- The Lunch: Todd Sklar & Alex Rennie of ‘Awful Nice’
- The Lunch: Critics Alonso Duralde & Dave White on ‘Robocop,’ Reagan & Rye …
- The Lunch, with Standup & Author DC Pierson on ‘Wolf of Wall Street’
- The Lunch with Justin Simien, Writer-Director of Sundance Grand Jury Prize Winner ‘Dear White People’
- The Lunch Closes Out Sundance 2014 with William B. Goss of Film.com
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Tag Archives: Jason Bateman
Directed by Seth Gordon (King of Kong, Four Christmases), Horrible Bosses chronicles the sad-sack lives of three working guys who, as the title not-so-subtly establishes, have a certain degree of dissatisfaction with their careers. Uptight, upright Nick (Jason Bateman) works for a mercurial martinet (Kevin Spacey). Easygoing, engaged Dale (Charlie Day) works for a sexually voracious dentist (Jennifer Aniston) who, between filling her patients’ cavities, is impatient to have him fill several of hers. And hale and hearty Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) is dealihg with the realization that the death of his old boss has elevated the loser comb-over cokehead prodigal son (Colin Farrell) to the top spot.
Moving on isn’t an option — not in this economy, as a chance encounter with an old friend now reduced to dishing out handies for cash makes perfectly clear — so the guys hit upon the idea of a hit, paying someone to kill their bosses. They don’t quite find a hitter, but they do find a ‘murder consultant’ –Motherfucker Jones (Jamie Foxx), who advises them on the general criminal procedure, and eventually advises the strategy as used in Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, where a pool of candidates rotate murders to help establish alibis. Considering that the three are far more enthusiastic than competent in the art of murder — and not really that enthusiastic in the first place — complications will, of course, ensue.
What’s worth noting about Horrible Bosses is that the majority of the comedy is not in the pitch, but, rather, in the chatter around it. Bateman, Sudeikis and Day are such a well-meshed set of gears comedically that the murder plot — in both senses of the word — is less important than their wavering and weaving around the edges of it, with asides about Ethan Hawke’s career, the to-do list before one flees to Canada and the etymology of obscene nicknames.
Also juicing the slender plot are the crazed, cartoony performances of Spacey, Aniston and Farrell. (The three ‘boss’ characters are not any better developed than, say, Elmer Fudd, Pepe Le Pew and Yosemite Sam — and frankly, they don’t need to be.) Spacey’s ice-cold shtick is clearly recycled from Swimming with Sharks, but Aniston’s predatory looker and Farrell’s swaggering sweaty dipshit (There’s a huge laugh when Farrell articulates his new management plan: “I want you to cut the fat around here … I mean, start firing the fat people …”) are both a lot more fun than they might have been.
Bateman’s particular skill set — the art of the pause, the blank stare setting up the punchline — serves him particularly well. Sudeikis’ Kurt is a warm, winning womanizer, even in minor touches like his voice dropping a few octaves when serious business is afoot. But it’s Day’s manic, ratty work as Dale that pushes the film the furthest in terms of flat-out comedy; while it’s not on the level of, say, Eddie Murphy in 48 Hours or Bronson Pynchot in Beverly Hills Cop, this more than anything is the film that will make Day a star. (The scene where Dale is cleaning up spilled cocaine and starts feeling its effects — already given away in the trailer — is a piece of comedic acting so fully invested it’s a little scary; your heart races in time with Dale’s.)
Horrible Bosses doesn’t feel … complete, in an odd way; the climactic series of events closing out the film feel like they come a bit late and end a bit swiftly, as if the movie was both stretching the little plot it had and bringing the curtain down early. There’s one big, nasty surprise in the film — one that raises the stakes for the characters and audience — but it never sours the fun, or makes it impossible to laugh. Gordon shoots with verve and vigor and, more importantly, a nice sense of timing in individual scenes – while the film feels dawdling and then rushed, the mystery is that the individual scenes are tight, bright and clever, with meticulous timing.
Considering how much of American life revolves around work and wage, the number of truly great comedies about the workplace is fairly limited — probably because in America, pop culture is the lap dog that collaborates with management, not the watchdog that challenges it. The Apartment, 9 to 5, Office Space — Horrible Bosses doesn’t rank alongside those classics, but it is the kind of comedy that will benefit from a live, and lively audience around you forming a consensus of comedy as you watch it on the big screen. A mix of highly-polished comedy moments and workmanlike, get-it-done cinema, Horrible Bosses doesn’t pass its performance review with flying colors — it could have used a little more fine-edged satire in the place of its broad, blunt, slapstick — but considering how many other summer comedies deserve to be fired for cause and walked out of the building by security with their stuff in a filing box, it does the job well enough.
After the breakout documentary “King of Kong” — about the surprisingly vicious rivalry between the world’s top Donkey Kong players — Seth Gordon made the jump to fiction filmmaking with the misfired “Four Christmases.” After a brief pause, he’s back with “Horrible Bosses,” starring Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis as three working guys who just might be plotting to kill their upper management in the name of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Coming from the world of documentary filmmaking, the affable Gordon is very aware there’s a different level of craft and cash in play. “Yeah, any day on any of these sets would have paid for the entirety of ‘Kong,’ so that puts everything in perspective for sure. The budgets for the films are so much higher and it’s so stratospherical that it’s hard even to have much perspective on it. $50 million is a lot of money. It’s hard to put your arms around that figure. I’m grateful to have gotten the chance to have a studio believe in me in that way, and I hope we get that money back for them. …”
Based on early reviews, the odds are pretty good that Gordon will. Gordon didn’t take any easy outs, however — including not only finding room for his actors to improvise but having them do so during stunt sequences. What percentage of the film was what was on the page and what percentage was made up on the day? “I’d say 85-15. Sounds about right. It’s almost always an ornament or an aside that is improv, or the button of the scene will be improv – it’ll be some funny thing they came up with. The script was really well-crafted: It’s full of surprises, and we kept all those surprises but found a few more along the way.”
An example? “We decided as we were starting that car chase that they needed to be angry … but also panicking about what to do next. That hadn’t been written in the script, so Bateman’s notion was, ‘I feel like we’d be debating –should they go north or south? That’s our only decision: Canada or Mexico? In that debate, we can have some fun with it.’ That was completely improv’d, that zone. It was very funny dialogue.” It also had to fit into a full-on car chase — which Bateman, Sudeikis and Day made happen. “I had to sit them down the week before the car chase and say, ‘This is so dangerous, this work, and so slow that you guys are going to have to commit to the dialogue here, and do it again and again and again in very dangerous situations.’ There’s this one part where we can say whatever we want, and that’s what that part was. ”
As lucky as Gordon felt to have a cast that could improvise inside a VW Jetta doing 180-degree turns with a stuntman on top driving it, he also felt lucky to have the actors playing the bosses — Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston and Colin Farrell — there to up the level of the film by their presence. Was it, I asked, hard to find actors willing to play along and look foolish? “It’s surprisingly easy in the sense that the script was so funny. (Aniston)’s the one I first sent it to, and I think she really liked it. There was a moment of, ‘Gee, should I really go for this?’ on her part, and then she did, because it was so compelling to have the opportunity to play something different. It wasn’t as difficult as it might seem. A comedy, well-written, is among the favorite kind of project for people to be in, because it’s fun to make; it’s fun. You’re laughing every day on set in between takes and everything.”
Less fun? Informing Aniston she’d have to spend entire days on-set in panties, stockings and naked under a lab coat. “The only thing that made me nervous about that day was because it’s already vulnerable to be an actor and to be out there in front of the camera … It can be a very lonely job in a way, and I felt like this was asking even more. That was the only thing that made me nervous, but she’s such a pro and is very comfortable. She said yes to the role; she’s going to do it. It wasn’t as crazy as it might have seemed. I was panicked, because I wanted to really make it a safe environment. That was the day that the behind-the-scenes crew showed up, and were like, ‘This will be a good day to cover.’ I was like, ‘Get the f**k out of here.’ You know what I mean? Really, guys? You’re really going to do that? That was a tense day in anticipation, but the actual experience wasn’t bad at all. She’s an amazing talent, and she brought total professionalism to all of that.”
Gordon also looked at plenty of classic thrillers to get the tone right — and to help him shoot some of the comedy’s more wicked surprises. ” I revisited ‘Strangers on a Train.’ Another one I love is ‘Shallow Grave’: It’s not the definition of a thriller, but it was emotionally relevant to me, at least for the characters’ state of mind when they’re in the middle — people who can’t quite commit an act and someone goes ahead and does it, and then they’re all dealing with the consequences. Love that film. I definitely revisited some of those particular stories. I watched ‘Throw Mama from the Train,’ too, because anything we say out loud, we better at least refamiliarize ourselves with. I did watch some of those thrillers, and I reconnected with, psychologically, why those stories work so well, because that’s got to be connected to what happens to our guys, too. You really believe they’re good guys in over their heads.”
While the endgame of “Horrible Bosses” might seem to obviously pave the way for a sequel to the film, Gordon’s less interested in that possibility than he is in seeing Day, Bateman and Sudeikis — which sounds in many ways like a law firm — reunited in the service of an entirely new comedy. “(The) same chemistry — that’s what I would imagine would be really fun, just for right now. This script was phenomenal, and that’s why all of us said yes. I would rather, right now, find another whole world for these three guys to animate. That’s a more engaging premise to me than trying (any) rehash.”
Interviewing Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis and Jason Bateman is like watching a spirited round of ping-pong — with the added complication that, after a few minutes, you start to feel like the ball. Playing three employees who need to remove their upper management — and contemplate committing murder to make that happen — the three have a finely honed sense of comedic timing that’s less about one-upping each other and more about firmly spiking the lobs each sets up for the others. Directed by Seth Gordon, “Horrible Bosses” is full of big laughs, but also a fair share of sly, did-I-just-hear-that? asides. Charlie Day explained how he felt audiences would sympathize with the characters, as they’re not horrible people, just committed to murder, just … looking into it. “I think the way the characters justify it is that they simply set the plan in motion. They don’t go straight to, ‘We’re going to murder these people,’ even though they might voice that. They say, ‘Alright, let’s at least talk to someone who might know about that and have them answer a few questions’” Even going that far down the road, they’re like, ‘Here’s the next step. We don’t have to follow through, but we can check it out.’ Sudeikis shrugged: “Before you know it, you’re already in.” Day followed up: “It’s the snowball effect. The minute you actually talk to a real person involved murder about, say, killing your wife, your boss, or anything else, you’ve gone too far.”
Sudeikis also felt that the character’s weren’t simple saps, either: “I will say that we’re all three (of us) good at our jobs. We’re smart people who then try to do something dumb, and then through not knowing what they’re doing and understanding that world …” Bateman nods: “We go outside our skill set.” Sudeikis caught up: “Yeah, so to speak. We’re like Jordan playing baseball. That’s when the stupidity becomes quite evident and the ball starts rolling down the hill and we’re trying not to get smushed by it.” So, I noted, it’s like ‘MacBeth,’ where you do one bad thing and have to follow it through. Sudeikis nodded: “You got to cover your trail.” Bateman looked quizzical: “I never thought of that.” looking to the side, he pondered: “When was that out?” Day piped up: “It came out (after) ‘Harry Potter 2′ … Grossed $6 billion. Domestic.”
In the film, Day, Bateman and Sudeikis face off against Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Spacey and Colin Farrell. Was that, I asked, fairly satisfying? Day nodded: “Pretty damn sweet.” Bateman explained how their presence helped, in a way, define the film: “They really validate the movie, because there is something very broad and absurd about this film, obviously, conceptually. There’s a lot of very broad and absurd elements of the script. Your job, hopefully, as the people that are acting or, in Seth’s case, directing, you try to execute it in as sophisticated a way as you possibly can. We’re not making cartoons. When people of their caliber come on, they really validate something, and you can see, ‘Ah, the studio’s on board with us to make the smartest version of something that is beautifully silly in its concept …’ and you try to make that cocktail.”
With three experienced comedic actors in the leads, though, I had to ask how much of the film’s comedy was found in the script and how much was found on set. Day hesitated. “I never know what’s the PC answer here, because I don’t want to throw the writers under the bus — they wrote a ton of funny stuff. Obviously, you can’t improv a car chase or improv a plot. It’s all there. We have to give credit for them for laying out this thing. But also, as performers, we’re three very funny guys and three guys who know how to write, so we get inspired on the day and try different things. When you’re lucky enough to work with a director and editor who know how to be open to that, and a (director of photography) who can cover it, we created some moments that weren’t there — and then there’s so much that was on the page that wound up in the movie. Everyone asks that question, but you can’t really put a number on something like that.”
Bateman clarified: “I think any writer of any comedy, to spend any time on a movie set, knows that when you’re shooting a comedy there are multiple variables that come up when you’re shooting something. Just the way the director might choose to block the actors — who walks here, who walks through what door — you create a whole brand-new stew of possibilities for jokes. If you were going to handcuff everybody and say, ‘No, no, no, like in theatre, you cannot deviate from the script whatsoever,’ you’re pulling some comedy off the table. We don’t go in there saying, ‘We gotta fix this script by making stuff up.’ No, we’re just reacting to the environment. Oftentimes, the writers were on the set and they were absorbing these things, too, and they were changing it, as well. You want to stay malleable, because you’re creating stuff the audience wants to see. That exact thing. You wan to react to that … It’s smart to keep things a little loose.”
CinemaCon: Bad Teacher and Horrible Bosses With Cameron Diaz, Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis
Attending CinemaCon to receive the Female Star of the Year award and to introduce her new film, “Bad Teacher,” Cameron Diaz also met the press. I asked her if, years after being surrounded by raunchy material in “There’s Something About Mary,” the fact that she’s now the one bringing the crassness as unprepared, unprofessional teacher Elizabeth Halsey was some odd sort of moment of progress. “I think for me, I’m not a feminist. Everything has evolved over a period of time,” she said. “I think this character is meant to represent the good and bad of what is possible in a human being, and I think that’s something that I appreciated — the fact that there’s certain things she doesn’t apologize for and there’s certain things she admits that she needs to do better on. She has a human level of incremental growth that we all have.”
Considering Diaz recently performed the heroics of “Knight and Day” before switching gears to the coarse comedy of “Bad Teacher,” I asked her, which is more exhausting: shooting the modern action film or shooting a comedy like “Bad Teacher,” where you spend the entire day representing the human id run rampant? “I’ll tell you what’s really exhausting: Shooting the action movie for six months and then going directly into shooting the human id running rampant. I (shot) six months of the action movie, had about four days off, and went straight into this movie. I was tired. I was like, ‘God, I should have taken a nap.’
Also representing comedy’s axis of evil? Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis, who play three wage slaves out to eliminate — not fire, but kill — their wretched employers in “Horrible Bosses.” The three debuted the film’s teaser at CinemaCon. Did they feel any anxiety at the unveiling? Bateman brushed it off: “None. I don’t think any of us were investors in the film, so we don’t give a s—.” Sudeikis chimed in: “We don’t give a s—. I got paid.” More seriously, Bateman added: “We love this movie, and we hope that everybody loves it as much as we do. Yeah, the first time you send out those pictures of your baby, you think, ‘I hope people don’t call her ugly.’”
I asked if part of the film’s appeal was how it spoke to our current economic climate. Bateman, ice-cold, skewered my pretentions: “Way to tie it to the national zeitgeist. Well done.” Sudeikis stepped up: “‘Zeitgeist’ is in the zeitgeist now. I hear that word a lot. That’s addressed in the movie a little bit. We can’t hit people over the head with it, because it’s more of a good time than the Steven Soderbergh version of this film, but it’s definitely layered in there.”
“Horrible Bosses” also looks — with its inept murder plots — like a Hitchcock film with brain damage. (Sudeikis perked up: “Can we use that?”) Bateman explained: “We definitely had to incorporate an air of stupidity with these guys. You have to make these guys kind of dumb to make it plausible that they would entertain this notion, but you have to make them somewhat intelligent and feel somewhat real — they can’t be cartoon-y — so it’s relatable to the audience. The audience has to feel like us so the situation pops: ‘That’s me up there. I’d love to kill my boss. Let’s see, how would it work?’ Obviously it’s a comedy, so things can’t go right. It was this line — we try to make it sound like science, but we did dance this line a little bit between absurdity and reality from scene to scene. Nobody wants some super-highbrow comedy, because then three people see that. Nobody wants some stupid, booger-eating, lowbrow comedy …” Sudeikis laughed: “Because (then) 40 million people see it.”
Kassie (Jennifer Aniston) has a plan, and fairly bubbles with enthusiasm. She’s going to have a baby, singlehood be damned. Her friend Wally (Jason Bateman), upon hearing this, percolates with pessimism. “I don’t need a man to have a baby,” she notes with sunshiny see-it-through spirit. “Technically, you do,” he notes with dour directness. Based on, and brightened up from “The Baster,” a short story by Jeffrey Eugenides (“The Virgin Suicides,” “Middlesex”), “The Switch” is a better-than-you-feared example of the recent comedies revolving around reproduction, and if it isn’t as good as Judd Apatow‘s “Knocked Up,” it is, at the very least, far better than that three-wheeled baby buggy of a Jennifer Lopez vehicle, “The Back-up Plan,” based on roughly the same concerns.
As Kassie proceeds with her plan, including a big insemination party where she’ll adjourn to a dark room to have the sperm of donor Roland (Patrick Wilson) placed in, ahem, the soil of her garden, Wally’s doubts and dark disapproval grow, propelled, in no small part, by the unrequited, unspoken feelings he has for Kassie. Getting liquored up at the insemination party, Wally boozily fiddles and futzes with the container of Roland’s genetic material and accidentally destroys it. Where can he find a replacement amount of genetic material on such short notice? To the drunken Wally, right before he blacks out, the answer is close at hand, and just below his belt line …
Flashing forward seven years, Kassie returns from the heartland where she escaped to raise her son far from New York, and reaches out to her old friend Wally. Her son, Sebastian (Thomas Robinson), is a dark-haired, brainy, moody brooder who has a lot more in common with Wally than the ostensible dad Roland. Watching Sebastian, Wally recalls what, exactly, it was he did so many years ago and is struck with the realization that a past moment of drunkenness has long-ranging implications. And so, the rest of “The Switch” is devoted to revelations and relationship-mending and personal growth moments we can all see coming but that still charm.
A big part of that charm is Bateman. Wally’s an over-thinker and an under-feeler, a spiritual twin (although both characters would shudder at the phrase “spiritual”) to Michael Bluth from ”Arrested Development.” Wally can, over the first glass of wine on a date, extrapolate 20 years of unhappiness moving forward from that point in one unbroken, date-dooming monologue he can’t help but speak out loud. Bateman also gets scenes with his boss, Leonard, played by Jeff Goldblum, and at a certain point, Goldblum’s loopy riffs on all manner of subjects — sociobiology, exercise, mating, dating and relating — become pleasures unto themselves.
And Bateman’s scenes with Robinson also pull you in. (“Do you want to talk about your new school?” “Why?” “Because you’re a kid; there’s nothing else to talk about.”) Robinson is wide-eyed and precocious, but he never feels forced or fake, and it’s a welcome note in a film that could have become cloying and cheap. Ironically, Aniston’s given the least to do among the leads — Eugenides’ story is from Wally’s point of view, and so is the film — but she acquits herself nobly, even if the filmmakers might be accused of trading on Aniston’s familiarity to make up for a thinly written role.
Screenwriter Allan Loeb gave us the overlooked “Things We Lost in the Fire” and the overhyped “21,” and he gently blunts the cutting arc of Eugenides’ original story even as he extends it. (In the original tale, Wally and Kassie were lovers long ago, and she’d had an abortion when he got her pregnant; this, obviously, does not make it to the silver screen.) But they’re also not squeamish about what love feels like and what love takes — and a scene where Wally has to help a hurt, humiliated Sebastian deal with a lice outbreak while Kassie tries to long-distance micromanage by cell phone, is a tender-but-true depiction of the challenges and rewards of growing up enough to be a parent, not because you decide to, but, rather, because you have no choice in the matter.
Directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck rein in their style from their previous film, the goofy figure-skating spoof “Blades of Glory,” and shoot with an eye for both warm shots and cold moments. (When Wally tries to man up to pay the piper, you feel for him even as you’re laughing.) Life, as it has been said, is what happens when you’re making other plans. The films gets that, but it also understands that when you’re making a comedy, feeling is more important than frenzy — and thanks to Bateman’s truly winning performance as a bit of a loser, “The Switch” manages to earn our laughter and our respect in equal measure.