After rousing reactions in Venice and Toronto elevated The Humbling above its stealth fest title origins, the newly reconfigured Millennium Entertainment has closed a deal for U.S. distribution rights to the Barry Levinson-directed adaptation of the Philip Roth novel that stars Al Pacino. Millennium will launch the film into Oscar season, and will campaign to be reckoned in Academy season. The film stars Greta Gerwig, Dianne Wiest, Kyra Sedgwick, Charles Grodin, Dylan Baker, Dan Hedaya and Tony winners Billy Porter, Nina Arianda and Mary Louise Wilson. Roth’s novel was adapted by Buck Henry and Michal Zebede.
While Pacino and Levinson have both won Oscars in the past, the filmmaker tells me that getting to this place was one of the most unusual experiences in his long career, including the fact they made this movie dirt cheap for around $2 million. “You’re in this business so long, you think you are prepared but there are room for surprises,” he said. “We went into Venice with no advance PR at all, nobody knew about the movie and we were naked as can be,” Levinson told me. “There was a standing ovation at the press screening, and applause during the premiere and a huge reaction at the end. We thought Millennium would be the distributor, but Bill Lee is now on his feet, they are redefining themselves and they got to feel confident in how the movie played. We then went to Toronto, and the response was just as strong. We realized that we had to come out from under the shadow of Philip Roth, and his works in general, because some expected an extremely dark piece, as they read it in the novel. Our big departure was to redefine the movie. What fascinated Al and I was the fact we had this guy in Pacino, an actor who has spent 50 years on stages, and we had to bring his sensibilities into this. That is where we ran creatively, looking into the mind of a real actor who has lived the life for 50 years. That pulled us away from Roth and defined us as a separate element. We did not want to divorce ourselves from that great novel, we wanted to extend that character. This might be a tragic comedy, but there is laughter that moves through, in credible fashion, and it lights up the movie, as opposed to having some morose drama.”
Pacino plays Simon Axler, a stage acting legend who feels his craft slipping and who exercises his existential crisis by having an affair with a lesbian woman (Gerwig) half his age at a secluded Connecticut country house. That relationship soon creates chaos as people from the past of both side of the couple resurface.
Levinson produced with Jason Sosnoff through their Baltimore Pictures banner. Kristina Dubin, Avi Lerner (who paid for the budget), Trevor Short and Ged Dickersin are exec producers. ICM brokered the deal for both Levinson and Pacino.
This comes after Lee and Virgo Investment Group LLC acquired the Millennium Entertainment catalog assets and film distribution platform coming into Toronto. Lee also acquired Madam Bovary, the Sophie Barthes-directed film that stars Mia Wasikowska, Paul Giamatti, and Ezra Miller. The company scooped up U.S. rights in a seven-figure deal sealed just before the period pic’s Toronto premiere earlier this month.
That film will be next year’s business. The Humbling becomes the second Toronto film to enter this year’s fray, after Sony Pictures Classics acquired Still Alice, and will be looking for some Oscar love for the long overdue Julianne Moore. 99 Homes also looked like it would chase gold, but they ultimately thought better of it–the best shot is performances by Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon–and the acting category is loaded for bear.
And that was before the great Al Pacino entered the fray.