Please, no. Pretentious, flashy, ultra-literature dialogue is not great screenwriting. It’s not the “people don’t speak like that” issue. It’s the, what are you accomplishing other than showing that you are pretentious, flashy, and ultra-literate?
Wes Anderson and Tarrantino’s writing works because their universes are so referential that their films exist in their own universes (one where the artificiality of film breeds its own artificial realities). That’s a strength and at times my major issue with them; that they are so enamored with their cleverness they are almost self-contained creations that can almost exist independent of a viewer.
But there’s something almost condescending in this type of writing from Sorkin’s liberal moralizing to Dunham’s self-effacing hipster malaise. Miranda July almost works for me as self-parody of DIY art culture elitism (as contradictory as that sounds); perhaps a critique of a Todd Solodnz, though I know that’s not what she’s going for.
This is, of course, my own prejudice, and my own proscriptive pet theories and theorists at work. In relation to this, I am principally informed by phenomenological and avant-garde theorists in that I think that powerful film is created WITH the viewer, if not inside of the viewer in some aspect or another, during or after a film. I prefer the unpolished utterance, the in-articulate, the immediate expression as opposed to the perfected one. Though, I will conceded this leads to a privileging of the regional, but I think in the specific the universal is found. There is an honesty and pride, and a lack of self-consciousness that is admirable in the works of Jeff Nichols and his Middle-American tragedies, the McDonagh brother’s post-Coen/Tarrantino revisiting of Scottish humor and gothic tradition, and Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s deeply personal adaptations of local myth and folk religion and contemporary modernity.
But aren’t the very writer’s I just criticized also regional? Yes, and no. One of the problems with the auteur worship in today’s American screenwriting (and basically any application of the auteur, director, actor, etc.)is that there is a tendency to say “this is the voice of ___” a generation. Or this is the quintessential statement: be it on politics, business, etc. (The Wire is important to note here, but also remember that it was informed entirely by Baltimore experience, and everything else was applied post hoc). This may not be the fault of the writers themselves as much as their fans (and this may be where I should give some slack to Dunham). Aspirations are good but sometimes, reaching too far to exemplify something can lead to unintentional taxonomies.
It also isn’t as simple as saying that “Show, don’t tell” is always true. The voice-over in Brief Encounter, the long close-up monologue in Bergman’s Winter Light, the doubling of image and voice over in A Man Escaped, or more recently Craig Monahan’s The interview or the table conversation in Steve McQueen’s Hunger are all outstanding examples where speech was far more effective than visuals. Silence, in far too many “festival” films is equally overused.
One possible middle-ground is Judd Apatow’s films, which are mentioned, but while he is at times an overly clever writer of dialogue, his allowance for improvisation often results in the best moments of his films. Where the script is tight, but there is room for something outside of the writer’s head to sneak in.