[Quick Summary: A crotchety old dad and sweet mom arrive at their summer home, and become hosts to the teen age son of their daughter's boyfriend.]
I am not interested in mean characters who are only mean in order to get their way.
I am not interested in those types of "one note" characters.
They are predictable, boring, and worst of all, unrealistic.
However, I am interested in characters who are acting mean (either consciously or unconsciously) for complicated reasons:
In this script, Norman (Henry Fonda) is a sour and indignant grouch. He's got a critical tongue, borne with humor by his very nice wife (Katherine Hepburn).
Norman is mad that he might be losing his senility. He also doesn't express his feelings well, which has estranged him from his daughter (Jane Fonda).
I loved that the writer did not try to over explain Norman's motives to the readers.*
Why does he flare out at his wife? Why is he mean, then nice to young Billy?
I am not 100% sure. He is a messy, and very realistic, person.
In the scene below, note how fast happy turns sour (quick emotional turns):
ex. "He tries on more hats, one of which he'll wear for the rest of the scene.
ETHEL: My father got him for me on my fourth birthday. I wanted a red scooter, but my father said red scooters were excessive and contrary to the ways of the Lord. He told me I'd understand when I got older. Well, I'm a lot older now and I'm afraid I still don't understand. But he gave me Elmer [a doll]. And Elmer and I, the times we've had. He was my first true love, you know.
NORMAN: I've known all along I wasn't the first in line.
ETHEL: No, you were a rather cheap substitute for my darling Elmer. And now he's had a fall, poor dear.
NORMAN: Maybe he was trying to kill himself. Maybe he wants to be cremated. Probably got cancer or termites or something.
ETHEL: Are you hungry, darling?
NORMAN: No. It wouldn't be a bad way to go, huh? A quick front flip off the mantel, a bit of a kick at the last minute, and end up right in the fire. Nothing to it.
ETHEL: Shut up, Norman!
NORMAN: When my number's up, do that for me, would you? Prop me up on the mantel adn point out which way is down. I may even try for a full gainer with a half twist.
ETHEL: Norman Thayer, will you shut up? Your fascination with dying is beginning to frazzle my good humor.
NORMAN: It's not a fascination. It just crosses my mind now and then.
ETHEL: Every five minutes. Don't you have anything else to think about?
NORMAN: Nothing quite as interesting.
ETHEL: Well, what's stopping you? Why don't you take your dive and get it over with? See what it's like?
NORMAN: And leave you alone with Elmer? You must be mad.
ETHEL: Oh, for pity's sake. Come along with me and let's get the canoe off the porch."
WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Lay out the truth, but don't over explain the character.
On Golden Pond (1981)
by Ernest Thompson (based on his play)
*In today's scripts, I do not like the trend of over justifying or over explaining what a character does or does not do.
[Similarly: There can't be loose ends. Everything must have a concrete answer.]
This isn't realistic! Life is messy, and you don't always get answers.