tactic or perhaps even a ruse, but without that, would our species even survive? The Lord said, “Be fruitful and multiply.”
LILY (blushing): Oh, my gosh.
VIOLET: No, this is how the world works, seeing someone across a room. This could be the great romantic story that you tell your grandchildren. And if you do marry and have children, then he’ll really learn how to squander cash. Isn’t it good to know that he’s basically generous from the start?
(Rose rolls her eyes.)
After consistently writing some of the sharpest dialogue on television, Joss Whedon finally makes it onto this list with this scene from The Avengers, when Captain America (Steve Rogers) walks in on a meeting between Bruce Banner (The Hulk) and Tony Stark (Iron Man) as they try to track Loki. Not only is this scene funny, it covers a lot of ground: the escalating tension between Stark and Rogers, the suspicions swirling around Nick Fury, Stark’s genuinely held but self-serving idea that information wants to be free, Stark trying to encourage Banner to embrace his Hulkiness. Other blockbusters had big action set pieces and special effects, but I like to think it was the writing and characters that made this the year’s biggest hit.
STARK: You know, you should come by Stark Tower some time. Top ten floors, all r&d. You’d love it. It’s Candyland.
BANNER: Thanks, but the last time I was in New York, I kind of broke Harlem.
STARK: Well, I promise a stress-free environment. No tension, no surprises.
(He comes up behind Banner and pokes him with a small electric prod. It discharges.)
ROGERS (walking in): Hey!
STARK (looking into Banner’s eyes): Nothing?
ROGERS (to Stark): Are you nuts?
STARK: (to Rogers) Jury’s out. (to Banner) You really have got a lid on it, haven’t you? What’s your secret? Mellow jazz? Bongo drums? Huge bag of weed?
ROGERS (to Stark): Is everything a joke to you?
STARK: Funny things are.
ROGERS: Threatening the safety of everyone on this ship isn’t funny. (to Banner) No offense, Doc.
BANNER: It’s all right. I wouldn’t have come aboard if I couldn’t handle pointy things.
STARK (to Banner): You’re tiptoeing, big man. You need to strut.
ROGERS: And you need to focus on the problem, Mr. Stark.
STARK: You think I’m not? Why did Fury call us in? Why now? Why not before? What isn’t he telling us? (picking up a resealable Mylar bag) I can’t do the equation unless I have all the variables.
ROGERS: You think Fury’s hiding something?
STARK: He’s a spy. Captain, he’s the spy. His secrets have secrets. (indicating Banner while eating some fruit from the bag) It’s bugging him, too, isn’t it?
BANNER: Uh, I just want to finish my work here, and…
ROGERS (cutting him off): Doctor?
BANNER (long pause): “A warm light for all mankind.” Loki’s jab at Fury about the Cube.
ROGERS: I heard it.
BANNER (to Stark): Well, I think that was meant for you.
(Stark offers Banner some fruit from the bag, which Banner takes.)
BANNER: Even if Barton didn’t tell Loki about the tower, it was still all over the news.
ROGERS: The Stark Tower? That big ugly … (Stark glares at him) … building in New York?
BANNER: It’s powered by an arc reactor, a self-sustaining energy source. (to Stark) That building will run itself for, what, a year?
STARK: It’s just the prototype. (to Rogers) I’m kind of the only name in clean energy right now. That’s what he’s getting at.
BANNER: So why didn’t S.H.I.E.L.D. bring him in on the Tesseract project? What’s S.H.I.E.L.D. doing in the energy business in the first place?
STARK: I should probably look into that once my decryption program finishes breaking into all of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s secure files.
ROGERS: I’m sorry, did you say… ?
STARK: Jarvis has been running it since I hit the bridge. In a few hours, I’ll know every dirty secret that S.H.I.E.L.D. has tried to hide. (offers Rogers the bag) Blueberry?
ROGERS: Yet you’re confused about why they didn’t want you around.
STARK: An intelligence agency that fears intelligence? Historically, not awesome.
ROGERS: I think Loki’s trying to wind us up. This is a man who means to start a war, and if we don’t stay focused, he’ll succeed. We have orders. We should follow them.
STARK (eating another handful of fruit): Following’s not really my style.
ROGERS: And you’re all about style, aren’t you?
STARK: Of the people in this room, which of us is A) wearing a spangly outfit, and B) not of use?
BANNER: Steve, tell me none of this smells a little funky to you.
ROGERS: Just find the Cube.
(He leaves, looking troubled.)
STARK: That’s the guy my father never shut up about? I’m starting to wonder if they shouldn’t have kept him on ice.
BANNER: The guy’s not wrong about Loki. He does have the jump on us.
STARK: What he’s got is an Acme dynamite kit. It’s going to blow up in his face, and I’m going to be there when it does.
BANNER: Yeah, I’ll read all about it.
STARK: Uh-huh. Or you’ll be suiting up with the rest of us.
BANNER: You see, I don’t get a suit of armor. I’m exposed, like a nerve. It’s a nightmare.
STARK (seriously): You know, I’ve got a cluster of shrapnel trying every second to crawl its way into my heart. (points to the arc reactor in his chest) This stops it. This little circle of light, it’s part of me now. Not just armor. It’s a terrible privilege.
BANNER: But you can control it.
STARK: Because I learned how.
BANNER (shaking his head): It’s different.
STARK: Hey, I read all about your accident. That much gamma exposure should have killed you.
BANNER: So you’re saying that the Hulk — the other guy — saved my life? That’s nice. It’s a nice sentiment. Saved it for what?
STARK: I guess we’ll find out.
BANNER: You may not enjoy that.
STARK: And you just might.
Tarantino, Stillman, Whedon — we’ve got lots of veteran writers in this post. Here’s some new blood: Leslye Headland debuted as a filmmaker with Bachelorette, adapting her own stage play, and established herself as a distinctively filthy new comic voice. This early exchange between hard-case bridesmaid Gena and a guy she has just met on an airplane is typical of the movie’s humor.
GENA: I mean, I’ve got this theory about blowjobs if you wanna hear it.
STRANGER: Yeah, yeah, sure. It’s very interesting.
GENA: All right, I personally think that blowjobs are an extremely delicate thing. Like, if you’re ranking them on a scale of one to ten, one being blowing it kisses and ten being, you know, just choking on just semen and vomit everywhere. I think you gotta start off with fours and with fives. Like just enough so that you know that I know exactly what I’m doing but with zero enthusiasm. I’m giving nothing. ‘Cause then you’re gonna be like, “All right, fine, I’ll just fuck her.” You know? So if I start off with a ten, I’ve got nowhere to go. I mean, why are you gonna spend any time fucking me? You just came all over my face. So you start off small, right? But you build. I’ll give you a six after a fight when we’re makin’ up. And then an eight when you spend a shitload of money on me or give me something that’s like a sweet gift or whatever. I’ll do a full eight. Then, I circle it back. Back to the threes, the fours, the fives, because that shit every time without fail makes the guy’s dick alarm go off. You know what I mean when I say “dick alarm,” right?
STRANGER (laughing): Yeah.
GENA: You’re gonna be like, “Baby, what’s wrong with you? You’re actin’ funny! Why so sad?” When really what you’re telling me is, “Goddammit, just like, suck my dick harder.”
STRANGER: So, um, let’s just say, what would merit a ten?
GENA: Well, as an example, I don’t know. Like you’re on an airplane, you’re goin’ to a wedding of this girl that you went to high school with.
STRANGER (order drinks from the flight attendant): Two more.
GENA: And your ex-boyfriend… (laughs bitterly) Your ex-boyfriend who ruined your fuckin’ life is gonna be there.
STRANGER (sympathetically): Jerk!
GENA: All this pent-up frustration, sittin’ next to some dude that you’re never gonna see again. That would warrant a ten.
STRANGER (pointing to himself): Well, what about this guy?
GENA: Oh no, I feel like I’ll definitely see you again.
In David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook, two mental cases bond in a diner over Raisin Bran and tea. Bipolar former schoolteacher Pat wants to patch up his marriage to Nikki (despite her having a restraining order against him), so he orders Raisin Bran so that the meeting with Tiffany won’t be considered a date. Russell adapted this script from a novel by Matthew Quick.
PAT: So how’s your thing going? Dancing thing?
TIFFANY: It’s good. How’s your restraining order?
PAT: I wouldn’t actually call the restraining order my thing, but getting back with Nikki is, and it’s going pretty well, except for a minor incident at my doctor’s office.
TIFFANY: And the so-called incident with the weights.
PAT: Yeah, that was a thing with my parents. I wish I could just explain it all in a letter to Nikki. Because it was minor, and I could just explain it and let her know that I’m not actually out of control. I’m not. I’m actually doing really well.
TIFFANY: I could get a letter to Nikki. I see her sometimes with my sister.
(another long pause)
PAT: It would be so amazing if you could get a letter to Nikki from me.
TIFFANY: I’d have to hide it from Veronica. She’s not into breaking the law, which this letter would definitely be doing.
PAT: But you’d do it?
TIFFANY: I have to be careful. I’m already on thin ice with my family. You should hear how I lost my job.
PAT: How’d you lose your job?
TIFFANY: By… (pause) …having sex with everybody in the office.
PAT (astonished): Everybody?
TIFFANY: I was very depressed after Tommy died. It was a lot of people.
PAT: We don’t have to talk about it.
PAT: How many were there?
TIFFANY: I know.
PAT: I’m not gonna talk about it any more.
PAT: Can I ask you one more question? Were there any women?
PAT: What was that like?
PAT (under his breath): Jesus Christ! (pause) What was it like? Older women? Sexy teacher wants to seduce you?
TIFFANY: Made me sit on her lap and do things? Yeah.
PAT: What? You sat on her lap?
PAT: She told you what to do?
PAT (quietly): Oh, my God! Nikki hated when I talked like this. She made me feel like such a perv. Maybe we should change the subject.
TIFFANY: I don’t mind it.
PAT: You don’t, do you?
TIFFANY: No. But then people were getting into fights in the parking lot at work, and in the bathroom. Then the boss called me into his office and tried to pin it all on me, so I accused him of harassment, so they fired me. Sent me home and put me on some meds.
PAT: I get it. The song that was playing when my wife was in the shower with the history teacher…
TIFFANY: I heard about that.
PAT: …was my wedding song. When I hear it, I go kinda crazy. Sometimes I hear it when it’s not even playing.
PAT: Yeah. So they put me on medication, which I feel ashamed of.
PAT: So I know. I just gotta get a strategy, you know?
TIFFANY: Me too.
Paul Thomas Anderson is usually better known for the visual swoop of his storytelling than for his dialogue, but this rapid-fire exchange from The Master is a gem. Lancaster Dodd (known to his disciples as “The Master”) and his wife Peggy have taken in Freddie, who has stowed away on their boat traveling from San Francisco to New York via the Panama Canal. Here, Dodd subjects Freddie to some informal “processing” in a private session below deck. Freddie pushes on after Dodd tries to end the initial session, and the cult leader proceeds to break down this dead-end case in ruthless fashion.
DODD (into the recorder): Freddie Quell, test session. March fifth, 1950. Eighteen hundred hours aboard the sailing vessel Alethia. L.D.M.O.C.M.D. Long-term. Approved. (to Freddie) Shall we sample another sip before we join them upstairs?
FREDDIE: Wait, that’s it?
DODD (turning off the recorder): For now.
FREDDIE: No, no, no. You gotta ask me more. This is fun. Come on, you gotta ask me more.
DODD: Could you answer the next series of questions without blinking your eyes?
DODD: Without fear and hesitation, answer as quickly as you can.
FREDDIE: Sure. (after a beat) Come on.
DODD (turning the recorder back on): Starting now, you are not to blink. If you blink, we go back to the start. (Freddie blinks.) Infringement, you blinked. Starting now, you are not to blink. If you blink, we go back to the start. Do you often think about how inconsequential you are?
DODD: Do you believe that God will save you from your own ridiculousness?
DODD: Have you ever had intercourse with someone inside your family?
DODD (after a pause): Have you ever had intercourse with someone inside your family?
FREDDIE: My auntie.
DODD: Have you killed anyone?
FREDDIE: Not me.
DODD: Have you killed anyone?
DODD: How many times did you have intercourse with your aunt?
FREDDIE: Three times.
DODD: Where is your aunt now?
FREDDIE: I don’t know.
DODD: Do you want to have intercourse with her again?
DODD: Do you regret this?
FREDDIE (uncomfortable): No.
DODD: Where is your mother?
FREDDIE: I don’t know. Living… (he blinks)
FREDDIE (frustrated): Fuck!
(He slaps himself three times.)
DODD: Back to the start.
FREDDIE (calming himself): Okay.
DODD: Do you often think about how inconsequential you are?
DODD: Do you believe that God will save you?
DODD: Have you ever had sex with a member of your family?
DODD: Are you lying?
FREDDIE: My Auntie Bertha.
DODD: Where is she now?
FREDDIE: I don’t know. Maybe home.
DODD: Are you lying?
DODD: Are you a liar?
DODD: Have you killed anyone?
FREDDIE: Japs in the war.
DODD: Do you regret this?
DODD: What are you running from?
FREDDIE (cracking): Maybe hurt a man, I think. Maybe he’s dead. I don’t know.
FREDDIE: In Salinas. He stole a batch of my booze and he drank it.
DODD: Is this booze you make poison?
FREDDIE: Not if you drink it smart.
DODD: Are you trying to poison me?
DODD: Where is your father?
DODD: How did he die?
DODD: Where is your mother?
(Freddie pauses, unable to answer.)
DODD: Where is your mother?
FREDDIE (angry): Loony bin.
DODD: Is she psychotic?
DODD: What is the name of your aunt?
DODD: How did you come to have sex with your Auntie Bertha?
FREDDIE (louder): I was drunk and she looked good.
DODD: You did it again and again.
DODD: Have you ever had bad thoughts about the Master or Peggy?
DODD: What did you think?
FREDDIE: I thought you were fools.
DODD (objectively): Am I a fool to you?
FREDDIE: No, sir.
DODD: If you were locked in a room for the rest of your life, who would be in there with you?
DODD: Who’s Doris?
FREDDIE: Best girl I ever met. The girl I was gonna marry one day.
DODD: Is she in Lynne?
DODD: In Massachusetts?
FREDDIE: Yes, sir.
DODD: Why aren’t you there with her?
FREDDIE: I’m an idiot!
DODD: Why aren’t you there with that lovely girl?
FREDDIE (tearing up): I got no reason. I’m a fool.
DODD: Do you love Doris?
DODD: Is she the love of your life?
FREDDIE: Yes, sir!
DODD: Then why aren’t you with her?
FREDDIE: I don’t know!
DODD: Yes, you do. Tell me why you’re not with that girl if you love her so much.
FREDDIE: I told her I’d come back and then I never went back and now I just… I gotta get back.
DODD: Why don’t you go back?
FREDDIE: I don’t know.
DODD: Why don’t you go back?
FREDDIE (losing control): I don’t know! I don’t know!
DODD: Close your eyes.
I wrote in my review of The Perks of Being a Wallflower that the sharpness of Stephen Chbosky’s comic writing kept its tale of abused teens from being overwhelmed by pathos. Here’s an example of that comic writing, when Patrick takes Charlie to a party hosted by a stoner kid named Bob and introduces him to their friends. Chbosky adapted this from his own novel. And Charlie’s right — marching band isn’t a sport.
PATRICK: So, Charlie, this is a party. This is what fun looks like. Are you ready to meet some desperate women? Have a seat.
(Charlie sits on the couch with two girls named Mary Elizabeth and Alice.)
PATRICK: Hey ladies, meet Charlie. Charlie, meet ladies.
MARY ELIZABETH (shaking hands with Charlie): Mary Elizabeth.
ALICE (doing likewise): Alice.
CHARLIE: Nice to meet you.
PATRICK (to the girls): This is Charlie’s first party ever, so I expect nice, meaningful, heartfelt blowjobs from both of you.
MARY ELIZABETH: Patrick, you’re such a dick!
PATRICK: Where the hell did you go?
MARY ELIZABETH: The dance was a little boring, don’t you think?
PATRICK: You are so selfish. We looked everywhere for you. You could have told someone.
MARY ELIZABETH: Oh, cry me a river.
PATRICK (teasing): How is it that you’ve got meaner since becoming a Buddhist?
MARY ELIZABETH: Just lucky, I guess.
PATRICK: No, you’re doing something wrong, I think.
MARY ELIZABETH: Mmm, or something very right.
SAM (with Brad): Hey, look who’s here!
(Patrick goes off to talk with Brad.)
CHARLIE (to the girls): Is that Brad Hayes?
ALICE: Yeah, he comes here sometimes.
CHARLIE (confused): But he’s a popular kid.
MARY ELIZABETH (irritated): Then what are we?
BOB (approaching them with a plate): Ah, Charlie! You look like you could use a brownie.
CHARLIE (taking one eagerly): Thank you. I was so hungry at the dance. We were gonna go to Kings, but there wasn’t really any time. Thanks.
(The camera fades out, then fades back in a few minutes later.)
CHARLIE (sitting on the floor): You guys felt this carpet? This carpet feels so darn good.
(Mary Elizabeth, Alice, and Bob giggle uncontrollably.)
MARY ELIZABETH: Charlie! Charlie, what do you think about high school?
CHARLIE: High school? Bullshit! The cafeteria is called “the nutrition center.” People wear their letter jackets even when it’s ninety degrees out. And why do they give out letter jackets for marching band? It’s not a sport! We all know it!
MARY ELIZABETH (laughing): This kid is crazy!
CHARLIE: Mary Elizabeth, I think you’re really gonna regret that bzzz! haircut when you look back at old photographs. (contritely) I’m really sorry, that sounded like a compliment in my head.
ALICE (laughing harder): It’s kinda true!
MARY ELIZABETH: Shut up! I can’t be mad at him, though!
SAM (approaching them): Bob, did you get him stoned?
BOB: Come on, Sam! He likes it! Look at him!
SAM: How do you feel, Charlie?
CHARLIE (pause): I just really want a milkshake.
We end with the climactic speech from Ruby Sparks, as Calvin realizes how he has hurt Ruby and finally gets over his writer’s block by finishing his second novel. This monologue is Calvin reading a passage from that book to an audience. There’s some reference to the movie’s magical-realist conceit that Calvin conjured Ruby into existence with his writing. Still, he could just as easily be talking about his previous girlfriend, a flesh-and-blood person whom he has wronged. This is an extraordinary screenwriting debut by Zoe Kazan, and this bit here brought me to tears.
CALVIN: This is the true and impossible story of my very great love. In the hope that she will not read this and reproach me, I have withheld many telling details: her name, the particulars of her birth and upbringing, and any identifying scars or birthmarks. All the same, I cannot help but write this for her, to tell her, “I’m sorry for every word I wrote to change you. I’m sorry for so many things. I couldn’t see you when you were here. And now that you’re gone, I see you everywhere.” One may read this and think it’s magic, but falling in love is an act of magic. So is writing. It was once said of Catcher in the Rye: “That rare miracle of fiction has come to pass. A human being has been created out of ink, paper, and the imagination.” I am no J.D. Salinger, but I have witnessed a rare miracle. Any writer can attest: In the luckiest, happiest state, the words are not coming from you but through you. She came to me wholly herself. I was just lucky enough to be there to catch her.