An Unexpected Song
You never know where love will find you
Directed by J.J. Abrams
Music: Stephen Sondheim
Title Song: Andrew Lloyd Webber
I chose J. J. Abrams to direct my movie because he thinks outside the box on stories that we think we have seen before. Just look at the way he completely turned the Star Trek franchise into something exciting and fresh.
J. J. also works well with strong female characters. I wanted to make a chick flick like one of the Tracy-Hepburn films. Two strong people who fall in love based on their personalities, not because of their looks (although, I admit, Hugh is very easy on the eyes).
The Basic Plot
The love story between American journalist, Miriam Richards and British pianist, Duncan St. James is told in a non-linear fashion through flashbacks and as their daughter read the books written by Miriam and listens to the music composed by Duncan.
Allegra will not only learn about the deep love between her mother and father, but will witness some of the events in their lives, as she finds herself in the story as an observer at various times in her parents story. She will be seen randomly as a waitress in a jazz club or a passerby on a busy street, or the clerk at a store. It has some elements of the Never Ending Story, in that the flashback scenes are seen through the eyes of the person telling the story. In that way, you are getting different views of the same story.
The movie will span 35 years in the lives of Miriam and Duncan, from their first meeting in New York City through the many events that make up their lives. Marriage, birth, death and Love.
Allegra St. James is in rehearsals in the starring role on Broadway, in a musical written by a composer with a string of hit shows. During rehearsals, she has difficulty getting emotionally involved in her role. She doesn’t understand her character’s motivation and how she could sacrifice so much for love. The composer, (who we learn later, is her father) suggests she read the source material, a series of novels by an American journalist, (who we later learn is her mother).
During her reading of the novels, An Unexpected Song, Summers By the Sea and the songs in her father’s musicals, such as Happily As Long As it Last; Allegro learns the story of her parents first meeting in New York City 35 years ago:
Act 1: An Unexpected Song:
A Novel by Mimi Richards
It’s December 1974. Miriam Richards is an investigative journalist for the New York Review magazine. Recently returning from Germany and Vietnam investigating a story about heroin addiction in returning Army veterans, Miriam is a hard-working reporter who does whatever it takes to get her story.
The magazine’s editor, Frank Kennedy (played by Richard Jenkins) calls Miriam to his office. He is playing classical music on his 8-track tape deck. The Arts And Entertainment reporter is out on maternity leave, when an interview with the biggest name in classical music is visiting New York City. Duncan Scott St. James, a classical pianist with London’s Symphony Orchestra. A prima dona, with a reputation for never giving interviews, St. James is rumored to be in New York to talk about becoming the Conductor with the New York Philharmonic. An interview with him would be a big story for the magazine.
Miriam is a serious journalist and not willing to waste her time interviewing some “English piano player”. She refuses the assignment. Frank is a huge fan of St. James’ and he desperately, wants this story on the cover of his magazine. Frank makes Miriam an offer she can’t refuse. Knowing that she dreams of going to Paris to write her novel, Frank offers Miriam 3 months paid vacation if she can get the St. James interview. She accepts the deal. A couple of quick questions and she would be off to the travel agency to book her flight to Paris.
When Duncan checks into New York the hotel with girlfriend, Chloe Winston, Miriam is waiting in the lobby to get the interview, which he rudely declines. Miriam is irritated and decides to do what she does best…investigate. Late one night, Miriam spots Duncan leaving the hotel, without Chloe. She follows him to a West Side Jazz club. Taking a seat in the back of the dark club, to her surprise, Miriam sees Duncan on stage playing Jazz on the piano and singing Nat King Cole songs.
After watching him for a few nights, Miriam confronts Duncan at the club with her story about the fancy British pianist singing the blues a sleazy New York Jazz club. They sit and talk, drinking scotch while Duncan tells her his story and why he doesn’t do interviews. [The adult Allegra is the waitress] As the scotch takes affect, he loses his British accent and he reveals his love of American Jazz and his long-hidden desire to compose and play something other than classical music. He had been put on a path years ago to be a ‘serious’ musician by his family and could not change now. He tells her the story of his childhood in Australia.
After a few drinks, Miriam tells him about her long-held dream of going to Paris writing novel, similar to Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun. Duncan tells her to forget Paris; it’s too noisy to write. She should go to Italy to Amalfi Coast.
Over the next few days, Miriam and her friend Patty take Duncan to some of the cities best music clubs. As their friendship develops, they talk openly with one another about their childhoods, his guilt over the death of his parents, their family’s expectations of them and their dreams of living their own lives. Eventually, he agrees to do the interview, on the condition that she not mention his childhood in Australia. She hesitates, but agrees. Duncan returns to England with Chloe the following week. Miriam goes to Detroit to work on a story about corruption in the labor unions.
The Romantic Part
Summer comes and Miriam considers Duncan’s advice and books a trip to Positano, Italy on the Amalfi Coast. After a few weeks in Italy, Miriam sends Duncan a postcard telling him that she took his advice. Back in London, Duncan is arguing with his manager and Chloe about his career path and an upcoming world tour, when receives the post card from Miriam. On a whim he packs a bag and heads to the train station.
Duncan finds Miriam sitting at a cafe, drinking an espresso. She is pleased and surprised to see him. [The 12-year old Allegra is playing with other children nearby] The pensione is full, so she invites him to stay a few nights until his room becomes available.
Over the next few days, their friendship becomes closer and more intimate and one rainy evening, after a romantic dinner and lots of Chianti, as walk the narrow streets of Positano, Duncan kisses Miriam. She is upset runs back to her room. A dripping wet Duncan pounds on the door, asking for an explanation. Miriam explains about her father’s views and the prejudice against interracial couples in America. “But we’re not in America, we’re here….just you and me and what’s to stop us from loving each other”.
Duncan and Miriam spend an idyllic 3 months, in love, calling each other pet names Mimi and Davie. She writes her novel and he composes his music. At the end of summer, Duncan asks Miriam to marry him, but she declines, telling him it would never work. She leaves the next morning while Duncan is swimming, leaving him a note with a quote from his favorite musical, Fiddler on the Roof: “A bird may love a fish, but where would they build a home together?”
Miriam returns to New York to discover she is pregnant. Afraid to tell her father about her affair with a man not of her race, she tells her best friend, Patty who advises her to forget about other people’s opinion and tell Duncan about the baby. When Miriam finds the courage to call him, Chloe answers the phone. Chloe lies to Miriam, telling her that she and Duncan are to be married. Feeling betrayed, Miriam decides not to reveal the father identity and to her raises the baby by herself.