In a summer where we’ve already seen two substantial R-rated comedy hits, one might wonder where it’s all heading and this August, we’re going to have a chance to see the “body switching” comedy subgenre set on its ear when it’s dragged kicking and screaming into a world without ratings limitations.
Normally, that comedy mainstay is something relegated to family films like Freaky Friday or Tom Hanks’ Big where some kid wants to be older or an adult wishes for the simplicity of childhood, but The Change-Up is the first time this concept has been brought into an R-rated world, and who better to do that than Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, the guys who wrote Todd Phillips’ The Hangover and David Dobkin, the director of Wedding Crashers, literally the two highest-grossing R-rated comedies of all time?
This time, it’s two adults (at least physically) who switch places as the film brings together Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds as two best friends in different marital statuses whose drunken decision to piss into a wishing well forces them into the other’s shoes. Bateman’s David is a responsible husband and parent of three kids, married to Leslie Mann’s Jamie; Reynold’s Mitch is a wannabe actor who has been doing a variety of roles around the Atlanta area, mostly commercials. The two of them have drifted apart as the film begins because their life situations has changed so much, so this sudden transformation gives each of them a chance to see that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.
Earlier this year, ComingSoon.net went down to Atlanta, Georgia with an elite group of online journalists to get our first look at the movie, and now we’re sharing what we saw and why we think this movie may be one of the summer’s underrated sleepers. The production had been shooting all around Atlanta over the previous months, and the Southern hub plays itself in the movie, which apparently is a bit of a rarity. Other than shooting in various locations, they had then set-up shop in an old abandoned furniture warehouse in order to do all the interiors.
As we walked in, we noticed that there was a large matte showing a normal suburban road with it being a daytime scene on one side and night on the other. This was placed in front of the front door of Dave’s house, and they had constructed a good portion of the lower level complete with a hallway leading into the kitchen.
As we arrived they were starting to shoot an early scene in the film in which Mitch comes over to pick up Dave to take him out drinking before the big switch takes place. Leslie answers the door and sees Mitch, commenting on his haircut, to which he responds that his “gay CRUSHED it” and that it was for a “f*cking tampon commercial” he was shooting. Reynold’s character seemed somewhat effeminate at first, but Reynolds’ delivery got more macho as the shoot went on, especially in the next scene which involved him greeting Dave and Jaime’s young daughter, who was in a tutu.
“How is my favorite ballerina doing?” he asks as he picks her up and throws her high in the air a bunch of times, each take Reynolds saying something different to go along with the physical aspects of the scene, one time saying how light she is, another saying how heavy she is. Every time he walks in, she suggests he come to her dance recital, but Mitch is having none of it. The little girl doesn’t even flinch when he tells her the only dancing he likes “involves a shiny pole and a woman with Daddy issues.” The little girl doesn’t even blink even when on one take, Mitch responds to her innocent request with a flat-out “no.”
This is just par for the course with a comedy like this where you have a talented cast who are so quick on their feet, they can come up with many great lines that aren’t in the original script–referred to as “alts”–and who knows which line Dobkin will go with when he sits down in an editing room and puts the scene together later on.
We mostly spent the day watching them film this extended scene, but we also talked to a few of the people behind the film including producer Ori Marmur, who works with Neal Mortiz at his production company–making quite a drastic departure into comedy–and co-writer Jon Lucas, both of whom joined us on a set that was used for a scene in a tattoo parlor. Since the project began with the writers, Lucas seemed like the best place to start in terms of finding out how this movie came together.
Q: What was the impetus for doing this movie? Were you watching a body switching movie one day when you came up with the idea?
Lucas: I actually like “Freaky Friday.” I know a straight 35-year-old dude should never say that. My partner and I pitch each other all the time on high concept stuff or cranking out an interesting take on ideas. After “The Hangover” success, the R-rated thing is an area we felt pretty comfortable in, what people wanted from us. It’s so much easier to be funny in R, you grow a lot of respect for a PG-13 movie that’s funny because of all the rules, or sitcoms like “Seinfeld” because he’s funny and he’s clean every week. We have terrible jokes in this movie because they’re so dirty and people may laugh because, “It may not be funny but because it’s outrageous, I’m so offended that I laugh to cover it up.”
We have these dinners, once a month or so, a bunch of guys go to dinner and have steak and talk about stuff. At first it was me and another guy who were the two married guys, and all the single guys would laugh at us. The conversations we’d have, it’s like the people they pull out of the jungle who don’t understand how electricity works. I’m asking question that are so dumb about being single like, “What do you say, how do you do it?” and they’re like, “You’re married, do you have sex like once or twice a day?” and I’m like “Are you out of your f*cking mind?”
Some of that stuff got into the script, and that’s some of the funniest stuff. There’s a scene in the movie (after the body switch) where Jason’s like, “If I’m gonna impersonate you, how many times do I have to have sex with your wife?” And Ryan’s like, “It’s Tuesday,” and Jason’s like, “I don’t understand, you don’t have sex on Tuesdays?” and Ryan’s like “No, we never have sex on Tuesdays. You’re completely safe on a Tuesday, it’s not even gonna come up.”
Q: How’d you hook up with Neal Moritz, ’cause he’s not really known for working on comedies?
Lucas: I don’t often know how things happen, we love Neal, he came on later in the process. He gets things everything over the goal line, and has this gift of getting movies made, which may not sound like an art, but there’s something he knows that we don’t. Ori [Marmur] is here, and he helps the comedy a lot. It’s good to have funny producers around, on the set. Ori gets funny and enjoys telling a joke.
Q: Did you seek out David Dobkin?
Lucas: Yeah. Scott and I did a little work on “Wedding Crashers,” so we met David that way, and we all had three-year-old kids. He read the script and he’s like, “I get it.” The opening scene is about waking up in the middle of the night and feeding your kid and there’s a lot of stuff about parenting young children. So I think he was a perfect choice, because I think you have to know a little bit about how ferociously tough it is in the first year or two to raise kids to get the movie.
Q: How does casting affect a movie like this? How does casting change things?
Lucas: It’s interesting because we’ve worked on movies where the casting has definitely upped it, and we’ve worked on movies where casting has hurt us. It’s easy to blame the cast, because it’s everyone’s fault, but casting is “Who’s available, who can we afford, who’s interested?” The list gets pretty small when you’re down to who wants to do your movie. I think these two guys are awesome. I would probably tell you that anyway, even if I hated them, because I’d never tell you I hated them, and it sucks because I lie all the time and now I’m actually telling the truth. “The Hangover” had this thing where it could have been Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn and Steve Carell. It could have been the straight guy, the clown and the scoundrel. Or it could have been three guys you didn’t know that well. And part of its success, I think, came from the fact that you didn’t quite know who they were, and these guys might kill a hobo in this movie. Will Ferrell is never going to kill a hobo. He’s a great guy, but he’s got another movie to do after this one, and he’ll never go that far. I think this movie benefits from that. We know Jason and Ryan, but I’m not sure I’ve seen them do hard R. I think that’s part of the appeal. I think audiences get a little tired of the big comedy movie stars. It can start to be a negative. I think audiences, especially for comedy, don’t mind a guy who hasn’t been in every prior comedy. Anyway, long answer, but they’ve done great, they’re awesome in this. They’re really friends, and it is really hard to manufacture that; it’s like a romantic comedy where you can tell they hate each other. And this is great because it’s hard R, and Jason Bateman doesn’t get the call very often to do dirty material. He’s always the nice dad who’s struggling a little bit. And he gets to do that in the first third of this movie, and then he’s just an animal. I think that was the appeal for him.
Q: Ryan Reynolds is an interesting choice as well, because he’s got a leading man thing, plus he has comic timing and he’s not over-exposed.
Lucas: He’s a goldmine. It’s kind of frustrating when someone is cool, good-looking, hard-working and really funny. Could you just not have been funny? Leave me something! I was jogging in the gym this morning, and I looked over, he’s working out. If you ever want to feel horrible about yourself, work out next to that dude. I’m just going to go back to my room and eat donuts. But he’s great and the improv thing is really dangerous, because you’ve got to stick to a schedule, but every day he comes in with five funny lines, and he sticks with them, tries them out in different ways, or you can throw him something in the middle of a scene and he’ll just work it in.
Q: When writing, did you leave room for improv and changes based on the casting?
Lucas: The truth is… in a script, it would be awesome to leave room like “This page is going to be a great improv scene.” I would love to do that, but it’s all written out, and, honestly, I think all writing is just the starting point for good improv. I don’t know if you saw everything we were doing this morning, but the scene started off as a three-pager, and it’s up to five, because they can just bang it out. Leslie’s been doing this forever, obviously with Judd’s movies, and comedy’s a tough environment, too, particularly for women. You need to push back, especially in these scenes, too. My wife is happy, because the women almost always win every scene in my movies. In this movie in particular, Leslie kinda grounds the whole thing. You need someone in the movie who is ‘us.’ She’s the one who kinda has to carry the movie in a sense, because she’s reacting to it, and if she’s not reacting the way WE would react, then we’re in a weird, silly place.
Between takes, we were given a tour of the makeshift soundstage, in which they had built all the main interior sets for the movie, many of which you can see in the first trailer. These included the upstairs and downstairs of David and Jamie’s house, Mitch’s pad and David’s law offices, and Dobkin said that part of making the movie feel like it has a larger scale is by building all these spaces as accurately as possible. Seeing where each of the guys lives gave us an even clearer picture on how different they are, Dave’s house being the standard suburban two-level with rooms for their daughter and twins and every room looking just as mundane as you might expect. It was quite a contrast to Mitch’s pad, his mancave, which was probably one of the coolest over-sized lofts we’ve ever seen, filled with DVDs, an arcade video game, cool underground comic-inspired art on the walls, rock posters, etc. The attention to detail in creating these interior sets was impressive, and we’re thinking few people who see the movie will really be able to appreciate what the set decorators put into creating these locations, because all the focus will be on the characters and what they get into. That’s one of the reasons it’s always nice to get to see even simpler sets like these up close.
Sadly, we didn’t get a chance to talk to Leslie Mann, and they had already wrapped Olivia Wilde, who plays a paralegal who works with David, and Alan Arkin, who plays his boss, but during a break in shooting, we did get to sit down with the two lead actors who have so much riding on this movie (and vice versa), and you can read that interview below:
Following that interview, we watched the continuation of the earlier scene, where Mitch walks into the kitchen where Leslie’s character is busy scraping toast – not exactly the most conducive activity to be doing over a dialogue scene. She asks him if he’s seeing anyone, and Mitch says that he ran into his old Social Studies teacher and that he tried but failed to get her phone number. He then mentions how Jamie is looking damn good for a woman who just had twins, making fairly direct comments about her “rack.” Just then, Jason Bateman walks in carrying their twin babies–we were told they have six babies playing the twins–and Mitch asks Jamie whether Dave is meeting her needs sexually. Both of them are obviously used to Mitch hitting on Jamie, because they play along with it rather than being offended, and finally, they leave the kitchen with Jamie suggesting Mitch should get Dave laid. As they walk to the front door, Mitch tries to kick Dave’s feet from under him or kicks him in the rear on alternating takes. It’s a fairly innocuous scene to be honest, because it takes place before the big switch, but Reynolds certainly gets to carry a lot of this as the freewheeling Mitch, and we assume Bateman gets to have more fun after the switch.
After a quick lunch, we sat down with Dobkin in the kitchen set to talk to him about the project, an interview we’ll run later this week. To help show how the actors behave differently after the switch, he showed us a couple scenes, one of them involving Jason Bateman doing Mitch in Dave’s body where he’s not trying very hard to fit in while having dinner with his family. Dave’s daughter starts telling Mitch/Dave about how she wrote a poem but the teacher picked another girl’s poem instead and she’s clearly upset, but Mitch is far more interested in piling as much of his wife’s delicious food on his plate as possible. The look on Leslie Mann’s face as her husband says and does increasingly more inappropriate things is priceless.
The next scene, which we can’t give away too many details about, involved the two friends meeting up after their first day of them doing the other’s job and we got some idea how differently they are acting around each other after the switch.
The Change-Up is out on August 5.