In “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House,” Jim Blandings (Cary Grant) is an advertising writer who can no longer stand the cramped quarters of his New York apartment and decides, for the sake of his family, to build the ultimate sprawling manor in the country.
What I found most interesting in an otherwise meh movie is the subplot: Jim has a deadline to write a slogan for Wham Ham. The slogan doesn’t come easily to him (nothing in this film does), and the viewer gets to go through the emotions of a hard case of writer’s block along with him.
1. He can’t believe his assignment. When Jim walks into the office, he sees a cheesy poster for the Wham Ham product line, and he’s delighted that he’s not working on the campaign. In two beats, he finds himself on it. Relief becomes disbelief. He would rather not do the work, but he must do what pays the bills.
2. He knows he’ll do a great job! Jim decides that he isn’t worried about the assignment after all. He goes about his life, heads to the office, does the research. In knowing everything about the product, he assumes that the slogan will practically write itself. He feels fairly confident that, yes, by gum, he’ll be able to write that slogan. Sure, the deadline is fast approaching, but he’ll be fine. Really.
3. He knows he’ll do a horrible job. He tries so hard to come up with something new, but all his ideas have been done before. He comes up with a slogan that he likes. It’s a rip-off of another account’s slogan. He grows restless and fusses with his tie, wanders around the room, talks to his secretary. He is desperate for inspiration. He hates not being able to come up with something. Jim’s mind is just blank.
4. He gets distracted. Forget the stupid slogan and campaign. Jim wants to be home with his wife, curled by the fire in the rain, enjoying life in the country.
5. He gives up. Wham Ham is stupid. And worse, so is he. He is the world’s worst ad writer. Being fired is inevitable. He feels enormous pity for himself and feels like a big fat loser. No one understands. Writing sucks.
6. He finds inspiration around him. After all hope is lost, Jim focuses on other aspects of his life, especially his wife. And in the last moments of the film, Jim hears someone make a comment about Wham Ham that suddenly sounds like the best slogan ever.
7. He immediately gets the writing done. Once he hears the line that works, he doesn’t waste time. Jim knows it will be perfect for this campaign, and he rushes to the office to tell them all about it.
Despite the ending being a bit too neat and the fact that Jim’s writing block isn’t quite as nightmarish as it can be (he didn’t want to throw his typewriter out the window, burst into tears, or jump from the nearest ledge unlike, ah, other people I know), Jim shows the most important trait of a true writer: perseverance.
Jim pushes through writer’s block. Even after he quits and declares that all hope is lost, he remains vigilant for when inspiration decides to send him a gift. And when it does, in the form of a helpful person in his life, Jim is ready to receive it.
He is a writer, and professional writers are always vigilant—even when it feels like everything he’s writing is lousy. It’s writing through all those bad slogans and crummy lines that allows for the brilliance to finally shine forth.
How do you navigate through writer’s block?