Forget holiday cheer. Justin Malen ’01 dumps eggnog all over an annual workplace rite in the 2016 comedy “Office Christmas Party,” which he co-wrote. You’ll never think of an ice-carved Saint Nick in quite the same way.
Starring Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman, the film is “naughty, inappropriate fun,” wrote The New York Times.
An aspiring screenwriter since the fifth grade, Malen gleaned inspiration from his time as a corporate lawyer for Kaye Scholer in New York and Los Angeles. He found the workplace—and, more to the point, alcohol-drenched and inhibition-compromised workplace social gatherings—to be natural comedic fodder.
“It’s just an uncomfortable, potentially problematic setting given how much is on the line professionally,” Malen says. “Those types of conflicts create comedy.”
Humans behaving badly is another potent allure.
“It’s a nice escape to create characters who get to say and do whatever they want,” he says. “I think a lot of lawyers can relate to that, not necessarily getting to say and do everything they’d like to during the workday.”
These are heady times for the Los Angeles-based Malen. Warner Brothers is producing his comedy “Bastards,” starring Owen Wilson and Ed Helms, which is scheduled to hit the big screen December 22. In December 2016, ABC purchased “Lawyer Up,” a legal comedy series that Malen is penning.
He grew up watching Christopher Guest movies, but he also draws inspiration from writers Judd Apatow, Todd Phillips, and the late Harold Ramis. Law school lent another guiding hand.
“A lot of what I learned at Boalt I now use in screenwriting,” Malen says. “Issue spotting, critical thinking, skills like that help me deal with studios, producers, and actors to develop a project. It was almost better than going to film school.”
Drawing a laugh, it turns out, is no exact science.
“Things as written aren’t necessarily the funniest things on screen,” he says. “It’s a big trick, and no one knows for sure what’s going to make people laugh.”
Christmas parties notwithstanding.