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How Do You Know is a shiny, mainstream Hollywood comedy being sold based on the appeal of its A-list stars, which of course means it comes with a price tag. But even those of us accustomed to bloated industry budgets did a double take at today's Hollywood Reporter headline revealing that the new James L. Brooks movie cost a whopping $120 million, down to $100 million after tax breaks.
If you're wondering how a film with no major special effects, only 7 or 8 major characters and shot mostly on soundstages could possibly cost that much, blame the stars themselves. $50 million of that budget went to star salaries, with Reese Witherspoon pocketing the most at $15 million, then Jack Nicholson with $12 million, Owen Wilson with $10 million, and poor Paul Rudd with just $3 million, even though he's the movie's main character and by far the best reason to see the film. Brooks himself will make $10 million as the writer, director and producer, and he also shares in the profit. Sure, the guy only makes about two movies a decade, but he makes them count.
The logic, reportedly, is that Sony thinks they have a hit the size of It's Complicated, which grossed over $300 million last year and starred Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin, none of whom are as bankable as the three younger How Do You Know stars (most of the time). I'm embargoed from talking too much about How Do You Know, but they're probably right-- the movies have similar kinds of appeal, and should take advantage of other holiday season offerings that focus more on teens (Tron: Legacy) or kids (Yogi Bear). If you're an adult in a market where films like The King's Speech or Black Swan haven't opened yet, you could do a lot worse after seeing True Grit.
Still… $120 million for an adult-aimed comedy is fairly insane, especially when the talent could have knocked off a few million and made it a lot more reasonable (what does Jack Nicholson even do with an extra $12 million?) The most heartbreaking part of all of this, though, is that Paul Rudd is so underpaid (well, relatively-- I wouldn't blink at $3 million, I'll tell you that much). Does starring in I Love You Man and Role Models not earn more respect in this world? Do we need to hold a campaign to make sure his ego is OK? I had assumed all these years that everyone loves Paul Rudd like I do-- unconditionally, fiercely-- but if some people need to be told, well, you know where to find me.