The Roger Ebert and Russ Meyer Biopic Snags an Excellent Director

By  · Published on April 22nd, 2015

Paramount Vantage

The movie about Roger Ebert and Russ Meyer’s making of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is getting curioser and curioser. The latest news on the biopic comes via Variety, which reports that Michael Winterbottom is in talks to direct. That hardly helps us imagine what the movie will be like, as Winterbottom is one of cinema’s most varied and prolific living filmmakers.

Russ & Roger Go Beyond, which will star Will Ferrell as Meyer and possibly Josh Gad as Ebert, could be reminiscent of Winterbottom’s The Trip and The Trip to Italy, as far as the lead’s chemistry is concerned. It would also be interesting to see this thing go super meta, a la Winterbottom’s brilliant movie about a movie of “Tristram Shandy” (one of Ebert’s favorite films of 2006, by the way).

I assume in spite of the titillating purposes of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, however, that Russ & Roger will not bear any resemblance to Winterbottom’s 9 Songs, which consists of hardcore sex and concert scenes. Nor will it be as serious as his documentaries and heavy docudramas, such as The Road to Guantanamo. (Winterbottom’s latest doc, The Emperor’s New Clothes, makes its U.S. debuts at the Tribeca Film Festival this week, by the way.)

The one thing that I’d say for Winterbottom’s suitability for this movie, more than how good he is with depictions of real people of the past (see 24 Hour Party People – one of Ebert’s favorite films of 2002 – and The Look of Love) is how much interest he has in journalist characters (see Welcome to Sarajevo, A Mighty Heart, The Face of an Angel, The Trip and The Trip to Italy). Ebert’s newspaper gig as a film critic won’t be a huge part of Russ & Roger, but the guy was first and foremost a journalist.

The script for the movie, which is set in the late 1960s, was written by Chris Cluess, primarily a TV comedy writer with an Emmy nod for his work on SCTV. I don’t think he worked on the show when the following sketch parodying Siskel & Ebert (and Star Wars and Altman’s Popeye) ran, but it’s worth watching for Dave Thomas’s early portrayal of Ebert anyway:

Watch Ebert and Gene Siskel give two thumbs up to Winterbottom’s Jude on their show in 1996 here.

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.