The Big Picture
- David O. Russell’s career has been characterized by major hits or total box office misses, with little in between, and his recent projects have failed to resonate with audiences or receive award-season recognition.
- Despite his lack of recent success, Russell continues to receive financing and support for his projects, even after directing a notorious box office bomb.
- Russell has faced numerous allegations of abusive and cruel behavior on set, and even a sexual assault claim, yet he has faced few consequences and is still able to secure major directing opportunities in Hollywood.
Initially, we were quite excited at the news that Selena Gomez would be portraying Linda Ronstadt. That news, however, quickly soured with the follow-up development that the motion picture would be helmed by David O. Russell. Of all the filmmakers in the world one could possibly attach to this project, it had to be Russell. It’s not even like that’s the only major project this filmmaker has signed on to since the start of the 2023! One of the many films that tried to score distribution sales at the 2023 European Film Market in Berlin was Super Toys. The planned movie is anchored by Keke Palmer and Sacha Baron Cohen, with the actors playing toy sales representatives in the 1970s who try to juggle salvaging their marriage and helping their daughter while traveling across America. Sounds like a standard indie comedy, but the wrinkle in this equation is that the project is written and directed by Russell.
A few months after Super Toys was revealed, it was announced that Will Ferrell was in talks to play John Madden in an NFL movie for Amazon MGM Studios. The director this big company had entrusted to handle this story? Once again, it was Russell. This director has been attached to a slew of major projects, many of which put him in close proximity to women, even after years of controversy surrounding his alleged behavior and box office flops. Given all of this, which was amplified when the star-studded Amsterdam lost roughly $100 million, one would think the director would be struggling for work and collaborators. It begs the question: How is David O. Russell still being handed big (or small) Hollywood projects?
What Has David O. Russell’s Career Been Like?
David O. Russell began his career with the indie comedy Spanking the Money in 1994 before graduating to mainstream movies with Three Kings in 1999. His career seemed to be stuck in a holding pattern after his 2004 directorial effort I Heart Huckabees went nowhere, but then The Fighter revived Russell and then some as a director of note. The Fighter gave Russell his first Oscar nomination and four more would follow in the ensuing three years thanks to Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. Russell would hit a box office non-starter with Joy, a 2015 Jennifer Lawrence vehicle that at least garnered Lawrence a Best Actress Oscar nod. Russell would subsequently direct the aforementioned Amsterdam, one of the worst movies of 2022, which also became a notorious box office bomb.
Russell’s career, over nearly 30 years, is peppered by either major hits or total box office misses. There’s little in between for this guy, but since 2013, his directorial efforts have objectively failed to resonate with audiences. Even more confusing, his projects have also failed to get much in the way of award-season love, with Joy only getting a Best Actress nod and Amsterdam getting no award-season attention whatsoever. Russell had a hot streak from 2010 to 2013 in terms of box office prowess and securing Oscar nominations, but it’s been a long time since he was in those glory days. Beyond his The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, and American Hustle one-two-three punch, Russell has an erratic track record financially and critically.
That makes it surprising he can so easily get financing and support for his projects. Now, granted, we’re a long way from the days of Paramount Pictures being one of the most notable financiers of The Fighter. Amsterdam was entirely financed by Regency Enterprises, with 20th Century Studios/Disney distributing the title for this production company. The presence of Super Toys at the European Film Market is a sign that Russell once again can only turn to independent sources of financing to get his movies made. Still, even if he’s no longer getting checks from Sony/Columbia Pictures to make new motion pictures, Russell is getting resources to make new movies despite his last film being a massive box office bomb. His box office track record alone should put him in director’s jail, but there are also darker elements at play that make it inexplicable why Russell is still directing features.
David O. Russell Has Many Abuse Allegations Against Him
Back in the late 1990s, leading man George Clooney and director David O. Russell were constantly at each other’s throats in the making of Three Kings. Per Clooney, their disagreements came about because of how Russell treated less-famous members of the production, like extras or below-the-line crew members. Clooney’s allegations paint a picture of Russell being uncaring towards other human beings and claiming his “artistic vision” as being more important than anything else. Unfortunately, such allegations of cruel behavior towards on-set players would not be limited to just Three Kings. Russell has left a trail of allegations of abusive behavior throughout his career.
David O. Russell’s behavior makes a bad movie downright insulting.
On the set of I Heart Huckabees, Russell unleashed a flood of insults and cruel words at Lily Tomlin, all of which were captured on film. Meanwhile, Amy Adams revealed in 2016 that working with Russell on American Hustle was such a trying emotional experience that she cried constantly while making the film. After that torture, Adams vowed to never work with this man again. There were also allegations of Russell yelling at Lawrence on the set of Joy, though Lawrence, at the time the film was still shooting, claimed the rumors were overblown. These allegations constantly paint a picture of Russell being unbearable on his sets and targeting people with way less power than him, not to mention having an issue with women. This alone would be enough to make Russell somebody that Hollywood should not be supporting, but there are even more disturbing reasons Russell should be persona non grata in the film industry.
David O. Russell Avoids Major Consequences
In 2011, Russell’s niece filed a sexual assault claim against him. This woman, who is trans, claimed that Russell started out asking questions about her HRT experiences before touching her without her consent. Russell admitted he was guilty of this charge but deflected responsibility for his actions by claiming that his niece, Nicole Peloquin, was “acting very provocative toward him.” Local police said they closed the case solely because they did not personally witness the alleged sexual assault take place. The entire story is horrifying, and yet, Russell got to keep on directing movies for major studios and score four further Oscar nominations.
The only consequence, it seems, is that, per leaked emails from the Sony hack, the allegations of this alleged sexual assault, combined with other factors, inspired Sony Pictures to sever its ties with Russell in the wake of American Hustle. Even after that studio relationship went sour, though, Russell still scored more financing and support for Joy and Amsterdam. The consequences were fleeting if they even existed at all. The film industry’s double standards of what directors and art it supports are always blatant and go way beyond David O. Russell. However, this filmmaker’s continued presence as a major filmmaker of note within the modern cinematic landscape is one of the more explicable instances of these horrific standards. It’s been years since Russell delivered a box office hit or an award-season juggernaut, while his costly endeavors (especially Amsterdam) require so much money to realize.
Even with all these factors, plus the endless string of allegations of him engaging in abusive behavior, David O. Russell continues to score work. Elaine May’s directorial career was killed for decades after Ishtar sank at the box office, but Russell, mere months after Amsterdam cratered financially, was ready to go shoot Super Toys and is now preparing that Linda Ronstadt movie. This is indicative of the film industry’s long-standing approach to “dealing with” David O. Russell, but this can no longer be the norm for the future.
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