Shapiro: The rise of the ‘conquel’

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Oftentimes a successful movie will be followed by the release of a sequel. A lot of books have sequels, and every successful movie of the last decade was based on a book, so this happens pretty often … times. And then sometimes if the series is really successful and the producers have exhausted every possible forward-moving plotline, they’ll satisfy the clamoring and senseless masses with that unholy gift, the prequel. (“X-Men: First Class,” “The Hobbit,” get at me.) But even more rarely comes what I’d like to call the “conquel,” which is basically when the same movie comes out twice, when one film is just not enough to truly do a premise justice.

Take, for example, the plot of an attractive man and an attractive woman, both around 30 years old, and they’re best friends. Realizing they are attracted to each other and that neither has anything else going on in the bedroom area — despite their both being smoking hot — they decide to engage in a casual sexual relationship with one another. Hilarity, romance, heartbreak and romance again ensue. This is the premise of “No Strings Attached,” starring Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman as the horny and misguided friends, with Chis “Ludacris” Bridges featured as one of Kutcher’s skeptical best bros. “No Strings Attached” (written by Elizabeth Meriwether ’04) is in theaters now. However, coming out in July is what appears to be a nearly identical film, called “Friends with Benefits,” starring Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, with Woody Harrelson (really?) as the judgmental bud. It’s like Hollywood is saying, “No need to rent ‘No Strings Attached’ when it comes out on Blu-ray; just see it again in theaters, but with someone who was in both “Black Swan” and “That 70s Show,” not just one or the other.

So obviously the formula works. But why stop there? Hollywood, I hope you’re reading. Here are some other variations on the theme:

“Friends with Strings” (working title: “Strings with Benefits”): A dark indie romance about a lonely puppeteer whose only companions are his numerous handmade marionettes. That is until he meets a quirky girl, in the express lane of the supermarket (he has too many items and she offers to put some in her cart), who it turns out makes her own finger puppets. Out of string. She wears quirky glasses and quirky sweaters. This chance encounter sparks a whirlwind love affair full of dandelion bouquets, nighttime bike rides, tears and puppet shows latent with metaphor, toeing the line between surrealist art film and conventional rom-com. Luke Wilson and Kate Bosworth will star; both will receive Oscar nominations.

“No Benefits Attached”: A scathing workplace satire in which a strong single mother takes a midlevel job at a seemingly stable corporation, only to find that the long list of health benefits that were offered are in fact nonexistent. After a week on the job she discovers that most of her coworkers are wildly unwell, suffering from some diseases that don’t even really exist anymore outside of the office, like smallpox, or polio, or demonic possession. When our heroine gets a cold she decides to lead an office revolution. Annette Bening is given an Academy Award before she even accepts the role.

“Words with Friends with Strings”: The “You’ve Got Mail” for a new decade. Two attractive and well-dressed teens in New York City are locked in a heated contest on the popular Scrabble knock-off iPhone app. Tensions rise with game after contested game, and the two vent to their friends about this faceless but despicable foe. The two also meet at a party of a mutual friend, and really hit it off, bonding over their love of word games and physical beauty. But when they discover each other’s true identities (“You’re EmStar91?!” “You’re Mr. WordKicker?!?”) their lives are thrown into a tailspin. T-Swift and J-Biebs star.

“No Friends:” The story of a man with no friends. It’s very sad and it wins everything. James Franco GRD ’16 stars.

“No Friends, Benefits?”: A very similar movie, but it has a happy ending. It doesn’t win anything. Sorry, Michael Cera.

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