One can only imagine the pressure felt by David Dobkin, director of The Change-Up, as he returns to R-rated comedy for the first time since 2005’s summer hit Wedding Crashers, a bonafide blockbuster which helped start one of the waves of comedy that’s gotten even more prominent in recent years. Except now he’s working from a script by the guys who wrote The Hangover, the only R-rated comedy to surpass Wedding Crashers‘ gross, and he’s working with two of the strongest comedy actors working today, Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds, as well as Leslie Mann, who just happens to be married to the OTHER filmmaker who has made waves in the R-rated comedy world. When you have that kind of pedigree on your latest comedy, you have to imagine there will be expectations that match it.
Earlier this year, ComingSoon.net went down to Atlanta, Georgia where Dobkin was shooting the movie and here’s the interview we did with the director. To make it more fun, you can turn the following interview into a drinking game and take a drink anytime someone mentions either “Wedding Crashers” or “The Hangover.”
Q: You did “Wedding Crashers” and then you did a PG movie, so did you feel like you had to get back to doing R-rated raunchy material or was it just a great script that came your way?
David Dobkin: It’s really about the material. This script was fantastic and I really lit up to it, and for me, the only reason to go back to this arena was there was something really worthwhile. In comedy in general in my opinion, there’s not that many good scripts, just few and far between, and then maybe some cast members get attracted to the ideas and then you get in there. It’s a lot of work putting it all together. This script came very fully formed, and it was easy to see that it was going to be very funny.
Q: Had “The Hangover” already come out or was that around the same time?
Dobkin: I think it had already came out when I got the script, when these guys sent it to me, yeah.
Q: There are some great visual gags in “Wedding Crashers.” Do you have a chance to play with that in this one?
Dobkin: Yeah, this movie is very visual. I got to do a lot of stuff with the camera, just yesterday there was a scene where… I don’t want to give anything up. I haven’t decided what I’m supposed to say yet or not, but yeah, there’s the opportunity to do that. I tend not to resist a little bit of that, and I think that sometimes… I like the R-rating to be out there and really push things, but I think that part of the language of the camera is from a broader sensibility and I think that it makes it feel a little more fun and a little more safe sometimes. Sometimes, I wish not so much, but I kind of can’t help myself. If someone’s going to sit on someone’s face, you want to be in the right place to make it funny.
Q: I was curious when Ryan and Jason entered the picture because the premise is great, but it’s really up to the two of them to make it work.
Dobkin: I think the idea was not to… there was always a plan with the movie to keep the budget in bounds, and not make the movie bigger in scale than it felt the material was. There’s something always about a discovery. I’m always looking when I cast people to do something that I think they haven’t done. I felt what Ryan’s doing here I have not really seen him do, and what he does on the other side is brilliant as well. And same for Jason Bateman, by the way. Jason ends up being that guy for most of the movie which is really kind of awesome and freaky and weird. (laughter) Again, we treated the whole thing with an R-rated handle. They’re not imitating each other in the movie. We’re not interested. I mean, they piss in the fountain so how f*cking serious do you think we’re taking the body switching. They’re playing versions of the character that do track and are similar. It’s the same character but it’s really interesting, but with casting, there was a very short list that the studio… I was very lucky. The writers brought me the screenplay, I loved it, we took it to studios, Universal understood it. They were very comfortable with the rating and what this was, and I think because of Judd, we were very comfortable with them. It’s my first picture with them. There was a very short list, there was a budget number, and if you could get someone off this list and you can hit that budget, you have a greenlight. We’re in a very strong position and Ryan and Jason were on that original list and they both said “Yes” so we were off to the races.
Q: Did that happen pretty fast after you first read the script?
Dobkin: It took a little while to just get the movie together and Ryan was already… I met with Ryan in February of last year and he was already in New Orleans doing “Green Lantern” and there was no way to start shooting until October, so we ended up waiting seven or eight months for Ryan until he freed up, but Jason was already on board.
Q: For both characters, are there glimpses of performances you’ve seen from Ryan and Jason before?
Dobkin: Yes, I see glimpses in both. With Jason, you can see him play the married guy but also the guy with the sarcastic, sardonic wit. And then the other thing that was really cool was with Ryan was, you know what I loved him in? “Adventureland.” He was f*cking awesome in that movie and you could not tell if you were worried about him or if… he played that right in the middle and then on the edges and you were scared he was going to f*ck over Jesse [Eisenberg] and then he takes him again and then you’re worried he’s going to f*ck him over again and he kind of did and then he kind of took him but it was so interesting. I remember e-mailing Ryan after I saw it and saying “That was a fascinating set of choices,” and he was very slow to respond and then he said “Oh, I haven’t seen the movie yet.”
Q: Well he’s coming off these different movies like “Green Lantern” and then “The Proposal”…
Dobkin: You see “The Proposal” and their rhythm in that movie is crazy. I think it took me 20 minutes to get used to it. Everyone talks about the Hepburn-Tracy repartee but that was it. You were like, “Wow. I’m getting all the information I need and I’m getting it so quickly that there’s no air in it.” It was pretty extraordinary. And he has so much warmth and so much charm that going into something like this with him… because I always want the characters to be lovable. I don’t know how to follow characters that aren’t flawed and making mistakes. So you gotta pick guys you’re already going to believe in. And so Ryan has some challenging stuff in the movie as far as – I mean he ends up in many situations and opportunities where it’s like “If you had a hall pass, what would you do?” And it is a conversation about men and marriage and fidelity and it’s complicated. And you have to be honest or it’s bullsh*t. And he really knew how to ride it. He kept you with him on difficult decisions, which is the most fun. Because we do know it’s him because his mind is there, but it’s that. But some of those questions are really fascinating and he did a great job with it.
Q: When distorting the line between high-brow and low-brow comedy, how far do you go as a direction in creating that distortion?
Dobkin: Well, I think I always look for ideas that are really far out there but I’m always trying to tell a story through the characters and if you keep them grounded and you’re really actually following through the story in a dramatic sense. In “Wedding Crashers” for example, there are two stories that are happening in it, one is about a friendship that’s about to splinter because one of them is growing out of something that the other hasn’t yet, and the other is a love story that Owen has with Rachel and he’s kind of growing up, and he’s a little ahead of his friend and how that is going to fracture them. But you’re very much following his desire and his want to get close, to get curious about this girl and what that’s all about. I think when you’re following the characters very carefully through the scenes, it really informs all the comedy and everything else and I think that’s where the tone comes from. You put them in some absurd situations, but they’re always challenging them on some sort of character level. There’s no scene where they should enter and exit from the same. You always want them to be challenged and either to take a step forward or two steps back out of any situation.
Q: You use the term “grounded” and so far from what we’ve seen from Ryan’s character, he’s a live-wire, he’s kind of an A-hole, he’s selfish so what is the thing that grounds him.
Dobkin: Well, he’s sweet, he’s not grown up. I think the thing that really makes it really forgivable everything that he does is that he doesn’t know any better, and this movie is very much a coming-of-age story for him. His side of the movie is look, you’re going to know what it is. It’s a body-switching movie and he’s a child that gets thrown into a domestic situation. What you’ve just seen there, just imagine that guy getting inside your body and running your life. Like that’s the fun of it, is that he completely doesn’t understand children or relationships or how to have a daughter or anything like that, so that inherently becomes part of his journey and what he learns is not on that path.
Q: “Wedding Crashers” and “The Hangover” were really big watermarks for R-rated comedies because they made a ton of money while nobody thought R-rated comedy could do well. Do you feel like you’re in a position where you can push boundaries even further, like studios want to see R-rated movies pushing that envelope?
Dobkin: That’s a very good question. Can I answer it in two parts? Part one is what makes me curious to go in and do anything, because I think there’s a conversation out there amongst the people that do this kind of comedy, and it really is the fun of it to me, and I was a kid that loved Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor is the stuff that seems to be pushing boundaries, and the comedy is an edge of what is acceptable or not acceptable and it’s helping to push things back. I don’t think going in and doing R-rated comedy, especially now that so many movies are succeeding at such a high level with it, if you’re not trying things and pushing things, I don’t think you’re in a place where people are going to laugh with it, but you’re really legitimately in the conversation and I think that’s really an important part of the dialogue that’s going on among the filmmakers, the actors and the writers that do this kind of thing. As far as the studios go, it depends from studio to studio. Obviously, this studio is really letting us run with it and they’re very supportive, but I’m always surprised that no matter how it’s worked, I think they still look at it as a fluke, I think there’s something within the system that they just f*cking don’t believe it, and as you get close to production most of the time, they’re all starting to question and backpedal and you feel like you’re in the 1950s. It gets a little bit mind-numbing at times and it’s a real drag unfortunately. Ultimately, that’s a little bit of a good sign if you’re doing anything that you hope is worth doing, hopefully you’re making somebody uncomfortable, right?
Q: Do you think the R-rating nature helps sell the body switch movie as a genre?
Dobkin: Man, I can’t tell yet. It’s a PG concept, it really is, and when I first heard the idea, and it was “a single guy and a married guy switch bodies,” I was like, “That’s really kind of clever actually,” and I tried to wrack my brain and I was like, “I definitely haven’t seen it.” But it was a fun way to address men and how f*cking weird men are about stuff, and I was like, “Okay, this is kind of cool. I like it for that reason, and that’s why to take the movie by the way, ’cause it’s treating it in a very… it’s the R-rated point of view of it so it’s got a punk rock thing to it that I really dig, but it definitely as far as selling it, we’ll see. It’s not that easy to… you guys saw a scene today but until you see it, it’s a little bit like, “What is it?” do you know what I mean? I’ll show you a couple scenes where you’ll start to see a little of what it is when it happens, but I can’t tell if it’s a premise that’s so familiar in a PG world that people are going to be resistant of coming to see it in an R-rated movie. I don’t know.
Q: You have a lot of screwball patter going on because Ryan is so quick with his lines. Is that something you’re consciously going for or is that a natural thing that comes out of his delivery and his style.
Dobkin: It’s his style and his character. I like to up-pace my movies, and I think I get attracted to actors… Leslie can do it and Jason. I don’t know if I’m just attracted… You kind of put together the people you’re fans of, do you know what I mean? I couldn’t be a bigger Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson fan, so I ended up working with both of them, so you naturally gravitate to something and I remember seeing “Freaky Friday,” the remake that Mark Waters did and loving the way he paced that movie, and “Mean Girls” as well. Those movies kind of excited me. I know they’re a little bit back in people’s memory now, but there was a really aggressive pacing to those movies that’s really interesting and energetic and fun. I got attracted to that, and I think it’s something in me that is a rhythm thing these actors have, and the script had it, by the way. I could feel it when I read the script. This is an amazing screenplay. You move through it so quickly and you laughed out loud so much, it was a little bit shocking. It was actually a challenging piece of material because once you got in, the actors had to ground it, as far as making it believable. You realize how much sleight of hand these guys succeeded at. You’re like, “How much of that are we going to get away with when we shoot it and how much do we actually have to fill in the blanks and justify it?” The script was so flighty and so fast on its feet, that there were things that were happening before you could realize it and could kind of put it together, and you have to figure out, “Wow, when people are now watching the actors, are they going to be okay with that kind of a choice from that character?” I’m with it ’cause I’m laughing and almost anything you laugh through you’ll accept, but it’s quite a tightrope and it’s been really interesting.
Q: Does that pace also reflect what’s going on with comedy now? People are digesting comedy through the internet in shorter bursts.
Dobkin: That’s interesting. It’s so funny. I watch comedy on TV and it’s too cutty for me. I get a little jarred and it succeeds. It’s not like it’s not working, and I look at certain things and it has the cutting… it’s not like I’d make terribly different cuts, but for some reason, it moves too fast for me. I don’t know, I don’t know.
Q: It’s great to see this scene play in a master…
Dobkin: I always shoot big wides and let them open up and loose twos. I do a lot of coverage. It all depends where it lives. To me, as much as you can see people in the space with each other, it’s better than the heads, but it’s how much you have to orchestrate the rest of that.
Q: Because this comes from a PG premise, are you shooting it in that style or is it more of an R-rated approach or do you take the visual language of a family-oriented film?
Dobkin: I took some of the visual language. I have a bad habit of that. I don’t know. I don’t know if I fall into the trap. It’s an instinctual thing. I think sometimes when the content is really edgy, I like to find the language that returns you to the conversation you can understand what the conversation is. And with this movie, I think the fun of it is – there are some push-ins and dollies that you’d find in a traditional movie and it’s of people doing crazy sh*t and it’s just kind of f*cking weird and I like it that way.
Q: Is this movie really more about their friendship? I’m thinking back to “Wedding Crashers” where there’s a romantic angle but really it’s about the friendship between the two main characters; it’s a bromance.
Dobkin: Yeah, it is. That moment, when you find it as a filmmaker, you try to find that moment where you say “That really talks to me,” and I think we all in life as you get older, there are friends you were really tight and then, it’s very specific to the situation, some friends get married and some friends stay single. And the dynamic shifts. At least I know with men, the deeper you get into marriage and kids it’s not that you change, but if your friends are out there chasing tail, it gets weird. And you start to drift apart. And there are crossroads moments where you ask yourself “Am I holding on to a chapter that’s ended? Are we holding on for nostalgia? Or when we have a drink will we have something new to talk about or are we just going to taking about that time in high school or ‘Remember when the cops came…’ I think that’s a very real moment for people. You know I’m 41 and these guys are in their 30s and you start to realize, sadly enough, that you’re not at the same station in life, and this movie is about re-finding each other and the importance of each other is a big part of the film. And they learn about each other and themselves individually.
Q: How about Olivia? We haven’t really see her do a lot of comedy. Does she actually get involved in any of that stuff?
Dobkin: She does get some funny moments. It wasn’t A necessity for her character to have that and she found it anyways. She’s done so much and she’s so young and this was really something very different for her. It wasn’t necessary for her to have moments where you’re going to laugh and be with her but she found stuff for her character and really played it through. It’s not really huge stuff like set pieces or anything like that but she’s the center of a lot of things that happen in the movie. She’s the dream girl of the film.
Q: How would you describe Olivia Wilde’s character?
Dobkin: Olivia, what’s interesting in the movie, is that she’s super-intelligent, she’s very well-spoken, she’s a lawyer, and it’s someone that he works with and he thinks to himself, “She’s distractingly beautiful, she’s an associate,” but he’s such a sweet guy and a family man that it would never cross his mind. There’s not a f*cking chance that Jason Bateman is going to make a move or is even interested in making a move. One night when they’re out drinking, he tells Mitch about her, of course, and Mitch asks “Is she #1 on your list?” And he’s like “Dude…” And Mitch says, “Is she #1 on your cancer list?” And he’s like “What are you talking about?” And Mitch says, “If your wife died of cancer, is she your number one girl?” And he’s like “Dude, that’s horrible. That’s the mother of my children. But yes. 40 years later if I could ever get an erection, I would.” Oh, I revealed a joke. They’re going to kill me. But inherently over the course of the film he’s put into a different situation and his friend is put into a different situation and it becomes a little bit of a problem and a question as it moves forward. I remember seeing Blake Edwards’ “10” when I was very young and being very fascinating. And I wonder how I would feel as an adult with kids watching that movie. But Julie Andrews is his girlfriend in the movie and she’s like America’s sweetheart. The whole thing is he goes chasing this girl in a mid-life crisis and it’s fascinating to me because men can be retarded like that. They just don’t f*cking grow up when it comes to women no matter what happens. It’s shocking to me. It’s a question of men and I think “The Hangover” and “Wedding Crashers” and a lot of these movies right now are about good dudes who are behaving badly and really need to be taught a lesson and for some reason it’s really funny.