This Friday is a day that Anna Paquin, Matt Damon, Mark Ruffalo, and Allison Janney probably thought would never come: the release date of Margaret, writer/director Kenneth Lonergan’s long, long, long awaited follow-up to his 2000 debut film, the Oscar-nominated You Can Count on Me. Shot clear back in 2005 (and capturing Paquin pre-True Blood and Damon at around the time he shot The Departed), the picture has spent the last six years in a perpetual state of post-production, with most parties involved blaming the perfectionist writer/director, who has seemed unable or unwilling to settle on his contractually-guaranteed final cut.
Meanwhile, Fireflies in the Garden, the familial drama starring Ryan Reynolds and Julia Roberts, is finally getting a release as well this fall — three years after its debut at the 2008 Berlin Film Festival. (Its extended delay appears to be the collateral damage of its original production company’s shutdown.) With both of those dawdling dates finally coming into view, we thought we’d take a look at a few other movies that took (or are taking) a bit longer than the standard one-to-two-year gestation period to make it to the big screen (or to your television).
David O. Russell’s Best Director nomination earlier this year for The Fighter marked (in parallel to the picture) a bit of a comeback for the filmmaker; his reputation before its release was rather tarnished by a certain viral video sensation (above), and his ongoing battles to finish Nailed. This black comedy (starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Jessica Biel, James Marsden, and Catherine Keener) went before cameras clear back in 2008, and production started and stopped several times due to the somewhat shaky financial dealings of producer David Bergstein. It is still incomplete — a key scene remains to be shot (reports say it would take a day or two), though a very rough assemblage was screened to an LA test audience early this spring. The actors are contractually obligated to return for the reshoots, should they happen, but Russell has washed his hands of the project and has indicated that should it ever surface, his name will not be on it.
The Cabin in the Woods
You would think that any sensible studio would want to get a horror/comedy co-written by Joss Whedon and Buffy/Lost writer Drew Goddard (who also directs) out the door, particularly as Whedon’s mainstream rep is on the rise in light of his Avengers gig. But the film (which includes several of our favorite character actors, including Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) has had two years of release dates come and go; it was originally scheduled for to come out in 2009, which was then moved to February 2010, then January 2011 (for the dreaded “3-D conversion”), then October of this year. The cause of the delay is reportedly the continued financial troubles of original distributor MGM, which finally sold the picture to Lionsgate — presumably a good home, considering that distributor’s skill with genre films. They’ve announced a April 2012 release date. We shall see.
A Thousand Words
We know this may sound utterly impossible to imagine, but come to find out, the third collaboration between star Eddie Murphy and director Brian Robbins — the filmmaking team (above) that brought you the modern classics Norbit and Meet Dave — might not actually be very good. Try to contain your shock. This comedy, with the Liar Liar-esque premise of a man who discovers he only has a thousand words left to speak before he’ll die, was test screening as far back as 2009, but has been gathering dust on DreamWorks’ shelves in the interim; it was finally given a March 2012 release date shortly after Murphy was announced as the host of February’s Oscar ceremony. We can’t exactly say we’re counting the days.
Principal photography for this late-’80s period comedy was completed in 2007, but it didn’t make it to theaters until March of this year, after four years and two title changes (it was previously called Kids in America and Young Americans). Star Topher Grace had an explanation for the delay: “It’s not drama, but there was a real hesitation because there is so much cocaine in it, and our feeling at the time was, ‘You can’t do a movie about Prohibition without alcohol, and you really can’t do a movie about partying in the ’80s, at the age these kids are, without showing cocaine use.'” Yep, it took them four years to decide if they should put out a movie with coke in it. Here’s another possible explanation: it took that long to come out because it was terrible. Reviews were mostly hostile, though the picture did provoke a brilliant Salon essay by Mary Elizabeth Williams about the inexactitude of its ’80s references, which included this priceless line: “[W]hen they make the movie about 2011 and the characters are talking about Friendster and dancing around to ‘Milkshake,’ you’ll care, Millennials. Oh, how you’ll care.”
Shortcut to Happiness
Alec Baldwin would seem a natural candidate for the actor-turned-director shift; he’s a smart guy and a gifted performer (particularly in his second-act, character-role-leaning incarnation of the past decade or so), and for his feature directorial debut, he lined up Anthony Hopkins (his co-star in the tense, underrated The Edge) and Jennifer Love Hewitt (okay, that remains an odd choice) for an adaptation of the short story The Devil and Daniel Webster (previously filmed, and well, in 1941). Cameras rolled on the $35 million production in 2001, but the project’s momentum stalled in post, due to unexpected financial difficulties. “Some of the film’s investors are being investigated for bank fraud,” Baldwin said. “They claimed they had the money to make the movie but it turned out they didn’t, so while we were making the movie they were bouncing checks all over New York.” The film was seized by a federal bankruptcy court, where it was picked up by Crash producer Bob Yari; he re-titled the project (it was originally named after the source story) and re-cut it, over Baldwin’s objections. It ultimately made its less-than-glamorous premiere on Starz under the new title Shortcut to Happiness, and with a new director credited: Balwin’s pseudonym, Harry Kirkpatrick. The picture later turned up on Netflix Instant; it never received a theatrical or DVD release.
The straight-to-cable route was also taken by Daddy and Them, Billy Bob Thornton’s multi-hyphenate follow-up to the Oscar-winning Sling Blade (as with that film, he wrote, directed, and starred). This large-ensemble “white trash romantic comedy” co-starred Laura Dern (to whom Thornton was briefly engaged), Jim Varney (aka “Ernest,” who died in 2000, long before the film’s release), Kelly Preston, Ben Affleck, and Jamie Lee Curtis. Thornton shot the movie in summer of 1998, just after finishing All The Pretty Horses (which he only directed). That film’s extended post-production tinkering kept pushing Daddy and Them back — Miramax, which had produced both films, worried that they would compete with each other, and had a bigger financial stake in Horses. When it finally opened to indifferent reviews and tepid box office in late 2000, the studio didn’t seem all that interested in Thornton’s other work (he had shot a starring role in the comedy Waking Up in Reno for the studio as well — that film sat on the shelf for over two years); an anonymous Miramax exec told the Washington Post, “People don’t want quirky, odd Billy Bob Thornton movies.” Daddy and Them finally got a test run in the fall of 2001, when Miramax put it on five screens in Georgia. When it tanked there (one theatre reported a first-week box office total of $430), the company dumped the movie on Showtime, where it popped up in 2003. The experience caused Thornton to swear off writing and directing and concentrate on acting until this summer, when he made Jayne Mansfield’s Car, his first work behind the camera in over a decade.
Kevin Spacey was still at the top of his game — though apparently not visiting his dialect coach — in 1998, when he shot this fictionalized account of the life of Dublin crime lord Martin Cahill. His timing couldn’t have been worse, though; that very fall, John Boorman’s Cahill biopic, The General, won Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival and played around the world to rapturous reviews. But even that acclaimed film’s US box office was weak, which must have worried distributors Miramax (there they are again) even more than the negative comparisons to Boorman’s film that greeted Ordinary Decent Criminal when it opened in Europe in 2000. The distributor ended up sitting on the film for three more years before unceremoniously dumping it to home video in January of 2003.
In cash-flush years following Pulp Fiction, Miramax gained a reputation for its cluttered shelves; studio head Harvey Weinstein would buy films buy the handful, only to let them languish for months and years. “That Miramax shelf is rarely bare,” noted an LA Times article in 2005, when the company was dumping ten films into the marketplace during the Weinstein brothers’ final three months there. That article pinpointed one of their most famous red-headed stepchildren: Erik Skjoldbjærg’s film adaptation of Elizabeth Wurtzel’s best-selling memoir Prozac Nation. The film screened to mostly positive reviews (Christina Ricci’s starring turn was highly praised) at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 8, 2001; then, well, three days later happened, and author Wurtzeld did the film no favors by kicking up some controversy shortly thereafter by proclaiming of 9/11: “I just felt like everyone was overreacting. People were going on about it. That part really annoyed me.” That story may not have been entirely to blame for the film’s delays, but it certainly didn’t help; Miramax, meanwhile, subjected the film to 18 months of intense test screenings and tinkering before abandoning the picture. Announced release dates came and went; a tie-in paperback was released; but the movie stayed locked away at Miramax (save for a theatrical release in the filmmaker’s native Norway in 2003). When it finally appeared in 2005, it was for a Starz premiere, followed by a DVD release later that year.
Miramax again — and 9/11 again as well. This flight-attendant comedy starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Christina Applegate, and Mike Myers wrapped in March of 2001, with a theatrical release originally scheduled for that Christmas. Then came September, and suddenly, people weren’t all that into laughing about airline travel — to say nothing of an unfortunate scene in which a flight attendant instructor (Myers) taught his trainees how to deal with terrorists. Heavy editing, reshoots, and several missed release dates followed; the film finally slunk into theaters in March of 2003 and slunk back out in fairly short order.
Kyle Newman’s geek buddy comedy centered on a group of Star Wars-obsessed friends who respond to the news that one of their own has cancer by deciding to break in to Skywalker Ranch in 1998 to steal a look at Episode I, just in case their buddy isn’t alive long enough to see it. Produced by Kevin Spacey’s Trigger Street Productions, it was scheduled for a late-summer 2007 release by… wait for it… no, not Miramax, but Miramax founders Harvey and Bob Weinstein’s The Weinstein Company. And guess what? They decided to push it back and make some changes. First, they hired Steven Brill (whose filmography includes such gems as The Mighty Ducks, Little Nicky,and Without a Paddle) to direct some reshoots; then they decided that the cancer subplot was a bummer and lopped off the entire story’s motivating element. An Internet campaign to keep the film intact was launched (and a few of Brill’s responses to those fans made their way online), and the film was ultimately released with that storyline included — though it missed its September and November 2008 release dates before it finally began a limited release in February 2009. The end result was an underwhelming and uneven movie that certainly wasn’t worth all the trouble, though it must be noted that the film does include Kristen Bell in the Princess Leia metal bikini. If you’re into that kind of thing.