In late May, Sony beat out four other suitors for the rights to Cameron (Almost Famous, Jerry Maguire) Crowe’s latest project. The film has been described as a “romantic comedy adventure” by the studio and is set to star Ben Stiller and Reese Witherspoon. No other details have become available…until now.
Nick – So the way we do this is that I ask you questions and you answer them.
James – That’s cool. But of course you’ve read the script as well.
Nick – Yeah, we’ll get to my opinions later on. So, what’s so special about this script? Why even bother?
James – It’s written by Cameron Crowe, for a couple of years one of the more revered screenwriters and directors in Hollywood, but the mild disappointments of Vanilly Sky and Elizabethtown has made his star fall somewhat. The project is also veiled in secrecy.
Nick – What’s the title?
James – There is none. Right now the script only says Untitled Cameron Crowe. But this is common for Crowe. Almost Famous was Untitled for the longest time and was close to ending up with that title, which would’ve been cool.
Nick – What genre would the film fall into?
James – Variety’s description of “adventure comedy” is correct. “Tropical romantic adventure comedy with light sci-fi and heavy supernatural aspects” is better.
Nick – Ah, yes, the Hawaiian mysticism.
James – Yep.
Nick – Not your typical Cameron Crowe fare.
James – No, but then again, Vanilly Sky was essentially a romantic sci-fi film.
Nick – How would you describe the plot?
James – A man, close to middle age, having problems with women. Semi-successful, but doesn’t know what to do with his life. Has crisis. Meets old flame. Had problems with her. Meets new, exciting, woman. Has problems with her. They’re all on Hawaii. Hijinks ensue. You guess the rest.
Nick – And if you were writing a detailed press release?
James – Brian Gilcrest, 37, is a military contractor for the US Army. He hasn’t done many things right in life. He’s married the wrong women, broke up with the only good one and most people don’t like him. His only friend is a military techie named Jeremy who lives in the caves of the Cheyenne Mountains who he’s only spoken with on the phone. Brian is an angry man, but he learns that this doesn’t bother him. He’s just relieved that he doesn’t have to pretend to be anything else. Unfortunately, this has also killed his career.
However, Gilcrest soon gets a shot at redemption thanks to escalating tensions between the United States and China. The military needs him to set up the launch of a private satellite at his old stomping grounds in Hawaii. There, Gilcrest gets a chance to meet up with “the one who got away”, Tracy, her kids and her new husband. He also meets the designated liasion officer for the mission, Major Lisa Ng. Together these two must secure the blessings of the native Hawaiian council and see that the launch happens on schedule. If only they weren’t haunted by visions of Hawaiian ghosts in green mists, mistaken for incarnations of the Hawaiian gods Lono and Pele, and prophesied to bring about the Arrival… whatever that is.
Oh, and they have to toss a sacrifice into an erupting volcano.
Nick – Hope Mr Crowe doesn’t get pissed at us. The studio has been trying to keep the log-line of the project under wraps.
James – We’re just telling people what the film is about, something people will find out eventually through trailers, posters or AICN, anyway. Besides, we’re keeping spoilers to a minimum here. We’re not revealing any twists. He’s a former journalist, so he should understand the thrill of the scoop.
Nick – What did you think of it overall?
James – It’s great. The first part was a little rough, but I dug it once it got going. While the plot doesn’t seem like his typical fare, I think the relationships are vintage Crowe.
Nick – It reminded me of an 80s film, with its silly unexplained ghosts, green mists, rockets and strange military men. There were more of these sort of romantic adventure comedies back then.
James – I’m not sure if that’s a good thing. Did you like it or not?
Nick – No, I liked it, just had some problems with all the Hawaiian mystic stuff and some worries about what the tone of the film will be. But the main relationships of the film work amazingly well, Crowe really is an ace at creating relatable characters you like to hang out with, and the romantic relationship is actually believable. It also had one of those endings that should have set alarm bells ringing but, amazingly enough, did not feel fake.
James – I think Crowe could keep the supernatural elements if he made them a little less overt. Something where it could to be up to the viewer to decide if there was actual spiritual intervention or the characters just getting wrapped up in mysticism. To me everything comes down to the relationships. Half the script could be lost and Crowe would still have two very interesting lead characters. He has crafted a believable, grounded (well, for the genre) romance.
Nick – I understand why all those supernatural things are there, otherwise it might just end up as a regular well-made romantic comedy, people want more and all the supernatural elements give it that, but right now the script is 142 pages and at times it feels like it meanders a bit. Lots of ho’omanamana involved.
James – The script could certainly use some cutting. The main story basically ends around page 115 but it keeps on going. Crowe spends the next 25+ pages resolving the various personal conflicts, which leads me to believe even he’s not too interested in the overall plot. I don’t blame him for wanting to focus on what interests him, but that could point to a fundamental flaw here…
Nick – I’m not really sure what the theme or message of the story is supposed to be. Karma? Do good and good things come your way? Be an asshole and feel the consequences?
James – As far as I can tell: yeah. Gilcrest is a self-centered asshole. He recognizes this. He embraces it, and it leads to nothing but pain. Once he reforms, everything is groovy. Seems a little simplistic, I’m sure we’re missing something. It’s interesting that he kills his career twice. The first time, it’s inadvertent and due to his personality. The second time, he selflessly wrecks everything intentionally for the greater good, yet everything turns out ok. Not sure where I’m going with that…
Nick – Maybe it’s some subconscious thing on Crowe’s part? He took a lot of flak for Elizabethtown, and this at times feels like a sort of strange spiritual cousin to that film, but in Hawaii instead of Kentucky. It’s not much of a stretch imagining his main characters being stand-ins for himself.
James – In the opening pages Crowe even recycles a plot point from Elizabethtown, which is an odd choice.
Nick – Ben Stiller and Reese Witherspoon were quickly snapped up for the main parts. You think the casting fits?
James – No, I have difficulty picturing either in the parts assigned them. While both would do fine with the comedic elements, I think they would falter with the romantic side of things.
Nick – I actually had some problems, when reading the first fifty or so pages, trying to picture who Witherspoon was playing. Is she playing Tracy or Ng? Tracy is the more classic Witherspoon role, while Ng is a more energetic and offbeat part. After reading it, Ng is obviously the bigger and more interesting part, so it’s pretty likely Witherspoon will be playing her.
James – I kind of fell in love with the Ng character on the page, picturing her in the role shatters that. She’d be fine as Tracy.
Nick – But I can see Witherspoon pulling it off. She’s been fine playing these odd, tightly wound, girls before, in both Legally Blonde and Election. Not that big a fan of Stiller the comedian, but I think he could work in this part. A lot of the film hinges on the tone Crowe will give it. Both Stiller and Witherspoon can overplay wildly, and if that happens the film is screwed. If the main characters are not believable, and they sort of are in the script, at least they’re endearing in their own way, then this could turn out as the worst tropical island-set romantic comedy since Joe Versus the Volcano.
James – Each actor has been very successful in playing these broad character types over the years, with very few variations along the way. Unless these actors can strip-down and completely abandon their usual on-screen personas, it’s going to fail. Stiller is obviously the bigger concern of the two.
Nick – Like I said, I can see Stiller working, but it would have to be his most toned down role since Your Friends & Neighbors. He can be a good actor, it’s just that he’s not done one of these more serious roles in almost a decade now.
James – The last serious role I caught Stiller in was Permanent Midnight. The less said about that, the better.
Nick – Let’s go through some of the playlist. You know there’s a playlist in a Cameron Crowe script.
James – “Don’t Be Shy” – Cat Stevens
“Elevation” – U2
“Prodigal Son” – The Rolling Stones
“Let’s Go Out Tonight” – The Blue Nile
“Pac-Man Fever” – Buckner & Garcia
“What’s New Pussycat” – Tom Jones
“Baba O’ Riley” – The Who
A bootleg instrumental of The Beatles’ “She’s Leaving Home”
“Ribbon in The Sky” – Stevie Wonder
Nick – Anything from the script you’re particularly eager to see?
James – There is a character in the film that would be considered a cliché in sci-fi. However, Crowe’s character is fairly original and I’m really interested to see how they pull that off. I won’t say more than that. You?
Nick – I want to see who they get to play the Hawaiian king Itchy. I have a strong inkling it’ll be someone like The Rock or Temuera Morrison, but I’d prefer someone less obvious. Also, will Witherspoon play Ng? Otherwise, who plays Tracy?
James – There’s no doubt Ng is the female lead. Since I can’t see Witherspoon accepting a smaller role in the film, she must be Ng. I pictured Elizabeth Banks as Tracy, although that could have resulted from a Google search I had run moments earlier. Michelle Monaghan would my ideal Ng.
Nick – So, summing up? I liked it, thought it had a great central relationship and good characters, but am worried about the mystical elements and what the ultimate tone will be. It could easily veer into hysterical comedy with the two lead actors, and then it could end up worse than Elizabethtown.
James – As you said, the performances are going to make or break this. The characters are there, it’s just going to come down to how these actors play it. Other than that, it has a lot of potential. Done right, it could be Crowe’s biggest mainstream hit in 13 years.