Awards-Season Read: ‘50/50’ Screenplay

By | Wednesday December 14, 2011 @ 10:47pm PST
Pete Hammond

EXCLUSIVE: Writer Will Reiser used his own experiences with cancer to create the screenplay for Summit’s 50/50 starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen and Anjelica Huston. Described as a “cancer comedy,” it is also full of gripping drama. The result has … Read More »

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HAMMOND: ‘Bridesmaids’, ‘Artist’, ‘Paris’ Try To Buck Oscar’s Prejudice Against Comedy; HFPA Says ‘The Help’ Is Not Funny

Pete Hammond

Dying is easy, comedy is hard. Someone said that, right?

Judging by the paltry number of “pure” comedies that have won Best Picture Oscars in the past, apparently the Academy doesn’t think it’s hard at all. But could this actually be the year comedy will once again get its due in the Best Picture race? Will we ever see another genuine laugher taken seriously? “It’s crazy when you see what these great comedy people do,” says Bridesmaids producer Judd Apatow. His film was a huge surprise summer hit and has one of the highest critics ratings on Rotten Tomatoes with 90% fresh reviews. That’s a lot better than many dramatic contenders that pundits take more seriously as true Oscar pictures. Broad, hit-’em-in-the-gut comedy is almost always dismissed.

Apatow told me he was really surprised when Bridesmaids started to become part of the awards conversation this year but now believes they have a shot, at least in some categories — although not daring to dream of Best Picture yet. “We’re very hopeful about Melissa McCarthy in supporting. (Co-writer and star) Kristen Wiig  should get recognition  too. It’s very hard to do what she does,” Apatow said, adding that he thought Zach Galifianakis in The Hangover (which Apatow did not produce) should have been recognized a couple of years ago for the “perfect supporting part” but was obviously overlooked.

Further proving disrespect for comedy in the Acad, Apatow himself was dissed even to become an Academy member until finally getting the invite in 2008. Considering the Academy’s usual reluctance to reward the genre, Wiig is shocked they are even in the hunt, but Bridesmaids is the only movie Universal is significantly campaigning this year. “It’s nuts,” she said. “Recently we were looking at our original draft and thinking the fact people are even talking about it in this way is very strange. But I think ultimately it’s about the story and characters. You have to care about them or you’re not going to care about the movie whether it is comedy or drama.”

Bridesmaids is also hoping for recognition as a Best Picture Comedy or Musical nominee in the Golden Globes, where it actually does have a realistic chance of making the cut (The Hangover actually won). Many have called for the Academy to institute separate categories to honor comedy, like the Globes have always done, but it has never flown.

It is not hard to see why.

Often there’s a very gray line between what constitutes a comedy in the first place.  The Hollywood Foreign Press lets studios determine which categories they want to be in but has final say. In other words, if a studio tries to squeeze J. Edgar into comedy because there is less competition, forget it. This year, there has been lots of discussion among distributors about what constitutes a comedy. Fox Searchlight initially debated whether to enter its George Clooney starrer The Descendants in the Comedy or Musical category because there are definite laughs, but the dramatic elements ruled the day and it is submitted as a drama. Same with Sony’s Moneyball, which had some TV ads with quotes calling it “hilarious.” In the end, it wasn’t that hilarious — it’s in drama.

On the other hand, DreamWorks officially submitted The Help in comedy or musical even though it has some very heavy dramatic moments. On Monday, an HFPA committee rejected it in comedy and determined it would compete as a drama, where it will go head-to-head with Disney/DreamWorks’ other big hopeful, War Horse (assuming both get nominated, as seems likely). It’s not surprising: At a recent event I attended, a lot of HFPA members were voicing concerns about having to judge The Help as a comedy. The film was indeed initially sold by Disney and DreamWorks with an emphasis on its lighter elements, and past Globe winners in the category such as Driving Miss Daisy were similar in tone. Still, that would have meant Viola Davis would compete in the Best Actress-Comedy or Musical category, and no matter how you slice it, her character — a civil rights-era maid — just wasn’t that funny. Other entries that remain in the category that border comedy and drama are Focus Features’ Beginners and Summit’s 50/50, both dealing with main characters with cancer; Paramount’s Young Adult; and The Weinstein Company’s My Week With Marilyn. But the placement seems logical, and their chances against stiff competition in the drama categories would be considerably lessened. Last year, Focus entered the dramedy The Kids Are All Right in the comedy categories and bagged Globes for both the picture and Annette Bening. Read More »

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‘Dolphin Tale’ Leaps ‘Moneyball’ To #1 But New Pics Weak: ’50/50′ #4, ‘Courageous’ #5, ‘Dream House’ #6, ‘What’s Your Number?’ #8

SUNDAY AM, 6TH UPDATE: Still on vacation in a different time zone. That’s why I’m overdue on some autopsy reports I promised and haven’t yet delivered. I’ll release them Sunday. My sincerest apologies. (Unfortunately, I can’t get used to a definition of ‘time off’ that still makes me toil almost 24/7.) That said, the newest numbers have changed the Top 10 order yet again. (It was another confused weekend like the last one!) This crop of four freshmen failed to make much of an impression with moviegoers because holdovers still ruled the North American box office. But overall the weekend is up +10% from last year:

1. Dolphin Tale (Alcon, Warner Bros) Week 2 [3,515 Theaters]
Friday $3.4M, Saturday $6.5M, Weekend $14.2M (-26%), Estimated Cume $37.5M

Terrific hold as Alcon uncorks another feel good favorite. Dolphin Tale was up 88% from Friday night thanks to the saturday matinee bump. Now it’s placing above both films it trailed last week. But the cume is still lagging. And DreamWorks Animation/Paramount just pushed up the release of Puss ‘N’ Boots to October 28th — which will deprive Dolphin Tale of an extra week of alone time with families.

2. Moneyball (Sony) Week 2 [2,993 Theaters]
Friday $3.8M, Saturday $5.5M, Weekend $12.5M (-36%), Estimated Cume $38.4M

Excellent hold especially for a 2-quadrant pic. But Moneyball‘s cume needs more beer and peanuts to fatten.

3. Lion King 3D (Disney) Week 3 [2,340 Theaters]
Friday $3.3M, Saturday $4.4M, Weekend $11M, Estimated Cume $79.6M

Very impressive, still, for this juiced up toon as all releases pass Disney/Pixar’s Finding Nemo to become the 4th highest-grossing animated film of all time worldwide. Snarked a rival studio exec, “I could have told them about that 2-weeks-only crap…” By the way, remind me to tell you about the months of meetings which Disney’s Frankeneisner led over the story problems posed by ‘lion cub incest’ for the sequel was released. Only on Dopey Drive…

4. 50/50 (Summit/Mandate) NEW [2,458 Theaters]
Friday $2.9M, Saturday $3.6M, Weekend $8.8M

The first thing to ponder about this male Terms Of Endearment is that James McAvoy was supposed to play the guy with cancer. Instead, Joseph Gordon-Levitt came in at the last minute. Now it’s hard to imagine this truthful dramedy starring anyone else. Levitt is really becoming one of the most interesting young actors around even if he’s not box office — yet. Summit Entertainment and Mandate Pictures gave 50/50 a surprisingly wide release this weekend: in the old days this pic would have been platformed so audiences could “find” it. But these days, with the skyrocketing costs of marketing, there’s simply no time or purpose to doing that anymore. (“It was always envisioned as a wide release picture as opposed to platform because of its playability,” an insider tells me.) Problem is, Summit thought the film would open around the low double-digits. Nope, despite an ‘A-’ CinemaScore from audiences. Summit says audience ratings & definite recommends were about 20 points above the norm, one of the
highest ever in the studio’s exit polling. More females (54%) came than males (46%). In terms of age demos: 83% were between the target audience of 18-49, 35% under 25, 57% under 30, 43% over 30. Studio sources claim the film’s negative cost is only $8 million. The question now is whether strong word of mouth will allow this pic to play for several weeks and end up with a decent cume.

As you must know by now, the screenwriter Will Reiser based the story in part on his own life, and filmmaker Jonathan Levine promoted not only the film and but also cancer awareness. Pre-release, 50/50 was tracking well with both male and females and with older and younger audiences showing interest. But the really downer disease just kept audiences away despite partnerships with national support groups like Stand Up To Cancer and Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong as well as regional orgs. Marketing-wise, the film at first was positioned as a broad Seth Rogen comedy (not another one!). But then the studio imbued it with the feel of a specialty film. TV buys focused on younger movie-goers first and then expanded to older males and females based on the evolved positioning. Summit began an extensive word-of-mouth screening program in early August and premiered it at the Toronto Film Festival to a standing ovation. Hey, don’t complain about Hollywood’s crappy movies if you won’t support the quality ones. I’m truly disappointed that this pic didn’t do better. It deserves to be seen.

5. Courageous (Sony) NEW [1,161 Theaters]
Friday $3.1M, Saturday $3.2M, Weekend $8.8M

This movie was Fireproof 2 — only substitute fatherhood problems for marriage woes, and law enforcement officers for firefighters. Like most of these faith-based films, Sherwood Pictures’ Courageous was front-loaded because of pre-sales and church groups bussed to theaters. But Sony initially expected a better opening weekend even though it was playing in only half as many locations as the other major studio releases. Still, it made the best per-screen average and rated a rare ‘A+’ CinemaScore across the board with men and women of all ages. Opening weekend exits show the audience was fairly balanced in gender (53% was female) and the reach had a slightly older skew (77% were aged 25+). These pics cost next-to-nuthin’ — Courageous made back its $2 million production budget in its first day of release. Sherwood Pictures is based in Albany, Georgia, where moviemaking ministry Sherwood Baptist Church churns out these inspirational films aimed at Christians. Sony Pictures’s secular TV media was concentrated in outlets like Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, Hallmark Channel, TLC, Lifetime, and TV Land as well as more conservative-leaning outlets ranging from Fox News, CMT to Christian Broadcasting Network and Gospel Music Channel. The marketing budget was “modest and grassroots’. Like Fireproof (2008), Facing The Giants (2006), Flywheel (2003), the co-writers were Stephen Kendrick, who also produced, and Alex Kendrick, who also directed. They, along with producers Michael Catt and Jim McBride together make every movie decision at Sherwood where the four-man team also serve as pastors of the church. Fireproof opened as the No. 4 film in the nation this same time of year, eventually grossing $33 million theatrically. But it also starred former TV teen hearthrob Kirk Cameron, and Courageous was cast with unknowns.

6. Dream House (Morgan Creek/Universal) NEW [2,661 Theaters]
Friday $2.9M, Saturday $3.5M, Weekend $8.2M

Jim Robinson’s Morgan Creek shows yet again that it can’t make or market a movie to save its life. It can’t even handle publicity: MC’s morons apparently can’t find my email address because I’ve received nada from them about this opener. Then again the pic wasn’t screened in advance for critics — always an indicator of a stinker. Don’t blame Universal: it was just distributing Dream House. Morgan Creek paid for and did everything else. Badly. Directed by 6-time Oscar nominee Jim Sheridan and starring Daniel Craig, Naomi Watts, and Rachel Weisz, they all must have needed the payday because they’re way too major to do this critically-panned drivel from a script credited to David Loucka. Sheridan lived to regret it because he and the producers fought over final cut. No wonder none of the major stars publicized the pic. (FYI, Craig and Weisz met on location and later married…) Seriously, this derivative haunted house tale gives new meaning to the definition of derivative. Worst were those TV ads that stole scenes from The Shining. I think it’s high time that the distrusted and disliked Robinson switches professions and starts selling used cars instead of used movies.

7. Abduction (Lionsgate) Week 2 [3,118 Theaters]
Friday $1.7M, Saturday $2.5M, Weekend $5.6M (-48%), Estimated Cume $19.1M

You’ll be reading my mea culpa Sunday when I release my long autopsy report on this domestic bomb. (Though it’s foreign rollout is better so far.)

8. What’s Your Number? (Fox) NEW [3,002 Theaters]
Friday $2M, Saturday $2.1M, Weekend $5.6M

Anna Faris is the modern-day Goldie Hawn: it’s impossible not to like her. Unless you put her in a really lousy R-rated New Regency fully-financed movie like this that Fox surrounded with a muddled marketing campaign vascillating between a female-empowerment pic and a run-of-the-mill rom-com. Problem is, daters haven’t talked about their “number” since the mid-1980s when sexually-transmitted diseases were scaring the bejesus out of singles. Audiences gave What’s Your Number? a ‘B’ CinemaScore. Pic cost only $20M. Its cost to Anna’s career may be more. (I’d like to see Faris in that remake of Hawn’s Private Benjamin she was supposed to do for New Line. It earned Goldie a Best Actress Oscar nom.) Directed by Mark Mylod and produced by Beau Flynn and Tripp Vinson with screenplay credit given to Gabrielle Allan & Jennifer Crittenden, based on the book 20 Times A Lady by Karyn Bosnak.

9. Contagion (Warner Bros) Week 4 [2,744 Theaters]
Friday $1.4M, Saturday $2.3M, Weekend $5M, Estimated Cume $64.6M

Let’s just say I spent my first day of vacation getting three kinds of flu shots after seeing this movie.

10. Killer Elite (Open Road) Week 2 [2,986 Theaters]
Friday $1.5M (-57%), Saturday $2.1M, Weekend $4.8M, Estimated Cume $17.4M

I’m not letting Open Road off the hook on this dead fish, either. Autopsy report coming Sunday, too.

Read More »

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Toronto: Madonna, Parties, And Harvey Weinstein’s New Premiere World Record

Pete Hammond

Harvey Weinstein just set a new air, land and sea world record for attending movie premieres. The Weinstein Company mogul managed to show up at three, count ‘em, three different premiere events in two different countries all on Monday night. “Yeah, this was some fun wasn’t it?” he deadpanned when I asked him about his landmark photo-op achievement.

Although he has been in Toronto this week, Weinstein had to go back to New York City on Monday night to attend the premiere of his company’s romantic comedy I Don’t Know How She Does It, which stars Sarah Jessica Parker and opens nationwide Friday. Then it was right back to Canada and two more North American premieres: Madonna’s directorial outing W.E. and the Ralph Fiennes-directed Coriolanus – and he made ito to both post-parties at Soho House. On one floor he was dining with Madonna and her exclusive guest list, then he did a walk-through one floor down at the Coriolanus preem. Then it was back up to the third floor, where he huddled with Jennifer Garner and Olivia Wilde, the stars of yet another Weinstein Company movie, Butter, which premieres here on Tuesday (I saw it in Telluride). I am told they will open the film for a one-week Oscar-qualifying run October 28 and reopen it sometime in early 2012.

As for the Madonna film, which was critically lambasted in Venice, the spin I got from one of its international reps was that it’s really not all that bad. It’s just that it’s not all that good either. There are some nice visual touches, but the material about the romance between King Edward and Wallis Simpson (written by the Material Girl herself) just isn’t all that compelling. My overall impression is that she is to be commended for trying something different with this British period piece, but for someone normally so edgy, this film very much lacks edge. It is undoubtedly an older person’s movie and facing a daunting commercial climb.

Before the film started (a half hour late), Madonna told the hometown crowd, “As you know I grew up in Detroit, Michigan, so I almost feel Canadian. Even when I have been arrested here I had a heck of a time,” she said. At the earlier Monday morning press screening, a paltry crowd of less than 100 reportedly showed up for their first opportunity to see her directing and writing effort. By the time it was finished, less than half remained in the massive 555-seat Scotiabank Theatre. But following the evening screening at the Roy Thomson Hall, the crowd gave Madonna a brief standing ovation before heading for the exits. But it wasn’t the kind of enthusiastic standing applause heard at the Machine Gun Preacher screening just one night earlier. Read More »

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Mandate Pictures Travels To ‘Jamaica’ With ’50/50′ Team

Mandate Pictures is moving fast on the feature comedy Jamaica, which will reunite the studio with the team behind the comedic drama 50/50, which stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen and Anna Kendrick and is due out in September. Like that … Read More »

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