Cast: Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Taraji P. Henson, Mila Kunis, Common, Jimmi Simpson, Leighton Meester and Mark Wahlberg
Director: Shawn Levy
Genre: Action, Comedy
Running Time: 88 minutes
Synopsis: Claire and Phil Foster (Tina Fey and Steve Carell) are a typical suburban couple whose lives - including their weekly date nights of dinner and a movie - have become routine.
To reignite the marital spark, they visit a trendy Manhattan bistro where a case of mistaken identity turns their evening into the ultimate date night-gone-awry.
But as Claire and Phil take their unexpected walk on the wild side, they begin to remember what made them so special together.
Release Date: April 8th, 2010
Action-comedy maestro Shawn Levy, the director of the blockbuster "Night at the Museum" franchise, teams up with two of the comedy world's biggest talents, Steve Carell ("The 40 Year Old Virgin," "The Office") and Tina Fey ("Baby Mama," "30 Rock," "SNL") for an adventure that turns a run-of-the-mill married couple's date upside down - way upside down, in Date Night.
Phil (Steve Carell) and Claire Foster (Tina Fey) are a sensible, loving couple with two kids and a house in suburban New Jersey. The Fosters have their weekly "Date Night" - an attempt at re-experiencing the spice of the dates of yesteryear, involving the same weekly night out at the local Teaneck Tavern. Their conversations quickly drift from barely-date talk to the same chore-chat they have at the dinner table at home. Exhausted from their jobs and kids, their dates rarely end in fore- or any other kind of play, let alone romance.
After seeing two of their best friends - another married couple with kids in suburban New Jersey - split apart from living the same life they themselves lead, Phil and Claire begin to fear what may lie ahead: a state of bland indifference and eventual separation.
In an attempt to take Date Night off auto-pilot, and hopefully inject a little spice into their lives, Phil decides a change of plans is in order: take Claire into Manhattan to the city's hottest new restaurant. The Fosters, however, don't have reservations. Hoping to be seated sometime before the clock strikes twelve, they steal a no-show couple's reservations. What could it hurt? Phil and Claire are now the Tripplehorns.
The real Tripplehorns, however, it turns out, are a thieving couple who are being hunted down by a pair of corrupt cops for having stolen property from some very dangerous people. Forced on the run before they've even finished their risotto, Phil and Claire soon realise that their play-date-for-parents has gone hilariously awry, as they embark on a wild and dangerous series of crazy adventures to save their lives. . . and their marriage.
The ritual "Date Night" dinner is something all too familiar to most married couples - even directors of blockbuster movies. "I was in the process of making the second Night at the Museum film," recalls filmmaker Shawn Levy, "and, as is kind of our ritual, once a week, my wife and I go out to dinner."
At one such dinner, the Shawn Levys found themselves sitting at the restaurant they frequented, ordering the same food, talking about the kids, what's coming up that weekend, who's going to buy the gift for which birthday party, etc., etc. "In the middle of all that, I said to my wife, 'Wouldn't it be cool to do a movie about a Date Night, where you just did one thing differently? And, from there, you have an unraveling of everything, to the point of it threatening your life and your marriage, with all kinds of crazy stuff going on. But, in the midst of all that crazy stuff, you end up recapturing the vitality that Date Night was invented in the first place to preserve.'"
The next morning, Shawn Levy came in to his production company office and told his staff, "Okay, we're going to do a movie called Date Night, and here's what it's about, and let's get a writer. Let's go."
Shawn Levy's search for a writer didn't take very long. "I had written a small, quirky film, called '(Saint) Peter,' which Shawn Levy had read and fell in love with, recalls screenwriter Josh Klausner. "Shawn Levy was determined to find something for us to work on together. He very graciously took a big chance and had me fly out, and we started brainstorming."
Shawn Levy and Josh Klausner met at Shawn Levy's bungalow on the Fox lot, where they quickly broke the story. "We are both in the same stage of life," Josh Klausner says. "We both have children and go out on Date Nights, knowing what they're supposed to be, but realising they never end up being that anymore because there are so many other things that get in the way. So we started talking about those experiences."
"We talked about our marriages," Shawn Levy adds. "And we found that there are certain commonalities in trying to sustain a vibrant, romantic relationship," and not simply becoming roommates. "It's the question of in the midst of grownup life, how do you keep couple-hood fresh?"
Date Night was originally conceived as more of a suburban story centered around a parent-teacher conference night, but quickly evolved into, as Josh Klausner calls it, "the perfect 'North by Northwest' setup" of mistaken identity.
"Shawn Levy and I really wanted what spurs on the evening to be something that we all might do," Josh Klausner continues. "Phil and Claire simply can't get a seat at a restaurant, and, since nobody's answering the call for a reservation, they just decide, 'What's the harm in taking it?' And it leads them down the rabbit hole. From there, they end up on the worst night of their lives, which ends up being the best night for their relationship."
Shawn Levy describes the film as being "in the spirit of action comedies I remember fondly, like 'Beverly Hills Cop' or '48 Hrs.' Date Night has a real hybrid tone, because it's first and foremost a comedy. It also has a hefty dose of action, as well as a lot of heart, because it's about the things that people deal with in relationships."
For Shawn Levy, Date Night is a change from the family-friendly hits he's helmed, like "Cheaper by the Dozen," "Pink Panther" and "Night at the Museum." Date Night is more of an adult-skewing comedy," Shawn Levy points out. "In a way, it's the other side of the movies I've done, which have been focused on the child-parent relationships. Date Night is focused on the marriage side - what happens after the children go to sleep."
Shawn Levy was keen to keep the emotional side of the story intact through the mayhem experienced by the characters. "If you're making a movie about relationships and being a married couple, it must be more than just funny, because life doesn't work that way," the director explains. "This movie has some surprising moments of poignancy."
"A lot of comedies these days feel like a compendium of gags tied together to follow a narrative story," notes Josh Klausner. "Date Night, at its heart, is about marriage and being in love with somebody, but at the same time, life gets in the way. It's honest, which is something Steve Carell and Tina Fey wanted, too. I'm proud that this movie has preserved that soul."
When Shawn Levy learned that Steve Carell and Tina Fey were hoping to find a project on which they could work together, he knew he had found his Date Night duo. "We got an early draft of the screenplay to Tina Fey and Steve Carell, who always struck me as the dream pairing for a movie about marriage," Shawn Levy says. "They said, 'Yeah, we relate to this, we want to do an action comedy that's also honest about relationships.' So they said they were in."
While Shawn Levy usually takes a break between completing one feature and beginning the next, he found himself prepping Date Night while editing "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian," in order to take advantage of his stars' availability. "Steve Carell's and Tina Fey's series commitments [on, respectively, "The Office" and "30 Rock"] provides only a limited window for feature film work," Shawn Levy explains. "They told us, 'Look, we want to do this, but we're free now, and we're not going to be free in six months - what do we do?' I said, 'Well, we make the movie right now!' I didn't get a break between films, but I got a comedy with Steve Carell and Tina Fey, who are two of the most intelligent, interesting people working in comedy today. So a lot of my job was to come up with the idea, get the two perfect actors for the movie, and then get the hell out of the way."
Phil, says Steve Carell, "feels underappreciated by his friends and family, but he sort of keeps that feeling close to his chest. He's a very loving guy, but he and Claire have reached a plateau in their relationship. He needs to snap himself out of it, if possible. And the night that he and Claire experience together is a defibrillator for their marriage."
Steve Carell's comedic skills, along with his ability to stir audiences' hearts, made him the perfect choice for the role, Shawn Levy says. "Steve Carell is super funny, and his chops as an actor are fantastic. He not only carries entire comedy sequences on his back, but three scenes later, he's moving you to an emotional place with such sincerity and nuance. There's no end to what he can do."
Steve Carell says his own Date Nights, like Phil Foster's (and Shawn Levy's and Josh Klausner's), leave much to be desired. "Sometimes the worst part of Date Night is actually leaving for the date - when you see your babysitter sitting down, getting all cozy, turning on the TV. That sometimes seems much better than the night that lies ahead."
Tina Fey, like Steve Carell, has the ability to be riotously funny while still portraying the emotional side of her character realistically - to turn down the volume on jokes and simply allow them to happen. For example, in response to a nudge for sex from her husband, Tina Fey's Claire offers a very normal, 'Yeah, hang on a minute" moment as she pulls out her dental mouth guard in preparation for sex with her husband, with enough drool to instantly turn off her mate.
"Besides being obviously really pretty and intelligent, Tina has a complete willingness to make an ass out of herself," says Shawn Levy. She's completely up for goofing on herself and being the butt of the joke, and that's very charming."
Tina Fey describes Claire as "a working mom of two kids, who, like almost everyone I know, is just a little worn out by the day-to-day life of raising your kids, getting them out the door, getting them to school, having a job, keeping a house clean. She's a good person who is just kind of worn into the ground a little bit. I certainly identify with how just physically tiring it is to be a parent and have a job - sometimes it feels like a real effort to just be present for your spouse."
So which would be scarier - being in a boring marriage or being chased by the mob (both of which the Fosters experience in the film)? "I would say that being married to a person in the mob would be the scariest," Tina Fey jokes.
Along their night-from-hell journey, Phil and Claire encounter a cavalcade of characters on both sides of the law. Shawn Levy's casting choices for these roles was sometimes unexpected - and always spot-on. His intent was to provide the story with a "Wizard of Oz"-like experience. "You're with your heroes, but along the way, they're being affected and changed by the people they meet, and I just thought wouldn't it be fun if at every turn of the road, you're surprised all over again by who has suddenly appeared in this movie. And the cast members fit the roles perfectly."
The surprise apparently wasn't limited to the audience. "I read the script," says Tina Fey," and I thought, 'Oh, these are really good parts for somebody.' I never thought we would get this lucky to have that caliber of people in all these different parts." Having what otherwise would have appeared to be small roles portrayed by big name actors only helps bring them alive, Steve Carell notes. "When you see them acted out, they're even better than they were on the page."
And getting high-powered stars to join the Date Night team wasn't just a matter of coincidence. "So many people were so keen to find a way to work with Steve Carell and Tina Fey - they just found a way to make it work," says Shawn Levy.
Mark Wahlberg portrays a former real estate client of Claire's the pair turns to in the middle of the night. "I play a guy named Holbrooke Grant, who is a security expert who Claire and Phil come to for help," Mark Wahlberg explains. "They just catch Holbrooke at a bad time - he's with his beautiful Israeli girlfriend." The pair ends up turning Holbrooke's night upside down, as well.
Mark Wahlberg had the simplest costume in the entire cast. "There is no wardrobe - just a pair of silk genie pants," he recalls, noting that he regularly found himself freezing on the air-conditioned set. That the top half of his costume was missing (except for an ample supply of makeup covering Mark Wahlberg's countless tattoos), was a fact not lost on the female members of the cast and crew. "Mark was shirtless for three or four days," Tina Fey says, prompting a noticeable increase in the number of women who suddenly had additional tasks to address on set on the days he was on the job. "I had friends texting me, 'Can I get on the Fox lot and visit you today?'" Tina Fey laughs.
Also coming to the aid of the beleaguered couple is Taraji P. Henson, an Oscar® nominee for her work in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," who plays NYPD Detective Arroyo, who, though she doesn't exactly believe the Fosters "chased by bad guys" story, begins to become suspicious of a couple of her colleagues. "She's sort of a hero," the actress says.
Playing thugs Collins and Armstrong, who are after the Fosters (whom they believe are the Tripplehorns) are Common and Jimmi Simpson. Common is a familiar face to audiences for his role as a murderous cop in "Street Kings" and for his work as a musical artists (his hits include "Love of My Life" and "Testify"). Simpson has made occasional appearances as Lyle the Intern on "The Late Show with David Letterman."
Common describes the duo as "one of the many catalysts to get this mundane couple out of their comfort zone - mainly by shooting guns at them." The two are essentially hunters, he adds, noting, "I'm the muscle."
Collins and Armstrong's formidable boss is gangster Joe Miletto, from whom the Tripplehorns have apparently stolen something of importance that he wants back. The casting of acclaimed actor Ray Liotta as Miletto delighted Steve Carell and Tina Fey. "We were shooting a scene with Ray one night," recalls Steve Carell, "and Tina Fey looked over and said, 'I feel like I am in a 3D version of 'Goodfellas. Ray Liotta is actually walking up and talking to me.' It was like a ride at a theme park."
Playing a heavy in a comedy, particularly for actors used to appearing in dramatic films, requires a special knack, one which Date Night's group of toughs embraced with gusto.
"It's really in the writing, so it's dependent on your commitment to it," explains Ray Liotta. "If the situation's just a little more heightened, you're going to laugh." Common agrees: "Shawn Levy expressed to us from the beginning - you've got to keep it real. The more real it becomes - because you're playing off Steve Carell and Tina Fey - the funnier it becomes."
Portraying the "real" Tripplehorns - actually a drug dealer named Taste and his wacky stripper girlfriend, Whippit - are James Franco and Mila Kunis. Despite their different life circumstances, the pair has much in common with the Fosters, being in the same spot in their relationship as their clean-cut counterparts. Notes Josh Klausner: "Whether you're a drug dealer or a suburban husband, you still feel the pangs of 'You never look at me the way you used to' and 'You don't have time for me.' What the two couples are going through is exactly the same," making the exchanges between the two couples both hilarious and poignant at the same time.
Mila Kunis describes the pair as "very passionate - when they're angry, they're very angry, and when they're happy, they're madly in love." Whippit, specifically, she describes as a "psycho, who is very up and down. She goes through three different emotions within two and a half script pages."
The name "Taste," James Franco says, is left over from an earlier concept of the character - a 6 ft. 7 in. bald man with "TASTE" tattooed on his forehead. "So when they asked me to be in the movie, I said, 'Well, I'm certainly not that.'" The character's description was then rewritten, but the name stuck. "I was up for facial tattoos, too," James Franco says with a laugh. "We just went for the cheesy 'Grim Reaper.'"
Kristen Wiig and Mark Ruffalo play the Fosters soon-to-be-splitting couple friends, Haley and Brad Sullivan. "Their parting brings up the question about getting bored with your spouse and moving on, or just sticking it out," says Wiig. "I think Haley Sullivan plants the seeds in Claire's mind."
Also taking on key roles are "Gossip Girl's" Leighton Meester as the Fosters' babysitter Katy, and "The Dark Knight's" William Fichtner as district attorney Frank Crenshaw.
All the cast members appreciated Shawn Levy's ability to balance action and comedy, which in turn allowed his actors the freedom to come up with their own gags. "That's the only way you can afford to have time to play around or to improvise and do extra takes," notes Tina Fey. "That only happens if everyone - especially your director - really knows what they're doing."
For Shawn Levy, there's a method to the potential madness of improv. "Sometimes, after we'd get what I want, Steve Sullivan and Tina Fey would come to me and say, 'You know what? Could I get one more take? I've got an idea that might lead somewhere.' Sometimes we couldn't use it, but more often than not, it was gold and it ended up in the movie," such as the duo's restaurant shenanigans game of guessing what's up with the couple sitting across the way.
"Every person in any field wants to go to work and feel respected for what they do," says the director. "So when you say to an actor, 'We're going to do the script that I've written for you, but I want to hear what's in your head. I actually think that the ideas you come up with might be as legitimate or better than what we scripted,' it makes your actors feel like partners and collaborators, and not mouthpieces. It makes them feel like part of the creative team, rather than a piece of machinery."
Meet the Twins
While attempting to escape their pursuers, the Fosters "borrow" Holbrooke Grant's car, the much-too-powerful-for-Phil Audi R8. When Phil inadvertently smashes into a taxi cab, the two vehicles' bumpers become hopelessly locked together. Nonetheless, the chase continues, the conjoined twin automobiles smashing their way down Manhattan streets.
The complicated sequence came about when Shawn Levy and Josh Klausner were brainstorming ideas for a chase scene. Concerned about repeating the oft-used, cliché urban car chase, Josh Klausner recalls, "I remember sitting in a room with Shawn Levy, telling him, 'You know, do we really have to do a car chase, because how many times have we seen a car chase in these movies? How interesting can that be?'"
Shawn Levy then related to his writer a story from his teenage years. "He was just learning to drive, and was trying to park, but he ended up smashing into another car in front of him and getting stuck on that car. His father just drove by and shook his head." Thus was born the idea of conjoined cars.
But just having two cars barreling down the street wasn't enough. "Shawn Levy wanted to do something that nobody had ever seen before," says 2nd unit director and stunt coordinator Jack Gill, who planned and executed the sequence. "Once we got the basic idea of conjoining the cars, we began figuring out not only how to build the cars, but how to make it work comically. I then started adding eccentricities, like spinning them around in circles and having characters fire guns at them."
Besides having six different cars that, each of which handled a specific aspect of the chase stunts, Jack Gill built a 40 foot frame, upon which the Audi and cab bodies were placed. "So there's just one rigid frame," he explains. The stunt driver was situated at the leading end of the conjoined vehicles. "So when the cab is facing forwards, with the Audi ahead of it facing the wrong way, the stunt driver is actually driving from inside the Audi's trunk, looking out the back so he can see where he's going and drive around corners." In addition, for most shots, the rig's rear wheels - those under the rear end of the conjoined vehicles - could also steer, in the same manner as those of a hook-and-ladder fire truck.
Needless to say, don't try this at home on your own Manhattan street.
New York City ordinances limited the production to the types of stunts that could be filmed on Manhattan streets. So following a week of night work in New York, the stunt team moved to downtown Los Angeles to complete the sequence.
"We had about six blocks to work with on Broadway, which was great," Jack Gill recalls. "We needed a long stretch locked down, because when you conjoin two cars together, you've got a thing that's forty feet long - getting it up to speed and shutting it all down can be tough. You can't just do it in two blocks." The sequence was filmed with up to six cameras, including a special "balloon cam," with wheeled buoys on each corner, which allowed the camera to be sent into the path of the speeding car pair and getting hit head-on, without damaging expensive camera equipment.
Steve Carell did actually drive the R8 himself for a number of shots. "We wanted the car to have way too much power for a guy like Phil to handle," says Jack Gill. "So I asked Audi to disconnect the all-wheel drive, which meant putting all 560 horsepower into the rear wheels." So what was Steve Carell's impression? "He said it felt like somebody hitting him in the back of the head with a shovel when he stepped on the gas."
In one shot, Phil must make his way to the cab while Claire is driving the Audi at high speed. "We did all the transfers across the hood with doubles - that was all real," notes Jack Gill.
Close-ups of Steve Carell and Tina Fey were done against a green screen set at Twentieth Century Fox. Since the chase acrobatics had already been filmed, besides their scripted lines, Steve Carell and Tina Fey filled in the gaps with their gut-busting ad-libs. "I'd show them footage and explain to them, 'Here's what we did last week downtown with the real cars - what do you think?'" Jack Gill says. "And we'd bounce off ideas until something really clicked. And then Shawn Levy was always there to say, 'You're right on track here - that's really funny!' It really helps when you have a collaboration where everybody can talk ideas out."
Even with all the excitement, Shawn Levy kept the scene's theme on track. "Once we had the concept of having the two cars stuck together, then we could find a way to thematically tie it in to what the movie's about, which is this couple that has to learn to communicate to survive," he explains.
Indeed, even with all that happens to them on this fateful night, the Fosters achieve their goal: to reinvigorate their relationship and reconnect with the love and excitement that brought them together in the first place.
"Date Night is kind of like a fable," says Shawn Levy. "It takes place over a very short period of time, but in some way, it's timeless, because it's a story about a journey two people make in their relationship. And we leave the night feeling like they will go back to their lives and no one except for the people involved that night might ever know what happened. We've watched them experience this crazy night, but the real adventure of their married life, now that they've found each other again, is just about to begin."
"They're comfortable enough again with each other to be able to say 'Knock it off' and 'I love you' within the same five minutes," says Steve Carell.
Tina Fey has just one last piece of relationship advice: "Go on a Date Night and see Date Night."