Consider it a bit of a Goldilocks problem (too hot, too cold, too serious, too funny nothing just right). Filmmaker David Gordon Green first made waves with serious, sensitive fare – from George Washington and All the Real Girls to even the tensely wrought thriller Undertow – before veering off into studio comedy territory with Pineapple Express, Your Highness, and The Sitter. The returns on such properties were literally diminishing: while Pineapple Express made over $100m at the box office, Your Highness didn’t crack $25m and The Sitter just missed out on $35m. Yet money wasn’t the problem with Green’s funnier stuff, it was that it just didn’t seem nearly as good as his dramatic projects, laughs aside. Green married his apparently warring aesthetics with last year’s little-seen Prince Avalanche, a funny and clever film that’s also very much about fraught interpersonal relationships, but his interest in full-out comedy has seemingly dipped to an all-time low.
Is David Gordon Green done with big studio comedies? And is that actually – gasp! – a mistake?
The next Green joint to hit the big screen is the inky dark Joe, a TIFF entry that stars Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in an unlikely redemption story with plenty of haunting drama to drive it (Cage plays the eponymous Joe, an ex-con with a heart of, well, at least bronze or something). After Joe will come the Al Pacino-starring Manglehorn, a redemption story of a different stripe that’s also about a former criminal coming to terms with his life choices. Both are classified as dramas, and while both will likely turn out a couple of stray laughs, neither are comedies by any stretch.
The rest of Green’s upcoming slate is packed with still more drama, including Free Country (a thriller that reportedly has some “comedic elements”), Q (an adaptation of the Evan Mandery novel of the same name), his long-rumored remake of horror classic Suspiria, and The Innocent Man (a true story about a man falsely convicted of murder). Green will likely veer off the hard drama with his in-development Little House on the Prairie film, though anyone who is familiar with Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family’s story knows that life on the prairie is anything but a laugh riot (though ribbon candy always makes us giggle, and Nellie Oleson is almost comically evil). Just yesterday, the director lined up yet another crime-driven drama, with the newly announced Chris Pine-starring The Line, a thriller about a double-crossed border patrol agent and a kid he needs to protect (shades of Joe, anyone?).
Nowhere in Green’s extremely busy upcoming schedule is there a single studio comedy (no, not even that Pineapple Express sequel we all want), and that’s a shame, because while two of his biggest attempts at mainstream comedy fell flat, Green still has a unique sensibility that can translate to huge comedic returns. (There’s also the persistent bit of knowledge that wacky comedy is more in line with Green’s personal taste level.)
Green has made a habit of producing a wide variety of feature films, and while that portion of his resume is just as varied as his writing and directing projects, even its comedic entries lean towards the more offbeat, from Nature Calls to The Comedy to recent Sundance hit Land Ho! The closest Green is getting to big comedy lately is an executive producer credit on TV series Chozen, and no one would mistake an animated show about a gay rapper to be mainstream comedic fare.
Green has also mixed up his resume with a bevy of big time commercials (remember that Clint Eastwood-starring Chrysler ad from 2012?), but still – no more studio comedies. They’re gone. Are they ever coming back? Considering the state of Green’s schedule and what looks to be a definite veer away from them, at least not for a few years, if ever. Can someone get that Pineapple Express sequel up in the air?