May 3, 2009

Written by Matt Goldberg

I’m not exactly sure how Ben Stiller got on the hot list for directing dramatic material but that’s where he is because Participant Media just signed him to direct “Help Me Spread Goodness” which Variety describes as “a drama with comic overtones”. That’s good because I hate to think what would happen if Stiller directed a comedy with dramatic undertones.

The story is about a Chicago banker who gets swindled in a Nigerian Internet scam. That sounds…funny. It’s tired and at best a throw-away joke in your average sitcom, but let’s assume for the sake of argument that you have a story there. This is the part of the Variety article that I love: “While the project is meant to be entertaining, it sheds light on current issues in Nigeria and other African countries, fitting the Participant Media mandate to make films that compel social change.” Out of curiosity, what was the last major film that “compelled social change?” I guess you could argue that it’s “An Inconvenient Truth” and that Participant would do that film one better by making their films “entertaining” but does this not speak to Hollywood ego? It’s one thing to make a socially responsible film but it’s another to preach at your audience and tell them things they already know like “it’s kind of rough in Nigeria.” Also, I’m pretty sure the “Nigerian Prince” scam doesn’t have its roots in Nigeria.

But Stiller will have to balance this with his OTHER drama, Aaron Sorkin’s script for “The Trial of the Chicago 7” which Steven Spielberg was attached to direct at one point.

And yes, for those wondering, this is the same Ben Stiller who directed “Tropic Thunder” and “Zoolander” and will be larfing it up in “Night at the Museum 2” in a couple weeks. Where he’s getting his dramatic bonafides, I have no idea but here’s hoping that he’s got the directing chops to handle these projects and above all, “compel social change”.

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