In 1996, David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook) assembled quite a cast: Ben Stiller, Tea Leoni, Patricia Arquette, Richard Jenkins, Mary Tyler Moore, Alan Alda, George Segal, Josh Brolin, and Lily Tomlin. How is it possible that this little disaster floated for so long beneath my radar?
I first came upon director David O. Russell in Three Kings (that Gulf war one with George Clooney, Mark Whalberg, and Ice Cube). It was 1999 and I was in high school, which meant I was being flirty with grown men in dark bars in cities other than my own. I was in Montreal with Jimmy and Dan and I can’t tell you why, or even how come. I can tell you that I was at a dive bar with sticky floors and cheap beer, which usually wouldn’t matter because I was strictly a rye girl, but after a dozen ryes, a straw was enough to get me to down a pitcher. Blech. For some reason instead of going home, we went to a movie theatre that was apparently open all night, and caught a screening of Three Kings. I distinctly remember the brightness of the colours, the deflated lung, and how many times I got up to pee (I hope I didn’t disturb the other patrons getting $5 handjobs from St. Catherine Street hookers!).
Next came I Heart Huckabees, a film I hella-love, in 2004, and then The Fighter in 2010 (looks like somebody’s a little bit in love with Mark Whalberg!). Then things get weird. Russell did Silver Linings Playbook in 2012, which for me was a flop. Then American Hustle in 2013, which totally bored me. And then Accidental Love in 2015 (though it’s considerably older) which is such an embarrassment he wouldn’t even put his name on it (it’s credited to Stephen Greene). I think that’s quite a marked downward spiral, but others will inevitably disagree ( SLP and AH usually being well-liked and fairly well-received, critically). He and I, however, have parted ways, and I do wonder why.
Back in his film maker adolescence, he brought us Flirting with Disaster, which is maybe all any of us needed to know. Ben Stiller plays a dude in search of his birth parents. Tea Leoni plays the inept case worker seeking to reunite AND document the process. It isn’t pretty, but it does kind of work. There’s a zaniness that’s practically obligatory when you cast Ben Stiller (with his original bad teeth – so distracting!) but it’s tempered by a lot of dark comedy I wouldn’t have naturally thought this cast capable of. It takes some unexpected turns, flouting the expected route, with that old Russell smugness you’ve come to know and cherish. Definitely worth a watch for Russell fans.
Tomlin survived this one only to have huge clashes with him on the set of I Heart Huckabees (where he famously called her names and knocked over pieces of the set – it’s Youtubable).
This past winter it was rumoured that he and Jennifer Lawrence were getting into screaming matches on the set of their new movie, Joy. All of these incidents tend to be downplayed as simply his method. He gets his actors into character by slipping into it himself – and maybe it’s hard to argue this as he has in fact directed SEVERAL to Oscar nods and wins. But there’s gotta be something wrong if you can’t get along with Hollywood teddy bear George Clooney, who came to blows with Russell over his alleged treatment of an extra. Things were tense on set after that, but to my mind Russell had already declared himself an idiot when he preferred both Mel Gibson and Nicolas Cage over Clooney for his role in Three Kings. What kind of vision is that?