Lillian Russell

Inciting Event: Young Helen Leonard informs her mother that her singing teacher thinks she could be on the stage. She then bravely storms outside to deflect the drunken crowd who has come to mock her mother’s failed mayoral campaign. As the crowd disperses, she recognizes the newspaperman Alexander Moore, who saved her life earlier. They make a pact to go on a date as soon as one of them gets a job.

I hesitated just a bit in identifying this as the Inciting Event, even though the timing is right, since the important scenes, in which Helen begins taking voice lessons and then meets Alex for the first time, all happen earlier. But the pact is the key. This is the story’s throughline. Even though her relationship with Alex takes a backseat for most of the movie, it is the story’s heart.

First Plot Point: Helen gets a job at a prominent theater—and changes her name to Lillian Russell. She leaves her Normal World and enters the adventure of the Second Act. This is a great example of how the First Plot Point and the “destruction” of the Normal World doesn’t have to be tragic or traumatic. Here, Helen/Lillian gets exactly what she wants.

First Pinch Point: The plot turns, halfway through the First Half of the Second Act, when the story skips several years to show Lillian at the peak of her career, pursued by several important love interests—millionaire Jim Brady and composer Teddy Solomon. The pinch point itself is pretty weak: just prior to the skip in time, Lillian’s mother prophesies Lillian will be unhappy in her success.

Midpoint: Lillian marries Teddy off-screen. On-screen, Alex’s paper assigns him to do a story about her. The weakness of this plot point is immediately evident. The main character’s momentous life change is brushed over; viewers don’t even get to see her courtship. Instead, Alex’s own reaction and journey are emphasized. However, note that this does allow the story to move Lillian and Alex’s relationship back into a more active (vs. reactive) role, as Alex literally pursues her to London.

Second Pinch Point: Teddy gets Lillian fired from Gilbert and Sullivan’s new play, putting her career in jeopardy so he can write an operetta for her. Again, this is weak pinch point, not because of its substance, but because Lillian herself never really seems to feel the pinch of it. She quickly forgives Teddy and says it’s just as well since she’s going to have a baby. Just as with the First Pinch Point, the plot turns when the nine months of her pregnancy are skipped—and the story resurfaces with the baby born and Teddy working himself to death on the operetta.

Third Plot Point: After reuniting amicably with Alex and agreeing to sell him her life story (a victory of sorts, since she needs the money), Lillian discovers her husband has dropped dead at the piano. She loved him despite his faults and mourns him—before rising again to sing his songs successfully on the London stage.

Climax: Years later, back in America, Jim Brady asks her to marry him. Despite her respect for him, she turns him town. The turning point into the Climax is relatively subtle (especially since it’s cluttered with cameos from classic Broadway stars) and could arguably be the beginning of the show itself rather than Brady’s proposal. However, her refusal of the proposal is what sets up the final drive to her reunion with Alex.

Climactic Moment: Lillian realizes she has always loved Alex—and she sends her maid to fetch him. Once again, an argument could be made for the Climactic Moment being the moment when Lillian and Alex actually meet and kiss. But this is the moment where I feel all the tension goes out of the story. There’s never any question she and Alex will get together after she’s made this decision—since he’s been waiting for her ever she was a young woman.

Resolution: Lillian and Alex meet and embrace in her dressing room.

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