Save the Cat! Goes to the movies (19) Out Of The Bottle: The Nutty Professor (1996)


Now a warning?! “

This line from Death Becomes Her is one of my favorites. It’s spoken by Meryl Streep, subsequent to her swallowing a potion to make her forever young and told The Rules too late. It’s a hilarious beat and reinforces an OOTB truism: The curse becomes apparent only after we get what we most desire. This is also one of the signatures of the “Thing Bottle,” those tales where magic is delivered to us by totem (Like Mike, The Mask) or elixir (Love Potion #9). One of the best is director Tom Shadyac’s CGI tour de farce,

The Nutty Professor.

Like the original Jerry Lewis masterwork, the Eddie Murphy reprise is a Jekyll and Hyde story. Instead of just being about a meek scientist who turns egomaniac by use of a potion, the new version adds obsession with weight loss. As tubby Sherman Klump, Eddie is sweet and brilliant. But his bulk is stopping him from getting ahead. Only after he invents a fat-reducing potion and becomes Buddy Love (an homage found in the name of another genre we’ll soon discuss!) does his inner egotist come out – and the battle between his two halves begins. Being Buddy may get him places, but it stops Sherman from finding happiness. The lesson of “doing it without the magic” is nigh. Every wish is a curse, turns out, even when we get everything we think we really want.

OOTB Type: Thing Bottle

OOTB Cousins: Electric Dreams, Love Potion #9, The Mask, Jumanji, Flubber, Death Becomes Her, Like Mike, Clockstoppers, Click, The Last Mimsy


Screenplay by David Sheffield & Barry W. Blaustein

And Tom Shadyac & Steve Oedekerk

Based on the motion picture

Written by Jerry Lewis and Bill Richmond

Opening Image: Eddie Murphy plays many roles in this film. First up is Richard Simmons clone, Lance Perkins, leading an aerobics class on TV. In the foreground, a tubby man gets ready for his day.

Set-Up: Meet Sherman Klump (Eddie in a fat suit), a college professor working on a weight-reduction formula. We get a “Save the Lab Rat” moment as he protects his guinea pig from more tests. We admire Sherman, as does his assistant (John Ales). But the college’s Dean Richmond (Larry Miller) does not. Calling him on the carpet, Larry reveals Sherman’s weakness: He alienates donors to the school. We also meet Miss Purty (Jada Pinkett Smith), who’ll be Sherman’s love interest. Sherman is too shy to ask her out.

Instead he goes home where we meet the rest of the Klumps at a scatological family dinner. Through the magic of make-up, Eddie brilliantly portrays all the Klump adults. All XL.

Theme Stated: You’re always going to be fat, Sherman is told by his Mom (also Eddie) in a Stasis = Death moment, but adds: “All you got to do is believe in yourself and you can do anything.”

Catalyst: Inspired by his Mom, Sherman asks Jada out to a hip club, The Scream – but will Sherman get in shape in time?

Debate: Love or food? The battle between Sherman’s appetite and his need to be “normal” is primal. Sherman has a nightmare that includes a take-off of From Here to Eternity as Sherman crushes Jada in the surf. But by the night of his date, he’s ready. Sherman and Jada go to The Scream and all goes well until an insult comic (that’s Dave Chappelle!) wallops Sherman with fat jokes. Sherman takes it, but the pain is palpable. After the show, Sherman drops Jada at her place and sadly heads home to stuff his face in front of the TV.

Break into Two: Later that night, he has another dream in which he imagines himself as Fatzilla. Fed up (in more ways than one), Sherman goes to the lab and creates the magic potion that will transform his life. It is a fat-reducing formula that messes with DNA and testosterone levels. Taking the potion, he now becomes, well, Eddie Murphy: confident, obnoxious… and thin!

B Story: Eddie meets Jada in Sherman’s lab at school and gets stuck for an ID. He tells Jada his name is Buddy Love, a nod to the original film. We now see the Jekyll and Hyde element. Buddy asks Jada out and she agrees. But the true B story is between Sherman and Buddy. It’s where the theme will be discussed. Which of his “selves” is the real Sherman?

Fun and Games: A hilarious Fun and Games montage in which Buddy discovers “Spandex! ” is followed by a reprise of his date with Jada at The Scream, this time as Buddy. Extroverted Buddy seems to have been honed by Eddie himself and, like Jerry Lewis before him, there is a hint of self-revelation in his performance that adds to this amazing character. As Buddy, he is ready and bests the comic who nailed him the night before. But The Rules include the hitch that after a certain time, the effects of the potion reverse. At the club, Sherman’s assistant suspects Buddy and follows him out. Discovering that Buddy is Sherman, he now becomes the Confidant.

Midpoint: With the “false victory” of the successful date, Sherman rushes to class the next day and finds the Dean waiting. Larry threatens to kill Sherman – really. He also sets a “time clock” in motion, and tells of an upcoming dinner that a big donor will attend. Either Sherman bags him or Larry will kill Sherman – really.

Bad Guys Close In: Sherman does the unthinkable and asks Jada to his family’s house for dinner – and more scatology. As Sherman he can’t get anywhere with Jada, yet neither can Buddy. The pressure is building. Sherman becomes Buddy to meet and woo the college donor (James Coburn) and takes Jada with him. It goes well. Too well. Egotist Buddy dumps Jada for three party girls.

All Is Lost: Jada stops by Sherman’s house the next day and, since the potion has worn off, discovers him with the three women! Now Sherman loses Jada, too. He also gets evicted and finds his name being removed from his door at school: He is fired. A perfect “All Is Lost” moment, Sherman is “worse off than when this movie started” – all compliments of the bad mojo.

Dark Night of the Soul: Gorging with food, Sherman watches an exercise video – interrupted when Buddy appears in a spot he recorded the night before. “You can’t beat me,” taunts Buddy.

Break into Three: “Yes I can,” says Sherman. Determined, he pours out the potion. “lf I’m going to change my life, it’s not going to come from some magic drink!” But Buddy tricked him; he dosed Sherman’s diet-shakes with the formula. Sherman drinks one, and becomes Buddy again. Buddy now reveals his plan to “kill” Sherman with a super dose of the potion – and be Buddy forever! A and B stories cross as Buddy takes control. Knocking out his assistant, who tries to stop him, Buddy races to the big donor dinner.

Finale: Obnoxious Buddy arrives. Jumping onstage, he admits he is Sherman, exposing himself as fat then reducing instantaneously by using the formula as the audience looks on. But something goes awry. The danger of the formula is revealed as the two sides of his personality fight it out. In the end, Sherman dispatches Buddy, re-embraces his true body type, and admits his mistakes to all.

Final Image: Sherman leaves in shame. Jada runs after him. “I’m gonna be big no matter what I do,” he tells her. His bulk doesn’t matter to Jada or the donor. Sherman gets the girl – and the grant. Mom was right. By believing in himself, Sherman has triumphed! As we fade out, he and Jada share an awkward but loving slow dance.


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