5 Screenwriting Takeaways: ‘Bad Trip’ and the Art of the Prank Narrative
April 5, 2021
Bad Trip pushes and crosses more genres than March 2020 had days. It’s a road trip movie, a buddy comedy, a prank film, and a love story, with a dash of excellent reality producing and subtle political commentary on America. It advocates for the value of the prank movie and validates Borat being on the Academy® Awards ballot. It’s also heartfelt and, of course, very, very funny. Not to mention, eight writers are credited on the script — it likely takes a lot of brains to make so many genres work effortlessly together.
Here are your five takeaways from what most simply can be called, The Prank Narrative of Bad Trip.
The Inciting Incident. Comedian Eric André (who is known for boldly interacting with the public through pranks on The Erice André Show) teamed up with Jackass producer Jeff Tremaine to help ensure there was a story beyond the pranks in Bad Trip. André’s character Chris Carey is hopelessly in love with a friend from high school, Maria Li played by the level-headed Michaela Conlin, who stops by his smoothie shop by happenstance. Chris’s intense feelings for Maria result in a coordinated dance number in a mall, along with some insane blood at the smoothie shop, not to mention the inciting incident for the film: steal a car and find Maria at all costs. Granted, Chris’s motives are misguided (even though they result in some sweetness, particularly from members of the greater public that always seem ready to give him advice), but André never hesitates to call himself out for overstepping boundaries — seemingly always conscious that overstepping those boundaries both drives comedy and results in skin-crawling moments throughout the movie.
An Incredible Antagonist. André seemed to know that Tiffany Haddish was born to be bad. Haddish embodies Trina Malone, Bud Malone’s escaped convict sister, whose most prized possession is a pink car with “Bad Bitch” painted in cursive on the back window. Chris, being the enterprising guy he is, suggests he and BF Bud (played by Lil Rel Howery) steal Trina’s car from the shop while she’s in jail. Bud resists, but Chris is convincing, and thinks that incarcerated Trina will never find out. Thank goodness Trina escapes from jail, because Haddish steals every scene she’s in. She’s all at once terrifying, hysterical, mischievous and heartwarming. Not an easy feat, particularly when needing the additional physical fitness to keep up with André’s off-the-wall stunts, but Haddish keeps step with her rivals if not overshadowing them and owning every inch of the screen.
Bringing Reality to Scripted Narrative. Here’s where André’s movie creates the most magic. Hidden camera reality work is not easy. Producers from the reality world often say casting is everything, and much pre-production work is spent here trying to find the right subjects that can sustain a show, a moment — or even just be okay with being on camera. André subverts the genre and takes all the pressure off of the unassuming public. His comedy and openness is disarming, and the film instead asks what will happen when confronted by the outrageousness of André himself? What works so well is that apparently when confronted by outrageousness, and especially dangerous outrageousness, is that people just want to help people. Sometimes no matter how difficult the request. André has oft been described as an affable anarchist, and Bad Trip is indeed his most validating showcase yet.
The Magic of a Good Buddy Comedy. Chris himself states his lesson throughout this movie is discovering his soulmate is Bud, aka Lil Rel Howery. Howery has been working the stand-up circuit for years and he’s just as affable and disarming as André, but with a side of rationality to balance out André’s complete absurd anarchism. The duo loves the movie White Chicks, which is not a bad comparison; Two friends getting into hijinks. Of course, Chris and Bud are not literally dressing as white chicks, until they actually do. Nevertheless, their friendship and chemistry are palpable and they are easy to root for, no matter how often their journey goes off the rails.
The Love Story. Naturally, the film has to cycle back to the love story that was set up throughout. Michaela Conlin’s Maria is another calming force in a sea of chaos. Thanks to Chris’s fantasies, the audience is set up to believe that somehow, magically, this might work out. But André is a step ahead of his audience here. Sometimes, things are just not meant to be, particularly when they are not deserved or earned, and watching Conlin turn on a dime in many of her scenes is worth much more than a normal or expected happy ending.
Final Takeaway: It’s a joy to watch scripted and improvised humor work in a way that completely disarms its unsuspecting audience over and over again. The magic in not knowing what is real and what took hours to craft and capture the true moment will have audiences likely rewatching this genre-bending film more than once.
Bad Trip is now available on Netflix.
Written by: Lindsay StidhamLindsay holds an MFA in screenwriting from the American Film Institute. She has overseen two scripts from script to screen as a writer/ producer. SPOONER, starring Matthew Lillard (SLAMDANCE), and DOUCHEBAG (SUNDANCE) both released theatrically. Most recently Lindsay sold PLAY NICE starring Mary Lynn Rajskub. The series was distributed on Hulu. Recent directing endeavors include the Walla Walla premiering (and best screenplay nominated) TIL DEATH DO US PART, and the music video for Bible Belt’s Tomorrow All Today. Lindsay is currently working on an interactive romcom for the production company Effin' Funny, and a feature film script for Smarty Pants Pictures. Lindsay also currently works as an Adjunct Screenwriting Faculty member at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. You can follow her work here: https://lindsaystidham.onfabrik.com/