Four months ago, Netflix canceled Paris Paramount, a new Nancy Meyers movie. Paris Paramount wouldn’t have been the most expensive romantic comedy ever made, at $150 million, but after The Irishman and White Noise, Netflix is more picky about who they waste their money on. The writer-director of Something’s Gotta Give, The Holiday, and It’s Complicated hasn’t made a movie since The Intern in 2015, a nice fluffy movie that nevertheless felt thoroughly uncanny and “off” somehow. This is true for all of Meyers movies, including the ones she wrote with her former professional partner and ex-husband Charles Shyer. On paper, the plots of Baby Boom, What Women Want, and Protocol are familiar and formulaic; on screen, the sheer density of movie cliches and corniness ascend into something hyperreal. When it goes wrong, it’s grotesque and disturbing, like a bad dream; but at her height, Meyers is closer to Classic Hollywood filmmakers than most living filmmakers.
2009’s It’s Complicated, a big budget romantic comedy with three megastars above 50, exists in the same heightened, parallel Hollywood world of 1930-1960, the world where Nick and Nora solve mysteries in their Manhattan townhouse and Clark Gable falls in love with Claudette Colbert. Meryl Streep and Steve Martin smoke a joint that Alec Baldwin, Streep’s ex-husband, gave her to smoke with him. This is why the movie is R-rated, something that places it as a pre-2010 film as much as its gorgeous cinematography. I remember walking by the poster for this movie, with an ambivalent Streep and a beaming Baldwin in bed, in the Landmark Harbor East in late-2009, and I couldn’t believe something so passé and janky was coming to a theater near me instead of a video store or HBO.
But today, John Toll’s 35mm photography is a revelation, especially since he’s photographing signature Meyers sets and production design. All of her characters are rich Americans, and the making of her films mirror their subjects: she can afford to put Mary Kay Place in two scenes and Nora Dunn in one, and the fact that Netflix was willing to make Paris Paramount for $150 million—with $80 million going to the cast—is remarkable. Then again, I didn’t know her 2006 Christmas movie The Holiday has gone on to become such a staple for so many people; the rest of her films, from Private Benjamin to The Intern, are in constant rotation somewhere on cable TV, and hers are the films I see the most often at pharmacies and thrift stores.
Nancy Meyers is everywhere. At first glance, she’s generic. But she’s perverse: her characters aren’t people, they’re walking and talking avatars that appear in design and home decor magazine. Her heroes and heroines are almost always past 30, often 40, most often 50, and more than any of her contemporaries, Meyers has dedicated her career to stories about older people falling in love and figuring their lives out—all of this is anathema to Hollywood cinema, and even independent American films. Ti West’s X tried and failed to wring horror out of two old people being naked, and while they were certainly more decrepit than Jack Nicholson, not by much. He’s a toad in Something’s Gotta Give, and while Diane Keaton is gorgeous, she’s an older woman. Nancy Meyers is the only filmmaker of her time that was brave enough to give Keaton her first and only nude scene.
Meyers’ new film, “had Scarlett Johansson, Penélope Cruz, Michael Fassbender, and Owen Wilson circling roles, with Meyers writing, directing and producing the film known as Paris Paramount… The film would have centered on a young writer-director who falls in love with a producer. The pair make several successful films before breaking up, both romantically and professionally. They are forced back together when a new, great project arises, and they find themselves having to deal with high stakes and volatile stars.”
On paper? This shouldn’t cost more than $100 million, and it sounds like countless Netflix Originals likely made for a fraction of that. But none of those movies will ever run for all eternity on cable, and anything streaming will never be known to anyone other than the people who see them. Meyers is in the air, a romcom maestro as perversely American as David Lynch.
—Follow Nicky Smith on Twitter: @nickyotissmith