Giving the Audience Time to Breathe

My spouse and I have watched Charlie’s Angels (the one released in 2019) every night since Mother’s Day weekend.

I’ll start off by saying that I really don’t understand why it has only a 51% rating on RottenTomatoes.com.

Actually, I can probably guess why it has that rating, but I think that rating is horseshit. So, here are some of the reasons why I enjoy this film as much as I do.

I could write in detail about its balanced casting, the humorous dialogue, its well-choreographed fight scenes, the usage of practical FX, and its messages about women and our strengths.

While I love all those things about this movie, one factor that I think really stands out is the film’s pacing.

Watching the same movie that many times in a row, even the most unknowing viewer will start to notice some of the decisions the director, editor, and producers made. And one of the most important decisions I think they made was the scene on the boat. (It’s the moment pictured above.)

I’ll try not to spoil the film, although it will be a bit difficult to discuss this scene without spoilers.

This boat ride takes place about 2/3 of the way through the movie. Sabina (Kristen Stewart) and Jane (Ella Balinska) have just lost a big fight with some villains. Their client, Elena (played by Naomi Scott), has managed to knock herself out with a tranquilizer gizmo.

In an action film like this, the audience expects that the next scene will show the heroes back at their hotel, gearing up and making plans to rush back into the fray. Often, the emphasis in an action film is to keep the throttle fully open and pound viewers with the next car chase, explosion, or brawl. I’m sure a lot of writers, directors, and producers probably would have done exactly that.

But writer/director/producer Elizabeth Banks defies our expectations. Instead of watching our Angels dash off to their next fight, we get a quiet, playful bonding moment on a boat. And the chorus of Pink’s “Hurts 2B Human” (featuring Khalid) swells over the scene, emphasizing that these three women may have lost the fight, but they aren’t defeated yet.

I think a lot of writers, directors, and editors would have cut this scene because it slows the frantic pace of the fights and crashes. It doesn’t get the audience (or the characters) any closer to figuring out who the main villain is.

But it shows that these three women—from different backgrounds and with widely different abilities—have found common ground. For me, it’s the moment when these three strong, independent women let down their guards and are honest with one another. They don’t say that out loud. Their body language does that for them. And brief pause in the action forges them into a team that’s stronger together.

Writers often hear advice about how to keep an audience’s attention. We’re told, “Put the dead body on the first page” or “You have to end the chapter on a hook that makes the reader turn the page.” A lot of writing advice emphasizes that readers are easily distracted. We’re fighting the Internet, social media, and videos-on-demand for the audience’s attention. The advice seems to say that if we don’t keep the audience amped up, we’ll lose them to another story that does.


But I think that advice does readers a disservice.


Sometimes, the audience—and our characters—need a moment to pause. A moment to breathe and reflect on what we’ve seen and what that means to us. On what happens next, now that this one big event has occurred.

The cast and crew of this film give readers that respite, but that scene isn’t just dead space or wasted. It’s a moment for three characters to connect on a deeper level. And that stronger connection will carry them through to the film’s end. (And, I sincerely hope, into future films starring this same cast and with Elizabeth Banks again as the writer/director at the helm. Oh please, oh please!)

It’s a lesson I’m hoping to use in my WIP.

If you haven’t given this film a try, I hope you do. And, I’d love to hear about films or TV shows that have taught you some lessons about storytelling, pacing, or character development. Please share them in the comments.

[Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, and Ella Balinska in Charlie’s Angels (2019), directed by Elizabeth Banks for Sony Pictures]

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