STARRING Edward NORTON, Brad PITT, Helena BONHAM CARTER, Jared LETO, Meat LOAF, Eion BAILEY DIRECTED BY David FINCHER
[BUZZ-O-METER] 8 WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL? Pitt and Fincher team up for the first time since Seven.
It’s a cheery, quaint, all-American tale: Alienated Everyman Jack (Norton) falls in with a charismatic anarchist (Pitt) and a self-help junkie named Marla (Bonham Carter). As their relationship develops, he drops out of his worka-day life to find himself immersed in the world of ultraviolent, top secret ”fight clubs,” where men meet to pound one another into hamburger. On a (sort of) happier note: The last time Fincher and Pitt got together, they made Seven, the serial-killer thriller that grossed $100 million and still has us shaking. ”Fight Club is not a silly tale of empowerment,” says Fincher, who read Chuck Palahniuk’s darkly comic novel the night before Twentieth Century Fox bought the rights. ”We live in this frustrating mall society, where you have no lows to measure against your highs. In a fight club you connect with yourself – and others – by unleashing that frustration.” Says Pitt: ”We’re dealing with men who feel impotence after having done everything they were told to do. The film is irreverent and subversive, but Fincher approaches the issue with clarity. It’s like everyone is in the dark and he’s got night vision.” What Fincher wasn’t clear on was who would play Marla. ”I’d seen Helena’s work, but the question was whether or not she could be neurotic,” says the director, who used American Graffiti as the gritty, realist template for the look of the film. ”Turned out she was exactly what we wanted: funny, chain-smoking, and foulmouthed.” Of course, even with this dynamic trio on board, most of the players involved are expecting Fight Club to be a tough sell – especially in post-Columbine America. The stars spend most of the film bruised and gashed, plus the movie has a difficult message and a nonlinear structure, which Fincher likens to ”random-access downloading.” ”If you look at it with an unsophisticated eye,” says Norton, you could think the film ”is saying that if you feel bad, you should go blow stuff up. But you’d be missing the point.” (Oct. 15)
ANYWHERE BUT HERE
STARRING Susan SARANDON, Natalie PORTMAN, Bonnie BEDELIA DIRECTED BY Wayne WANG
[BUZZ-O-METER] 5 WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL? The Oscar winner and the Star Wars vixen form a dysfunctional family.
It was the sex scene that nearly sank a movie. After years of uninspired scripts and uncommitted directors, the big-screen adaptation of Mona Simpson’s acclaimed 1986 novel about an overbearing mother and her shell-shocked daughter almost stalled again in early 1998. The problem: Portman, just 16 at the time and fresh from playing Queen Amidala in The Phantom Menace, turned down the daughter role over a love scene with actor Corbin Allred that required nudity. Producer Laurence Mark already had Sarandon attached as the mother and Wang (The Joy Luck Club) signed on to direct, but Sarandon, who had costar approval, decided she couldn’t make the film without Portman. ”Natalie was cast for her intelligence and strength,” says Sarandon. ”I needed someone I could go at full force who could hold her own. When Natalie fell out, they talked about other people, but I told them I wouldn’t do it without her.” The solution: Portman actually wanted the role, minus that scene. ”I loved the part,” she says, ”but I just wasn’t ready for that. I’m not one of those people who’ll do anything for their art.” The filmmakers tried to remain calm. They went back to the drawing board and had screenwriter Alvin Sargent (Ordinary People) rework the script. Recalls Wang, ”We said to each other, ‘Hey, it’s Natalie, we’ll make it work.”’ They sent a sanitized rewrite to Portman, and she accepted. ”I never want to change a writer’s vision,” she says, ”but when they did that for me, it was such a nice feeling.” The revised scene features a clever twist: a boy in his drawers and a passionate…hug. Despite the changes, explains Wang, the scene was still filmed on a closed set, with ”a lot of long discussions about underwear.” Sarandon was pleased too. ”I think it’s better. Natalie’s integrity actually forced the writer to be a tad more inventive.” (Oct. 22)