The Time to Make up Your Mind about People Is Never

Have you heard this line: The time to make up your mind about people is never. I saw The Philadelphia Story in my early teens, and it is still a favorite.

This works in real life and in fiction. While there are certain groups that I’d like to label with some lovely satisfying insult–and sometimes do in spite of myself–this doesn’t do much to help understand anyone or the world. I want believable characters, don’t you? How do you do that if you can’t get in the head of your hero, your villain, and all the people in-between? Where’s the mystery and the joy of discovery?

Near the end to of the film–without spoiling it too much–the characters have something of a “did they/didn’t they” debate. They don’t spell out what they are talking about, but everyone knows what they mean. I love how they talk around things and still say so much.

They leave the idea to the imagination.

I wish I could write such dialog. If you don’t write it well, you’re being vague and cryptic. I’m an expert at vague and cryptic.

Dialog. Must sound real but not be real. Clever, but not too clever. Convey meaning, but not be info dump.

Of course with film, the right actors can save a lot of dialog–saying a ridiculous thing with the right tone and the right gesture. Words on the page must work for themselves.

Now, if I could get Hepburn, Stewart, and Grant to read for me…

2 thoughts on “The Time to Make up Your Mind about People Is Never

  1. Wonderful scene. The Philadelphia Story was another of those cultural experiences I missed out on while growing up; it took The Missus (who loves stars like these) to correct that. (Stewart isn’t someone you normally think of as a sex symbol, but he’s got another one of these hot moments with Donna Reed, in It’s a Wonderful Life of all things — she’s talking on the phone to another guy, and Stewart’s standing riiight behind her, and practically swooning with the scent of her hair.)

    I don’t know how actors can do a scene like this without either cracking up or immediately running offstage to jump each other’s bones. 🙂

    Ahem. What were you—? Oh, yes. Dialogue. A mystery to me. I’ve read advice like, “Read it aloud to yourself and if it sounds unnatural, fix it.” But I don’t understand that entirely; what sounds natural for one character sounds stupid coming out of another one’s mouth.

    You’re 100% right about the right actors saving weak (or weird) dialogue. I mean, take something simple like “Tracy, you’re MAGNIFICENT!” I don’t know if I could ever ask of a character that he say that — unless he was horsing around, y’know?

  2. When I read any dialog I’ve written out loud I feel stupid and, being no actor, it all sounds unnatural. Of course, maybe it all is unnatural.

    As for actors, I’ve always assumed that acting scenes such as the one posted here is what ruins so many Hollywood marriages–because they don’t crack up. They do the latter.

    And Stewart does have his moments.

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