Woody Allen is adapting the original screenplay he co-wrote with Douglas McGrath for the 1994 film Bullets Over Broadway as a musical and will take it to Broadway in 2013. The New York Times reports that Julian Schlossberg and Allen’s sister and Midnight In Paris producer Letty Aronson will produce the stage version, for which Allen is writing the book. It will feature existing music from the Prohibition-era 1920s in which the film is set. Dianne Weist won a Supporting Actress Academy Award for her work in the film, which centered on a young playwright (John Cusack) who is forced to cast the girlfriend (Jennifer Tilly) of a mobster in order to mount the production. The film was nominated for seven Oscars, including for Allen’s script. Schlossberg and Aronson also produced Allen’s Relatively Speaking, a group of one-act plays that played Broadway last year. Allen’s Midnight In Paris is up for four Oscars on Sunday.
When it comes to Academy recognition, Midnight In Paris writer-director Woody Allen’s view isn’t that far from the Groucho Marx philosophy held by his Annie Hall alter ego Alvy Singer: Allen would never want to belong to a club that would want someone like him as a member. After Annie Hall scored four Oscar wins, it seemed Allen was an Oscar club member for years to come, especially with 21 nominations under his belt. Not so according to his producer and younger sister Letty Aronson, who has shepherded his films since working on 1994’s Bullets Over Broadway. She also is behind Allen’s latest Oscar Best Picture nominee, which also earned him Director and Original Screenplay noms. Aronson assesses Midnight In Paris, her 18th collaboration with Allen, as well as her brother’s awards-season track record with AwardsLine’s Anthony D’Alessandro.
AWARDSLINE: Midnight In Paris is Woody Allen’s highest grossing film of all-time ($148.4 million worldwide). Why did this title resonate widely with audiences?
ARONSON: When I read the script, I said to Woody, “Who’s going to come see this?” No one has heard of Man Ray or Gertrude Stein. He is always determined to make the movie that he has a vision for and it’s my job to always ask “I wonder who will go see it?” It’s one thing to read the script and quite another to actually see the film. How do I account for its success? It’s been a crossover film in terms of younger folks, which I attribute to either the parents going and saying “you gotta see this” or taking their kids to it. This was also a breakout film partially because people have a love affair with Paris.
HAMMOND: ‘Bridesmaids’, ‘Artist’, ‘Paris’ Try To Buck Oscar’s Prejudice Against Comedy; HFPA Says ‘The Help’ Is Not Funny
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.