Monday, July 22, 2024

Audiences will finally get to see Francis Ford Coppola’s insane ‘Megalopolis’

Lionsgate Studios announced Monday that it had agreed to distribute Francis Ford Coppola’s new film “Megalopolis” across the United States and Canada this fall, handing the legendary director’s new flick a distribution deal that some speculated might never come.

The film, which took nearly 40 years and $120 million of Coppola’s own money to make, will be released in domestic and Imax theaters beginning Sept. 27. The news was first reported by IndieWire.

Some Hollywood insiders and critics questioned if “Megalopolis” would find a distribution deal given its proposed marketing budget, eccentric plot and questionable mass-market appeal. Critics said that the film’s art-house vibe and chaotic story appeared a little too experimental for Hollywood, despite the starry names attached to it.

“Megalopolis” has been described as “a Roman epic, but set in modern America,” with Coppola saying the film is a warning about the United States heading in a “fascist” direction. It stars Adam Driver, Giancarlo Esposito, Aubrey Plaza, Jon Voight, Laurence Fishburne and Shia LaBeouf, among others.

The movie is set in a city called New Rome that looks a lot like a near-future New York City and features, among many oddities, dialogue in Shakespearean rhythms. Everyone has Roman names (looking at you, Cesar, Clodio, Crassus and Cicero). And it’s essentially a story of warring factions. As Driver’s Cesar seeks to build a utopia, Esposito’s Mayor Cicero wants to keep society, well, boring. LaBeouf’s antagonist Clodio, meanwhile, unites the masses to take on the powers that be.

Critics and audience members alike have noticed parallels to “The Godfather,” with the feuding families who run the city — as well as to the current state of politics in America.

Before it debuted at the Cannes Film Festival last month, insiders wondered if the film would strike a deal. According to the Hollywood Reporter, it was unclear if distributors would be willing to commit to a $100 million marketing budget envisioned by Coppola.

Others thought the movie would be a hard sell to general audiences, questioning if a distributor could even position the film for success. That’s why, as The Washington Post reported, the film initially struggled to find a North American distributor despite signing deals for international markets. (That said, “The Apprentice,” another conversation starter at Cannes about Donald Trump’s rise to prominence, doesn’t have an American distributor yet, either.)

The film also contains a scene that might be hard for movie theaters to pull off — a surprise live performance two-thirds of the way through. During screenings at Cannes, an actual human being — an actor, or perhaps a volunteer from the publicity staff — stepped out from the shadows to stand at a microphone. The person then began peppering Driver’s Cesar with questions, as if at a news conference, while the character on the screen answered back. It only lasts a minute or two, but it left audience members raving.

“It’s, like, the best cinema experience I’ve ever had. Certainly the most interesting … but I’m [curious] how it’s going to be projected in other theaters because of the performative part,” said Ognjen Belić, 20, an art history student from Belgrade, Serbia, outside the Cannes premiere.

Imax and Lionsgate did not respond to questions from The Post about how theaters will handle the scene. When reached, Lionsgate said in an email that the studio hopes “to fulfill Francis’ artistic vision,” though it didn’t offer specifics about how it might happen.

The live moment seems integral to the movie’s experimentalism — if you’re going to see an insane movie, you might as well experience it all, right? But it’s one thing to create the performance at maybe 12 screenings across a film festival, and quite another to mass produce it across hundreds of screenings across North America.

The uncertainty over the fourth wall-breaking scene adds another layer of fascination to a movie that’s had plenty of drama associated with it. The movie made headlines in May after the Guardian reported that there were numerous clashes on set. Many of the complaints centered around Coppola changing his mind and wasting his own money, while others questioned his use of practical effects over digital ones, unnamed sources told the Guardian.

Fans at Cannes told The Post that “Megalopolis” was a little “crazy” and “hard to follow” at points. Others were inspired.

As Camille Deleau, a French producer, put it: “You have to extract yourself from your life and go into a real experience,” she said. “It’s a great surprise and also universal and also very weird.”

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