Where do you get your ideas?
It's hard to be original, but it may not be necessary
By Todd Leopold
Julianne Moore and Pierce Brosnan in "Laws of Attraction."
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(CNN) -- If you listened to your English teacher, you'll remember that there are seven basic plots, four basic conflicts, and it's always "i before e except after c."
Unless there are 20 basic plots, seven basic conflicts, and the word "seize."
See? The only rule is that there are no rules. And what's original may not be all that original.
For example, take two movies coming out Friday: "Laws of Attraction" and "Mean Girls."
The former is an "homage" to the Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn films of the 1940s, notably "Adam's Rib," which also featured its stars as romantically linked lawyers on opposite sides of a case. "Homage" is a fancy term for "a film that tries to be just like a well-loved classic, except slightly different and often with a wink at the audience."
A good homage, in fact, may be so close to the classic that you can't tell the difference -- at which point it's no longer an homage, but a throwback. Or a remake. Either way, if it's good, nobody much cares that it's not original.
Then there's "Mean Girls," which is based on a serious nonfiction book, Rosalind Wiseman's "Queen Bees and Wannabes," about the folkways of high school adolescent girls. "Mean Girls," however, is a comedy about how a newly arrived student fits in with her peers. It took the skeleton of "Queen Bees" and spun it into a different being.
This is also a time-honored showbiz tradition. In fact, one of the many wonderful things about entertainment is how it can take serious slabs of scholarship or history -- think biographies or chronicles -- and turn them into satires. Or musicals. Or tragedies. Or some combination of them all.
(Heck, I've always wanted to turn the story of Warren G. Harding into a musical, but I've never gotten past a title -- "Harding!" -- and two song ideas: "Smokin' in the Smoke-Filled Room" and "I'm a Little Teapot Dome.")
Eye on Entertainment takes a slightly cockeyed look.
"Laws of Attraction" stars Pierce Brosnan and Julianne Moore. The pair play divorce attorneys who often find themselves on different sides of the same cases, and continue to take sides even after they're married.
It's not quite "Adam's Rib" -- that one had to do with married criminal lawyers involved in a case of attempted murder -- but close enough.
Brosnan and Moore have their work cut out for them. Emulating Tracy and Hepburn and their clever movies (two of which were scripted by real-life married couple Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin) is a challenge for anybody. There's a reason "Tracy and Hepburn" has become shorthand for a certain kind of graceful comedy.
"Mean Girls," on the other hand, doesn't have to worry about using its source material, "Queen Bees and Wannabes," as a yardstick. The movie stars Lindsay Lohan as a transfer student who becomes part of the "Plastics" -- the cool, snobbish girls -- but then falls for the ex-boyfriend of a Plastic.
Meanwhile, she has to negotiate all the other groups -- the math nerds, the punks, the Sidekicks, Bankers and Bystanders described in Wiseman's book.
Given that "Mean Girls" is a comedy, it has another type of movie to live up to: the high school film, whether it's "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," "The Breakfast Club" or "Clueless."
"Saturday Night Live's" sharp Tina Fey wrote the script, so it should have some smart -- and even original -- touches.
Of course, that depends on what your definition of "original" is.
On screen"Godsend" stars Greg Kinnear and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos as a couple who lose their young son and then arrange with a doctor (Robert De Niro, looking very "Angel Heart"-ish) to clone him. But as the boy grows up, he's a little different from what they remember. Opens Friday.Ben Stiller and Jack Black star in "Envy," a comedy directed by Barry Levinson about a pair of friends who become divided when a get-rich quick idea of Black's becomes a huge success. Sounds like a promising film -- it also has Rachel Weisz and Christopher Walken -- but keep in mind: The studio's kept it on the shelf for almost a year. Opens Friday.
On the tubeThe season finale of "Will & Grace" airs Thursday and features a truly special guest star -- Jennifer Lopez, who probably had to leave the all-white, flower-strewn trailer on a movie lot somewhere. Harry Connick Jr. and Tim Curry also guest on this one-hour episode, which features Karen (Megan Mullally) flying to Las Vegas to elope with Lyle (John Cleese). Thursday, 9 p.m., NBC.NBC wrecks California with a huge, scientifically implausible earthquake in "10.5," airing Sunday and Monday at 9 p.m. The miniseries stars Kim Delaney, Dule Hill, John Schneider -- and Beau Bridges as the president.
Sound wavesKimberly Locke's album "One Love" (Curb) comes out Tuesday.
Paging readers"Eventide" (Knopf), Kent Haruf's follow-up to "Plainsong," comes out Tuesday.Larry McMurtry's latest novel, "Folly and Glory" (Simon & Schuster) -- the last volume in his Berrybender Narratives -- is released Tuesday."Grace and Power: The Private World of the Kennedy White House" (Random House) would seem to be another barely necessary addition to the many books about the Kennedys, but this one bears the imprimatur of Sally Bedell Smith, whose biography of William Paley, "In All His Glory," was both gripping and solidly researched. Due Tuesday.