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Leatherheads: Clooney Goes Retro

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood April 1, 2008 at 4:45AM

George Clooney is the sort of movie star who gets to do what he wants, especially if he's willing to direct himself. In this case the period football comedy Leatherheads had been languishing on the shelf at Universal for decades, and was going to be directed by Steven Soderbergh at one time. Clooney's version is a sweetly daffy valentine to classic Hollywood screwball comedies, Coen brothers comedies and romantic comedies. Clooney stars as a handsome over-the-hill football player who's pretty smart but gets beat up on the playing field and takes plenty of pratfalls and romances a wise-cracking reporter (Renee Zellweger).
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LeatherheadsGeorge Clooney is the sort of movie star who gets to do what he wants, especially if he's willing to direct himself. In this case the period football comedy Leatherheads had been languishing on the shelf at Universal for decades, and was going to be directed by Steven Soderbergh at one time. Clooney's version is a sweetly daffy valentine to classic Hollywood screwball comedies, Coen brothers comedies and romantic comedies. Clooney stars as a handsome over-the-hill football player who's pretty smart but gets beat up on the playing field and takes plenty of pratfalls and romances a wise-cracking reporter (Renee Zellweger).

Does Clooney have the directing chops of Howark Hawks (His Girl Friday's Rosalind Russell is a model for Zellweger's tough-girl reporter) or the Coens? That's a tall order, but he does use the Coens' storyboard artist, and the film looks great. It could have been a tad sharper and faster and better, and I suspect it will have more appeal to women over 25 than anyone else. Whether the football marketing will alienate them is anyone's guess, and the critics are bound to be mixed. Here's Variety's review.

Universal has been spending heavily on Leatherheads, even giving it a Superbowl send-off spot, but I can't imagine it will make its P & A money back, much less its budget. Which will make it all the more difficult for execution-dependent, overtly uncommercial movies like this to get made. All power to Clooney for having the moxie to go for it, commerciality be damned.

UPDATE: Here's Clooney's interview with Reuters.

[Originally appeared on Variety.com]

This article is related to: Celebs, Reviews, Headliners, Genres, Directors, Coens, comedy, George Clooney


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.