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April 13, 2011

Scream Week: Scream 2 - The Cotton Weary Experience

There have been many times in my life when I've said I like Scream 2 more than I like Scream.  With age I'm starting to think I'm probably wrong, but I don't change my mind easily enough to say that for sure today.  Check back with me tomorrow.
There are plenty of things I like about Scream 2, starting with the surprisingly great supporting cast. I knew Timothy Olyphant was gonna be awesome from day one, and we also we get Laurie Metcalf and Duane Martin as subtle comic relief from the media side.  (Plus there's fresh new victims like Elise Neal and Sarah Michelle Gellar, and even a dose of David Warner!)  The college setting seems a little fraudulent now that I've passed my own college experience, but it's still an interesting step to take from the original film that provides plenty of cool opportunities. 

The main character arc in Scream 2 is Sidney Prescott's trajectory as a survivor girl, which Neve Campbell handles fantastically.  She's taking steps to protect herself - her early use of caller ID is the most obvious example of this - and is slowly but surely trying to get back to trusting others.  In scenes like the one where she nervously pauses before kissing her boyfriend in a crowded cafeteria or when she tells him that she needs space to deal with her situation - and that he doesn't have a say in the matter - it's clear that Sidney is taking every precaution possible to make sure that she's putting herself first..  In fact, I'd bet it was around this point that 16 year old The Mike went from "Man, Sidney's a cutie" to "Man, I really feel for Sidney".  Emotional growth, thy name is Mike.
But Sidney Prescott is not the past victim who's fighting the past in Scream 2 that I want to talk about.  I'm here to talk about my favorite character in the film - in fact, my favorite character in the first three films - Cotton Weary, as played by Liev Schreiber.

Since we're moving backward through what was once a trilogy, I suppose I need to go back in time to where we met Cotton Weary.  In Scream, Weary appeared briefly on a news report, and we quickly learned that he was the person who Sidney Prescott identified as her mother's killer one year earlier.  And...that's it.  The plot of that film reveals that Cotton was not in fact the killer, but the film doesn't come back to him.  Schreiber is credited as Weary, but the character is only mentioned a couple of times.  Nothing prepared us for where Scream 2 went with the character, and I thus think it might have been the best plot development as Scream rolled into Scream 2.
Scream 2 not only brings Cotton back to the series, it makes him an integral part of the story.  While Sidney is trying to make up for what she's lost, Cotton is trying to do the same thing.  But while Sidney wants a normal life, Cotton wants the spotlight.  And in his quest to gain it - and to not appear to be a creepy former inmate - Cotton battles his own defects of character and struggles to gain the acceptance of others.

Unlike most characters in these films, Cotton Weary is not drawn specifically as a "good" or "bad" person. In Scream 2, it kinda seems like he's the only character aside from Sidney who is interesting beyond the surface level.  He's upset at the world about what he's been put through - and upset at Sidney as well - but he isn't lashing out at people directly, he's simply trying to remind others that he too has been screwed over.  He reminds me of those times when I'm sitting around at work, ranting and raving in my head about why other people can't do what they're supposed to and why all the problems fall to me.  I'm not at my best in these moments, but my intention isn't to harm anyone; I just want things to go right for me.  And that's where Cotton Weary is at in Scream 2.
Thus, the character's on edge.  He's cracking jokes to create levity, he's getting flustered and suddenly having to explain why he's flustered without seeming crazy, and he's doing everything he can to put on a good face around others -especially the media, who he knows hold the key to rehabilitating his image.  He wants to improve his external situation to make up for lost time, and he seems to think that doing so - by being famous, getting money, and winning over others - will make things better for him.  He's truly the anti-Sidney, because we witness her doing the opposite by focusing on what she can do for herself to set her up for success in the future, but that's not inherently a bad thing.  Sidney Prescott has her own laundry list of character defects too.

Most of the credit for Cotton becoming so interesting goes to Mr. Schreiber, who is quite frankly one of my favorite actors working.  Remember that movie Seconds where the old man gets put into Rock Hudson's body so he can live a better life?   If I could do that, I'd become Liev Schreiber.  (And, since Schreiber already starred in the remake of another John Frankenheimer sci-fi thriller, there's no reason we can't remake that one with The Mike starring opposite Liev.  Hollywood, feel free to call me anytime.)  He makes the character a lot more charming than it could have been, delivering plenty of lines that start with "All I want is..." with an unease in his voice and a varying posture that easily tells the viewer that he's more than just a one-dimensional greedy villain. 
I shouldn't get so much satisfaction out of Cotton Weary's journey through Scream 2, but the character and the way it's portrayed just gets me.  Cotton Weary, for better or worse, is easily the most human character in the Scream movies.  He's the slasher movie version of The Shawshank Redemption's Andy Dufresne, only he never came out clean on the other side and is thus left with a lot of internal questions that he can't find answers for.  While he might not have earned his retribution in a traditional manner, he - like Sidney Prescott - is a survivor.  He's just struggling with his emotions in a more outward fashion.

5 comments:

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Wow. This is a great analysis and tribute to a character most people don't really look twice at. There is a possible emotional connection to make with Cotton. But since he is, as you put it, the anti-Sid, perhaps viewers who choose to identify with Sidney tend to miss that. Well spotted, The Mike!

Emily said...

I totally agree! I always wondered at what point they decided to expand upon Cotton, and I wouldn't be surprised if it was the simple fact that they realized--either when filming Scream or watching his other work--that Schrieber is a BRILLIANT actor. LOVE how SCream 2 plays with his morality. Ultimately, he is a good guy (at least in 2) and you know what, he does deserve a little help from the whiny rich girl who PUT HIM IN JAIL.

Also, Liev Schrieber is hot. Yeah, I went there.

Andre said...

Oooh Cotton!

On the subject of Neve in Scream 2 however, I always remember how she was nominated for an MTV movie award for best actress for this and she won! This was back when the movie awards were pretty entertaining. But regardless, horror movie actors and actresses seldom get nominated amongst non horror nominees, so it was kind of neat when it all went down.

And I am digging this Scream 2 love. I really, really enjoy this film and I'm glad I'm not alone..!

A hero never dies said...

Re the opening paragraph of this post, I don't think you were wrong, for my money Scream 2 is at least a better "scary movie" than the first one.

mge said...

I see you are a 100% Cotton fan :P

He's not my favourite character but the initial scene of Scream 3 is one of my favourite moments of the entire saga.