I Could Never Be Your Woman (2007)
Written by Amy Heckerling
Directed by Amy Heckerling
Produced by Bauer Martinez Entertainment/ Templar Productions
Running time: 97 minutes
By Joe Valdez
So, What’s This About?
Rosie (Michelle Pfeiffer) — a single working mom in L.A. — is introduced rubbing wrinkle free moisturizer on her hands. Her nipped and tucked ex-husband (Jon Lovitz) drops off their precocious daughter (Saoirse Ronan), who has outgrown her Barbie dolls and now keeps her mom hip to the latest in teen slang. Rosie is writer/producer of a high school sitcom called You Go Girl!, whose 30-ish star (Stacey Dash) is passed off as a teenager. Rosie tussles with censors, a devious young secretary (Sarah Alexander) and a smarmy network executive (Fred Willard) more interested in makeover reality programs than Rosie’s show.
Casting for a fresh face to play a nerd on You Go Girl!, Rosie meets Adam (Paul Rudd), an exuberant, ultra-talented 29 year old actor. She accepts a casual date, first claiming to be 37, and after a kiss, coming clean that she’s 40. Adam scores points with Rosie’s daughter by helping her ace Sonic the Hedgehog on Nintendo. Complications arise when Adam’s expanded role on the show is attributed to his relationship with Rosie, whose secretary schemes to break the couple up. Rosie receives wisdom in the form of Mother Nature (Tracey Ullman), who maintains that Rosie’s generation is just fundamentally out of whack with natural order.
Who Made It?
Bronx native Amy Heckerling received her master’s degree from the AFI Institute, where her second year thesis Getting It Over With would help land her the job of directing Fast Times at Ridgemont High for Universal in 1981. A box office hit on its way to becoming a youth classic, the success of Fast Times put Heckerling in a select class: women directing feature films in Hollywood. Look Who’s Talking (1989) and a sequel in 1990 would follow before Heckerling wrote and directed a critical and commercial smash — Clueless — which won her Best Screenplay from the National Society of Film Critics in 1995. Heckerling executive produced the Clueless spin-off for the UPN Network from 1996-99.
It was during this time that Heckerling began sketching what became I Could Never Be Your Woman. The project spent six years in development at Paramount, whose CEO Sherry Lansing didn’t think audiences would much care for a woman who becomes involved with a younger man. Once Michelle Pfeiffer attached herself to the project and helped fight to get it made, financing and distribution was secured from French producer Philippe Martinez. Shooting wrapped in the fall of 2005, but the film became so mired in contract disputes that it surfaced February 2008 directly to DVD in the United States, an unusual fate for such a high profile movie.
How’d They Do It?
In 1996, Amy Heckerling was executive producing the Clueless spin-off for UPN. The writer/director was also a single mother raising a teenage daughter in L.A. These experiences formed a script that would become I Could Never Be Your Woman. Heckerling recalled, “I started out just writing about a whole bunch of things that were going on and making a kind of Mrs. Robinson relationship movie. Later on, I decided, ‘Let’s lighten this up.’ So then I banged out the relationship between Mother Nature. Is Mother Nature a person who always wins? Do we all have to give in to her or is it okay to keep fighting?”
Heckerling added “I sort of doodled around with the idea and then put it down when I did Loser. Then I was writing something for Fox for a while and then I did another draft of it years later, and that was the one that was shown to Michelle. Then a year or so before we made the movie, she had come on and helped get it done.” To secure financing, Heckerling and Pfeiffer’s reps at Creative Artists Agency called Philippe Martinez, who’d made his bones helping bankroll B-pictures like The Ultimate Weapon (starring Hulk Hogan), Musketeers Forever (Michael Dudikoff and Lee Majors) and producing/directing Wake of Death starring Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Before he became a movie producer, Martinez operated an international sales company that was forced into receivership in L.A. A warrant for Martinez’s arrest was issued in France, stemming from complaints by his business partners. Martinez hid in Agoura Hills where he continued to work in the film industry. He ultimately spent 14 months in a detention center before his extradition to France, where Martinez served six months in prison. But by 2005, he triumphantly returned to Los Angeles with backing from Templar Film Investment Fund and $200 million per year for three years to finance and distribute films under his Bauer Martinez Entertainment banner.
Martinez fondly recalled, “An agent at Creative Artists Agency called me one day and he said, ‘Philippe I know you’re looking for a big movie to produce and here is a wonderful movie that Michelle Pfeiffer wants to do’, so I read the script in two hours which is very rare for me and I loved it and called him and said, ‘Let’s meet the director’. It was one of the funniest things we’d read and incredibly powerful and pertinent. Ironically of course one of the reasons Michelle was such a champion of the project is that there really are so few great roles for older women.” With a budget of $24 million, I Could Never Be Your Woman would commence filming August 2005 … in England.
Producer Cerise Hallam Larkin stated, “Our financing was British, so to qualify as a British film we had to spend all this money in England shooting a movie that was set in L.A., which was no mean feat.” The financing scheme explained why so many actors from the United Kingdom (Saoirse Ronan, Tracey Ullman, Sarah Alexander, Mackenzie Crook, Noah Margetts, O.T. Fagbenle) appeared in the cast. Director of photography Brian Tufano was also a Brit – he’d shot Quadrophenia — and Amy Heckerling was thrilled with the opportunity to work with him. Six weeks of shooting at Pinewood Studios outside London would be followed by three weeks of location work in L.A.
Bauer Martinez landed a distribution deal with MGM in January 2006 and I Could Never Be Your Woman was slated to be the first of five pictures (including Harsh Times, Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj and The Flock) from the producer that would hit theaters. But when the studio discovered that Martinez had put them on the line to pay Michelle Pfeiffer 10% of its first-dollar gross and Amy Heckerling another 5% — and that lucrative DVD rights had been awarded to The Weinstein Company — MGM put the film on the shelf. Despite the fact that I Could Never Be Your Woman boasted two mainstream stars and had reportedly drawn positive response from test audiences, no distributor in the United States wanted to touch the movie.
Amy Heckerling lamented, “If this is independence, I’d rather go back to what they call ‘the devil you know.’ When I did Clueless, there was a big studio system that had marketing and distribution people who knew what they were doing, and had an idea of what TV shows movies should be advertised on, and did research into who liked which movie, and what they watch and what they read, and how much it costs to reach them. These people who knew how to make posters and advertisements. You know, I liked that machine. It worked.” I Could Never Be Your Woman managed $9.5 million in theaters overseas before being abandoned March 2008 direct-to-DVD in the United States.
Many Internet critics who picked up a copy of the much maligned film were favorable to what they found. Jesse Hassenger, filmcritic.com: “Sometimes you come across an interesting movie with too many flaws to recommend, but Woman is a flawed movie with too much good stuff to completely ignore. It’s smart and warm, and if Heckerling loses her grip a few times, it’s only because she’s squeezing so hard.” Christopher Kulik, DVD Verdict: “Controversy aside, I Could Never Be Your Woman scores highly, both as comedy and satire. Despite its tragic road to being dumped on DVD, it’s one of the best romantic comedies to come out in years.”
Jim Magovern, The Moviezzz Blog: “Rather than some disaster, it is actually a very good film. It may not be Heckerling’s best film, and I can understand why a studio wouldn’t have picked it up without the DVD rights (as it wouldn’t have been a huge blockbuster) but it deserved more.” Amy Heckerling summed up the experience by admitting, “It’s just bad. It’s just bad, bad, bad. There’s really no nice, interesting spin you can put on it from my point of view.” She added, “It just represents a lot of unhappiness to me. I loved working with Paul Rudd and Michelle Pfeiffer and Saoirse Ronan and all the other people, and I got to make some friends in England, where it was shot. But I’m not happy about what happened. I feel bad. But I feel bad about sadder things than this, too.”
Should I Care?
Dating rituals had evolved in the 17 years since White Palace to fully warrant a contemporary look at the love affair between a woman and younger man, and you couldn’t have asked for two more appealing lovers than Michelle Pfeiffer and Paul Rudd. I Could Never Be Your Woman has little to do with a love affair, or men and women in general; instead, it free falls into a slapdash, superficial and bitter as hell UPN sitcom. This peek into the woes of a professional single mom re-entering the dating scene is so loaded with rage that it might have qualified as a guerilla manifesto against youth culture, if it wasn’t so witless and incompetently made.
Amy Heckerling has directed a masterpiece (Fast Times at Ridgemont High) and written and directed a well-deserved blockbuster (Clueless). I Could Never Be Your Woman is mad as hell about plastic surgery, ex-husbands dating younger women, youth driven pop culture, soulless network executives, teenage body angst and aging. The movie stops short of beating an effigy of Britney Spears like a piñata. Any adult can identify with Heckerling’s rancor, but the film — which is all surfaces and lacks any real edge — is another story. The settings are generic, humor flat and characters shallow. Not only a mess, it’s a mean-spirited mess.
Paul Rudd acquits himself with some charming physicality, but Michelle Pfeiffer doesn’t fare as well. When allowed to look her age, she’s a dangerous beauty. Trying to vamp it up as a woman 20 years younger, the versatile actress just embarrasses herself. The lighting seems weighed down with cake makeup, while the London-for-L.A. locations add a demented visual layer. There’s a nice cameo by Henry Winkler, but I Could Never Be Your Woman was so misconceived, misguided, mismanaged and misfortunate that there’s not much an appearance by Arthur Fonzarelli can do.
Where’d You Get All of This?
“His Plan: Conquest of Indie Hollywood” By Sharon Waxman. The New York Times, 5 October 2005
“When Glitches Trump Glitz” By John Horn. The Los Angeles Times, 4 March 2007
“Would You Dump This Woman?” By Missy Schwartz. Entertainment Weekly, 1 February 2008
“Amy Heckerling’s DVD Premiere – Part II” By Laurence Lerman. Video Business, 22 February 2008
I Could Never Be Your Woman. DVD audio commentary by Amy Hecklering and Cerise Hallam Larkin. The Weinstein Company, 2008