A while back, I posted what was intended to be the first in a series of analyses of films using Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet.
I’ve put off doing more since. Among the reasons are the fact that the second film I tried to apply the formula to was Cowboys and Aliens, which I found difficult to classify at a crucial part, and Casino Royale, which I thought did some interesting things with its structure when I looked at it analytically. (I intend to analyse Casino Royale, but want to do a few more examples of the ‘classic’ style of beat sheet first.)
The next film I analyse will be a comedy – Adam Sandler’s The Waterboy.
When writing I felt like I was being a bit humourless looking at a comedy in this way, particularly one with a style so OTT. But the structure is still there, and is quite easy to spot, which I think proves that even bold, silly films like this need to have a decent structure to function as a story.
Adam Sandler and this film in particular are both very divisive. Mark Kermode, a film critic I respect a lot, hates Sandler. Rotten Tomatoes, the critic aggregation site, gives the film an overall rating of 32%, and Roger Ebert named the film on his ‘Most Hated’ list.
But I like the film and Sandler. I’ve not seen Jack & Jill or That’s My Boy (as I don’t hate myself that much), but there’s a few of his best films that are fun and funny in a light-hearted, flimsy kind of way.
Spoilers for The Waterboy ahead, and a more detailed explanation of Snyder’s beat-sheet can be found alongside the Planet of the Apes analysis.
The full film is on youtube:
The film opens with shots of a swamp and wildlife, one that immediately made me think of Florida. (It’s actually Louisiana, but even as a foreigner who’s never set foot on American soil, the general area of the country is instantly recognisable.)
The camera pans up to show an American football stadium, its modernity striking against the surroundings.
Inside the stadium, Coach Red Beaulieu (Jerry Reed) and an interviewer discuss his side’s hopes for the new season, and Beaulieu’s legendary green playbook.
After this, Bobby Boucher (Adam Sandler) strolls up the tunnel onto the pitch, water equipment and cups on his back, looking like it’s too much for him to carry.
He takes a sample drink, “That’s high quality H20.”
A ball’s thrown at Bobby, and he’s deliberately knocked over by a player supposedly chasing after the ball. After getting up, he finds an abusive note on his table from ‘everybody’.
Bobby tells one of the players to rough him up, but not to waste the water – further establishing his dedication to his craft.
Beaulieu asks why Bobby hasn’t been fired already, saying he’s ‘disruptive’, and he’s sent on his way.
Sandler, having been fired, drives his lawn mower home.
His mum/Momma (Kathy Bates) tells him he belongs at home. He clearly doesn’t like contradicting his mother, but “I’m a waterboy.” Intends to find other work as a waterboy.
In bed, Bobby calls Captain Insano, a wrestler, on a TV phone-in show, and offers to work as his water boy. Captain Insano , his hero, laughs at him.
He really wants to be a waterboy, and is dedicated to his craft, but the world’s telling him not to bother.
In the next scene, Bobby wanders into a dark room where Coach Klein (Henry Winkler) is planning. Klein is thinking up tactics, going round in circles, is overwhelmed.
Bobby hands him a cup of the water he has on him, trying to get Klein to relax, keep him hydrated.
We see the water cooler, with what seems to be diseased water coming from it. Clearly this is a place that could benefit from Bobby’s expertise, and Klein agrees.
Coach Klein’s team (the South Central Louisiana State University Mud Dogs) are introduced, and they are awful. Derek, one of the players, is really friendly and welcoming to him.
Bobby is knocked to the floor, which irritates him but not excessively. Then another player spits in the water. Klein recommends that he needs to stand up for himself. Taking this too far, Bobby launches into a rage, running across the field, and knocking down the offending player.
Klein suspects this ability could be used for the team.
Klein visits Bobby and Momma at home, tries to talk him into playing for the team. Momma is set against the idea, protective of her son. A passive and non-confrontational person, the debate over Bobby’s future is being made by his two ‘parental’ figures.
Klein convinces Bobby that Momma won’t be hurt if she doesn’t find out she’s being disobeyed. Back at the college, Bobby starts playing for the team.
Break Into Two
Bobby needs to sign up academically to qualify for the team, and is clearly out of his league in biology class. He repeats what Momma’s told him about crocodiles, prompting the teacher, to embarrass him in front of the class.
Also, the subject discussed is the medulla oblongata, the biological source of anger, which fits thematically with the film.
On the field, Bobby flies into tackles repeatedly, is a clear force of nature, channeling the anger he feels at several people. But he’s still concerned about the team’s water.
During a match, the team is on he verge of ending their long winless streak. Angered, Bobby deliberately gives the ball to an opponent and chases him down, narrowly failing to stop him before he scores the winning points.
Ricky, Bobby’s ex who’s been mentioned before, shows up immediately after the game, having been released from jail. The chemistry and concern for each other is clear – she’s impressed to hear that he’s now a big-shot football player, and has fine-tuned his lawnmower to go faster.
Ricky goes home with Bobby, and argues with Momma. Bobby is passive as they argue over him.
The Promise of the Premise
Bobby is by now the star player on the team, but they keep on losing. An opponent is visibly terrified when he receives the ball, Bobby chases him down. His reputation has clearly spread across the league.
Bobby attends his first frat party, and his lack of social skills are clear.
A montage – wins; lies to Momma; Bobby in class; teaching young kids good social messages.
Bobby hooks up with Ricky. All’s going well, he takes her home.
Alone in Bobby’s room, Ricky comes onto him, but Bobby, intimidated, shrinks back. Ricky gets frustrated with him, he’s “not even a real man”.
Thanks to Bobby, the team get team into the playoffs. But he feels tormented.
Bad Guys Close In
Despite Bobby’s inner torment and tension with Ricky, outwardly all is well. The team is celebrating, with a huge party. Bobby is accepted and admired by his teammates, and the wider community.
Beaulieu and his team (the Louisiana Cougars) show up, bringing with them the proof that Bobby is isn’t eligible, having failed to graduate from high school.
In the process of a tense standoff, Ricky puts a knife to the throat of the Cougars’ star player, and is sent back to jail.
All is Lost
Starting with the moment Beaulieu shares what he knows about Bobby, the sense of celebration is undercut by things slipping away.
Alone in Klein’s office, Bobby doesn’t know why people think he lied, Klein admits he faked the high school diploma to get him onto the team.
The backstory of how Klein fell apart is explained here, and his history with Beaulieu. Beaulieu’s legendary green playbook was in fact written by Klein in his youth, and stolen from him.
Both are miserable together.
Dark Night of the Soul
Bobby argues with Momma, who falls into a fake coma. Being too dumb/trusting to realise that it was fake, Bobby is tormented, distracted by concern for his mother, and blaming himself for disobeying her to go off and play football, rather than stay at home all day, as she wanted.
Bobby sits and passes the high school exam, but, as Momma is sick, he doesn’t want to leave her bedside again.
Ricky rallies the town to come to the hospital, show how much they care. It’s appreciated, but Bobby doesn’t want to leave her bedside.
Break Into Three
Momma, having overheard the previous scene, decides to come clean. She explains her clinginess, and how Bobby’s father left her. But she knows now how much he’s loved,and doesn’t want to hold him back. She encourages him to chase his dreams.
The team is losing at half time in the final. Feeling hopeless, they reminisce about Bobby, making clear that they care about him as a person, not just for what he could do for them.
He shows up, with a deficit to overcome.
With Bobby’s advice, Klein uses a variation on the mental trick Bobby’s used to get wound up to relax himself, and make Beaulieu less intimidating. He’s now free of his mental block, and able to think up new plays for the first time in years – plays that Beaulieu has no idea how to overcome.
Start of a showdown – both Bobby and Klein coming up against their demons, being proactive, bold.
After the game, the film cuts to the wedding of Bobby and Ricky, a typical ‘happily ever after’ scene.
After what seems to be the finale, Bobby’s dad shows up. In a sort of postscript, Momma tackles him.
As the sun sets, Bobby and Ricky drive off on the lawnmower as a wedding car, cans dragging behind them – a southern/redneck twist on a romantic cliché.
It’s easy to say that a film like The Waterboy is just a dumb film, but despite the broad nature of the humour, I think it’s quite well written, in terms of the jokes, the structure, and the characters. (Everything about the film is over the top, but even the supporting characters feel ‘real’ to me in the same way that characters in Father Ted or Monty Python do. There’s enough to them to make me care about them.)
The path Bobby Boucher takes, from being a nobody at a big football team, being sacked and mocked, becoming a bigger part of a smaller team, then taking on the team that rejected him, is well told.
There’s nothing revolutionary in the humour or the structure of The Waterboy. But I think this type of film, solid and well put together, can be the most useful for an aspiring writer to learn from.