While he’s squarely back on top and the memory of controversial past dust ups are long in his rear-view mirror, filmmaker David O. Russell probably hoped 2008, not 2010/11, would prove to be his comeback year.
But as shitshow film productions go, his political satire, “Nailed,” co-written by Al Gore’s daughter Kristin Gore, was a spectacularly disastrous one. However, known for his infamous spats with actors in the past (George Clooney, Lily Tomlin), the dramas of “Nailed,” were centered around the unfortunate financial circumstances outside of his control and by all accounts the sole fault of now-infamous film distribution swindler David Bergstein who essentially failed to pay the crew who walked away from an unfinished film. More on that later.
As you’ve may have heard by now, “Nailed” screened in L.A. two nights ago; a very rough cut to test audiences lured by the tease that it was made by the director of the Academy Award nominated “The Fighter,” despite the fact that Russell disavowed the picture and took his name off it over a year ago. In case you’re unaware, “Nailed,” is about a naïve and uninsured small town waitress (Jessica Biel) who suffers an accidental nail to the head at the hands of incompetent construction workers, heads to Washington and becomes a cause celebre for healthcare rights. Jake Gyllenhaal plays a rising star slimeball politician who boards her bandwagon cause when he falls in lust/love with her. The film also stars James Marsden, Catherine Keener, Paul Reubens, James Brolin, Kirstie Alley and Tracy Morgan. And just this morning a reader sent us a very detailed report of the screening. We’ll spare you the major spoilers or simply cut and paste the email, but here are some specific facts which you’ll probably find interesting:
— Despite the fact that the film was advertised as a David O. Russell film (and it was, see this PDF screening invite), there were no credits to the picture at all (and no title either, check that PDF), which legally is a smart idea for those that put on the screening and did not tell the filmmakers, actors or crew.
— What was shown seems to be the same very-rough assembly cut that was put together months ago with some minor tweakage. The crucial “missing scene,” or unfinished one, in the picture — when Jessica Biel first gets a nailgun accidentally drilled into her head — was not exactly missing per se, it just sounds incomplete. The scene was there with a title on the bottom that read, “to be reshot.” It was, we’re told, a confusing moment and poorly lit, so this is likely why they’d want to reshoot it. Apparently it made the film feel very jarring since it’s basically the first plot point that puts the story into motion.
— As even filmmakers like Darren Aronofsky have noted, assembly cuts are very painful to watch, even for the filmmaker who made it, and this version was no different labeled “unwatchable,” “disastrous” and good old, “godawful,” but from the sounds of this report, what was shown was very, very raw and whether it’s salvageable or not remains to be seen.
— However… As we noted in a script review many moons ago, “Nailed” felt worrisomely broad, cartoonish and overly wacky; it was funny on the page, but felt like a “Simpsons” episode where Lisa goes to Washington and while that’s amusing to read, it’s hard to imagine how it would play out in live-action and how much it would test your suspension of disbelief. The reader knowingly referenced our script report and said our “Simpsons” reference was very much “on the mark,” adding that while it was vaguely like an episode of “30 Rock,” what it did wrong and what the show “does right,” is create characters who are “parodies, but are more relevant and relatable to today’s audience.”
— Again, it’s a rough, rough cut. It had not gone through any coloring and a Washington montage in the picture had “Getty” sprawled across the images, so again, far from done.
— Apparently there are major tonal issues throughout the film and this is perhaps because the film was shot in fits and starts and production stopped on the picture around seven times while Bergstein and his Capitol Films tried to rustle up cash to pay the unions who understandably refused to work every time their paychecks didn’t clear. One comparison of Gyllenhaal’s broad acting was to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in “Southland Tales,” which should explain how big it sounds they were going. Biel was apparently said to be very wrong for the part and her constantly changing mental state was evidently “confusing.”
— Naturally, the only person who seemed to be a strong fit for the wacky tone was the undisputed king of wacky Tracy Morgan
— Apparently the film has a subtle, (but apparently annoying) tonal change in photography that goes from campy horror-esque tilted frames and first-person perspectives, to much more conventional DP work when everything is looking hopeful and they’re in DC.
— Positive elements were said to be Morgan, Reubens and Marsden, but “ultimately this project is somewhat heartbreaking because you imagine that it could be so much better.”
— While Spike Jonze‘s brother, producer, and frequent Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs/Karen O collaborator Squeak E. Clean said a few years back that he was scoring the film (he also produced the Karen O-led “Where The Wild Things Are” album), we’re told all the music in the film was oldies pop. It’s very possible that this was all temp music, but it’s unclear what became of Clean’s music.
Interestingly enough, while Russell seems to have overcome his “difficult” reputation by the time “The Fighter” rolled into theaters, from insider reports, he was already calmly captaining an out-of-control ship that summer. “For the first time, there were more demons outside his head than inside his head,” an insider told the Daily Beast last year. “He wanted to step forward and captain a good ship for his own career. He was in ultra-professional mode. For him, it was so cruel—he was trapped at every turn.”
What will Ron Tutor and co. do with this film? Will the scenes in question eventually be reshot (apparently Biel and Gyllenhaal are contracted to do so). Your guess is as good as ours, but we assume it’s never going to hit theaters (or DVD) with Russell’s name on it. “I think you kinda keep going and stay with the forward moment,” Russell told us when we asked him about “Nailed” last year, suggesting he wasn’t looking back. “That’s kinda what you have to do. So that’s what I’m doing.” When further pressed he said, “There was a lot that was going on that I liked, but [the production] was kinda a stillbirth, you know? So when that happens, the whole thing gets kinda weird.”