A Trip Uptown (2001), written by David Koepp, probably isn’t a film you have heard of; that’s because it’s an unproduced screenplay. But David Koepp is a man you may have heard of; he’s a screenwriter whose films have grossed more than $2.3 Billion (Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones, War of The Worlds, etc.). I went into this script with no background knowledge of what it was about. Let’s analyze it.
You can find this script on Koepp’s website.
- Draft Read: July 16, 2001
- Type: Spec
- Page Count: 107
- Reading Speed: Medium
- Setting(s): New York City
- Plot Structure: Linear, Spanning one day
- Genre(s): Biopic, Thriller, Love
- Theme(s): Relationships, Drugs, Depression, Guilt, Crime, Coming-of-age
- Protagonist Change: Moderate
Koepp calls this, “a semi-autobiographical piece.” One of the most interesting aspects of reading screenplay is gaining a deep understanding of the author and their beliefs. Or at least thinking you do (perhaps you are being fooled; Inception (2010)). In other words, writers often express some of their strongest emotions and if you just read what they wrote and listened to their message, you could learn a lot about them!
In this case, the script is exactly what I would expect from a white-collar alternative-thinking near-40-year-old living in New York City. That’s not a knock or compliment toward the writer, because for all I know, the script doesn’t describe who he is. But it’s well-written and that’s the vibe I took from it.
It’s a fun read and somewhat interesting. Unexpected things happen. There is a lot of conflict. There are cringy moments. So it has a lot going on. And many of the sequences work. It definitely feels raw and honest too. This isn’t a script where the writer holds back.
The characters feel hit-or-miss. The leads, Rebecca and Steve, both middle-aged parents of young kids, are complex dynamic and at times, interesting. The supporting cast is not. Perhaps the most troubling characters are the teenagers, who surprisingly waver between very smart and bone-head dumb. Wait, isn’t that a realistic depiction of teenagers? It could be, but not when one of them (nicknamed Batshit (really?)) is able to throw out a James Bond level monologue while holding Steve at knifepoint (Page 97)
And you still come into the fuckin’ park at two o’clock on a Saturday night. You people man, you don’t fuckin’ get it, they’s animals in the park, that is what it is fuckin’ there for, so they can be somethin’ wild in the middle of the city; that’s the way it’s got to be because that’s the way people like it. You like it. You wanted it, you came lookin’ for it, and you found it. Four-D says you get stuck, you off the hook. That’s a good deal. What you ganna do, fight past me, get yourself off this stage? You ganna have a slug in the base of your skull before you count to three, so let’s get this over with, where you want it?
Well said Mr. Batshit, a riveting anti-gentrificaition speech from a kid described as barely 15-years old.
At one point, the wild pack of teens considers bringing Steve to his apartment and robbing him which Steve skillfully diffuses; but for the slightest of moments one thinks this film would turn into Death Wish 6, which I suspect the writer considered at one point and this line serves as the tailbone i.e. the remnant of an earlier draft that features that ending.
Teddy’s, their young son’s, comments toward Rebecca on Page 104 (well past the climax) seem out of place and unnecessary exposition:
Just make sure you don’t go anyplace stupid.
She sits again, looks at him — what do you mean?
Like someplace so, so far away that you can’t come back.
The climax was problematic and not very strong, which is perhaps expected as the subplots do not dovetail. Steve simply lays down after being stabbed but then reappears walking out of Central Park and links up with Rebecca.
The script takes a while to get going. Like Get Out (2017), we don’t really understand the characters’ motives and themes explored (more on that below), until well past the halfway point of the story.
At times, actually, at most times, the leads feel passive. Why go out and get high? Why make progressively worse decisions (not as bad as Uncut Gems (2019)) while high? Ohh, right.
For what it’s worth, this is a relatively dark screenplay. Our protagonists wallow in their pain. But their pain, at least from the outside, doesn’t seem all that insurmountable; a wife who cheats and a man who feels guilt for not being more supportive toward his family? Perhaps I missed something.
A few scenes just don’t quite work. Take a look at the scene where Steve sits next to a woman on a bus (who just paid his fare). She is a house cleaner (Page 41):
Four hundred dollars a week, plus Metrocard. How much do they pay you?
I make a hundred and sixty-five thousand a year.
I’m very happy for you
I probably work half as hard as you. That doesn’t seem fair.
So we have a critique of society thrown in, and it feels somewhat realistic because Steve is high as a kite and has no filter. But it also feels out of place, because let’s be honest; who the hell says that and it doesn’t reveal anything about Steve we don’t already know.
Two middle-aged people take shrooms with a friend and break the first rule of taking hallucinogens: always have at least one sober safety person.
Each of the leads has a wingman. For Rebecca, it’s Bobby and for Steve it’s Colin. Koepp does an interesting thing by making Colin kinda-sorta a figment of Steve’s imagination (I couldn’t quite tell). In reality, both wingmen pressure the leads to do what they think is the right thing; recommit their love to each other and more importantly treat the other with respect.
As I already noted, I think Steve and Rebecca are great characters. I’m not sure their internal states are explored as efficiently (perhaps not the right word) as they could have been, but again, likable leads. Why’s that? The usual reason; they are flawed humans. Flawed people are relatable and relatable people can be emphasized with. And people we can emphasize with we generally like.
Dialogue & Pacing
Dialogue was pretty strong. That’s no surprise coming from a veteran screenwriter. Some lines, however, didn’t quite hit. For example, a drunk but relatively put-together woman saying this (Page 60):
Fuck, fuck, fuckity fuck-fuck.
Perhaps just trying to be too cute.
There’s also a weird scene on Page 62 where a nurse repeatedly calls out, “Cartwright,” to a waiting room of people. This is odd because that’s exactly what was yelled out in the famous Seinfeld Episode at the Chinese restaurant.
But that aside, there are some strong lines, particularly the monologues by the leads. It’s far too long to transcribe, but Steve’s on Page 65 is worth a read.
Pacing was relatively quick. No sequences dragged too long, except for the one with Rebecca, Bobby, Dean, and Leslie, which got progressively more cringy (in a good way) as Rebecca shared the truth about why they were all getting drinks. That was a tough one to read.
If you are a middle-aged parent with a few skeletons in your closet you might find this script painfully relatable.
Best Part of The Script
The dinner scene between Rebecca, Bobby, Dean, and Leslie. You can start earlier, but Page 72 is where it heats up.