If you love and miss Roger Ebert (and who doesn't?), you should be psyched about the very intriguing, very strange Russ & Roger Go Beyond. It's a fresh campy take at the wild goings-on behind the scenes of one of the only movies the legendary film critic ever helped create, Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls, which has become a cult hit since it premiered in 1970. Russ & Roger doesn't have a release date yet, but there's still plenty to be excited about. And it's sure to be a night and day difference from the beautiful documentary about Ebert, Life Itself, but in a good way.
Russ & Roger Go Beyond will tell the story of a very young Roger Ebert in 1970 when he co-wrote the screenplay for the raunchy, debaucherous, and undeniably psychedelic satirical comedy Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls (also known as BVD) with Russ Meyer, a director notorious in the sixties for his campy, satirical and big-breast-filled films. And if you don't know the story behind the film, it's wild — nothing you would expect from the gentle, compassionate Ebert that you probably knew and loved from all his years critiquing films with the most humanity of all.
Here's everything you need to know about Russ & Roger Go Beyond:
It's Based On A Crazy True Story
The full working title of the project is Russ & Roger Go Beyond, a nod to the movie that Russ Meyers and Roger Ebert somehow serendipitously came together to make in 1970, Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls. 20th Century Fox approached author Jacqueline Susann to write a screenplay for a sequel to the 1967 Valley Of The Dolls which saw commercial success and in the thirty-plus years since, has become a cult classic. But Susann said "no," which is how it came to be that Ebert ended up writing the script. As he wrote in 1980 in an issue of Film Comment Magazine, "We wrote the screenplay in six weeks flat, laughing maniacally from time to time, and then the movie was made."
The screenplay turned into a satire of the original film, and of the the dark, nefarious world of Hollywood that was full of Dolls (a.k.a. downers) and the mood that crept through La La Land after Sharon Tate's murder in 1969. Ebert and Meyer got free reign at a major studio, and that was nearly unheard of at the time. It was the very first X-rated film to come from 20th Century Fox. Ebert wrote, " Valley Of The Dolls is an original — a satire of Hollywood conventions, genres, situations, dialogue, characters and success formulas, heavily overlaid with such shocking violence that some critics didn't know whether the movie 'knew' it was a comedy."
How did these two come together? Well, 20th Century Fox was struggling in the early seventies, and reached out to Meyer, who was making a name for himself as a controversial, raunchy auteur; he insisted that the screenplay be written by Ebert, who wrote "one of the few positive reviews that Meyer ever received." The film will be full of sleaze itself, following the studio, Ebert and Russell's struggle with the ratings board.
Josh Gad Will Play Roger Ebert
First and foremost, you can't have a Roger Ebert biopic without Roger Ebert! Gad snagged the role and it's his latest in a long string of successes: earlier this year he starred in The Wedding Ringer and Pixels, and he's also the man responsible for voicing the most well-known snowman since Frosty: Olaf from Frozen. He was also even a correspondent on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, and came back to pay tribute to his former boss for Jon's last show.
Will Ferrell Will Play Russ Meyer
Something just makes sense about Ferrell playing Meyer, an independent softcore filmmaker that made his fair share of sexploitation flicks in the early seventies. If you don't know his work, you should familiarize yourself — some of his best include Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! for some serious fashion inspiration. How much of Ron Burgundy will we see in Ferrell's Meyer? Probably a whole lot.
It's Got A Screenplay
Looks like things are moving fast for Russ & Roger Go Beyond — the film already has a screenplay written by Chris Cluess, a veteran TV writer who is known for his work on Night Court and Mad TV, and has also done work on The Simpsons. If you're gonna have a comedy about writing an X-rated comedy, you've gotta have the chops.
And A Rumored Director
It seems all that this project needs now is for someone to steer this thing. IMDb lists director Michael Winterbottom as the rumored director, but nothing has been confirmed; although it would be interesting to see Winterbottom bring his unique sensibility to a film like Russ & Roger, since he's made headlines at Cannes with films like Welcome To Sarajevo and Wonderland receiving nominations for the Palme d'Or.
You Should Watch Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls
Because it is B-A-N-A-N-A-S.