There’s an old screenwriting maxim that goes roughly like this:
“Drama is conflict.” And it appears that our writer/director has taken that maxim to heart.
“It’s Just Coffee” is about conflict – personal and global.
On an interpersonal level, it’s about a brother and a sister who get together for coffee in a diner one day. They haven’t seen each other in a while, due to the brother perceiving the sister as having snooped on him and ratted him out.
Maybe. Or maybe it’s the fact that their ideals don’t line up. He works for a non-profit organization called Meals Not Missiles, which sends food overseas to countries that America has bombed recently.
She’s a lawyer in, one guesses, a powerful firm that defends corporate clients. This irks the brother, who views this as corporate sellout, though he claims that’s not what bothers him about it.
There’s certainly an interesting conflict sitting on the table between these two characters, but it becomes obvious after a few minutes that the writer is asleep at the wheel.
The writer’s primary problem is his refusal to give equal weight to the argument on both sides of the table. It’s obvious that as a person he’s anti-corporation, as the cover of the DVD reads: A brother and sister get together over coffee to discuss blood-sucking corporate America. The copyright notice helpfully points out that “No corporations were harmed in the making of this film.”
Subsequently he seems unwilling to give equal weight to both sides of the argument.
This is not to say that the brother doesn’t have some valid points. Early on, he points out that American corporations often send their companies overseas where they can open what are, in essence, sweatshops.
This is a reasonable statement, and the sister has no reply. She doesn’t have ammunition to fight back with, instead resorting to personal attacks, including, but not limited to:
The brother never calls.
The brother brought a gun into their mother’s house and didn’t tell her it was there.
The brother broke a window during a recent demonstration.
One wonders, how did the sister become a lawyer if she’s completely incapable of arguing?
Worse, the film shoots itself in the foot multiple times with the brother character – it’s obvious that we’re supposed to think his dogma is correct, but why should we want to listen to this guy? He’s certainly paranoid, as he keeps a gun because he needs to protect himself from “the state.” He dislikes the military, or at least the government, yet on the cover of the DVD he’s pictured as wearing a camouflage jacket, likely picked up at an army surplus store.
And for wanting so badly to take care of the world, he seems almost completely incapable of offering any human decency to his own sister – to the point where he attacks her, out of left field, for a bout of bulimia in her past.
So we are back, once again, to the conflict equals drama equation, and why it simply doesn’t work in this film. The answer is that the conflict must be interesting – a debate must have sound arguments from both sides, whether relating to corporate crime or the ethics of not telling your mother about your handgun.
There were a half-dozen great arguments to be had in this picture, but the writer followed through with none of them. Perhaps that equation should be updated to read:
Interesting conflict = drama.
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