Entries tagged with “Ron Lazzeretti”.

The Merry Gentleman (2008)



Sometimes a film falls through the cracks because it is treated poorly by the studio or is unable to find a distributor and other times it happens because of disputes between the creative and fiduciary forces involved in making it. The latter scenario is the reason The Merry Gentleman never received its due and it’s high time to correct this oversight.

The disputes over this film have been bitter, so much so that one of the Producers actually filed a lawsuit against Michael Keaton last year; essentially accusing him of sabotaging the post-production and release of The Merry Gentleman via a variety of bad behaviors (which I detailed in this 2013 posting) and dooming the picture to a poor box office showing despite decent reviews and a warm reception at The Sundance Festival. This matter is still in litigation at this time.

Despite all the acrimony and problems, The Merry Gentleman is still a fine film which deserves to be seen by a wider audience. The fact that the movie itself survived all these travails essentially intact (although there are some problems with the editing and few other minor issues) is a testimony to the excellent script by Ron Lazzeretti (who was slated to direct until a bout of appendicitis right before shooting led to Keaton taking the helm), the fine performances by the cast (top to bottom), and (regardless of whatever happened in post-production) a good job of directing by Keaton.


Michael Keaton’s experience as an actor and his thoughtful approach to the craft served him well in his directorial debut.

The film begins with Kate Frazier (played by Kelly Macdonald) fleeing her abusive husband (Bobby Cannavale) by escaping to Chicago and starting a new life. This fresh start is complicated however, when (while leaving work) she notices someone (Michael Keaton- who shines as a depressed hit man) standing on a building ledge contemplating suicide. Her scream startles him and he slips and falls backward onto the building roof instead of jumping to his death. Macdonald then calls the police to report the incident. These two acts trigger a chain of events which demonstrate that, although a woman can flee an individual abuser, it is far more difficult for her to escape from the attentions of men with deep emotional issues.


Kelly Macdonald plays Kate Frazier; a woman who flees an abusive husband but can’t seem to escape the controlling desires of men in general.

The next day she is questioned about what she saw by two homicide detectives investigating a murder which occurred in the same building as her employer. The detectives correctly surmise that the man she saw committed the crime and try to obtain whatever details they can from her. In the course of the interview one of the cops becomes infatuated with Macdonald and begins questioning her about her personal life (in particular why she has a black eye). She is evasive and oblique; partly because she doesn’t wish anyone to know her situation (her abuser was a policeman which further complicates the matter) and partly because it’s none of this nosy cop’s business. But the damage has been done and the detective (played brilliantly by Tom Bastounes) is now fixated on her.


Guy Van Swearingen and Tom Bastounes play Chicago Homicide Detectives.

The fact that she can’t escape from men who want to claim her is further reinforced at a company Christmas party when she is besieged by guys who all want to “get with the new girl.” On her way home from the party she stops and buys a large Christmas tree (which her cab driver refuses to help her with) and is pinned underneath it while trying to drag it into her building. She is rescued by Keaton, who has sought her out to discern if she can identify him (and perhaps kill her) but is also fixated on her emotionally after noticing her as he looked around through the scope of his rifle while waiting to kill his victim the previous evening. He helps her carry the tree up to her apartment and as she opens her door they are interrupted by a phone call from Bastounes, who wheedles a date out of her via the pretext of “wanting to discuss new developments in the case.”



If you see this man, it probably means you are about to die. Keaton plays his hit man character with an understated matter-of-fact manner that’s still quite menacing.

Keaton rings her bell a few days later, but succumbs to a case of pneumonia and passes out in front of her building as she answers. She then visits him in the hospital and they begin an awkward yet tender relationship; with her unaware that he is the man she saw on the ledge and he oblivious to her past. The budding romance between the two is complicated by Bastounes’ jealousy and increasing suspicions about Keaton, as well as an appearance by Macdonald’s now completely unhinged husband.



Bobby Cannavale was denied recognition for his excellent cameo in The Merry Gentleman by the limited exposure of the film, but this performance likely helped him land his role as a psycho Mobster in Boardwalk Empire.


I won’t explicate any further so as not to spoil the drama, but I really encourage you to either rent or purchase this movie. While it is admittedly on the somber side, it is by no means a depressing film. Aside from being a fine understated drama, it’s also a thoughtful meditation on the nature of power dynamics, particularly in relation to violence against and oppression of women. Whether he is aware of it or not, Lazzeretti has fashioned a brilliant illustration of how the philosophical concept of Male Privilege operates in the day-to-day context of society as the story follows a woman who seems to want nothing more than to go about her life and be left in peace but is continually having to deal with unwanted attention from men who feel that the fact she is female entitles them to impose their will and desires upon her. The ultimate irony of the film is that the one man who is truly kind and understanding to Macdonald’s character is from a world steeped in violence and treachery and the supposedly “good” policemen want to abuse and/or own her.


Keaton and Macdonald have a certain chemistry that makes their oddly mismatched relationship believable. Whatever you do, avoid the terrible trailer for The Merry Gentleman which tries to make it seem like a quirky Rom-Com.

I know I’m making this film sound like some sort of Gender Studies or Feminist Theory thesis, and although these elements are implicit in the narrative, it’s still just an extremely interesting film about lonely people trying to cope in this world.

And you should check it out.

PS- Another fabulous reason to check this film out is that three people involved in it are featured/interviewed in Hollywood On Lake Michigan, 2nd Edition; Producer Steven A. Jones and Line Producer Christina Varotsis (neither of whom are involved in the aforementioned lawsuit whatsoever BTW) and Special Effects Foreman John Milinac.

It also uses locations in areas not normally seen in other Chicago films; such as Lincoln Square (opening scene is right in my ‘hood in Welles Park which was quite a kick for me), Ravenswood, and North Center.


A fine film that has yet to receive its due, The Merry Gentleman has now sparked a lawsuit.


I was just hipped to this story by Ruth Ratny in her online publication, REEL Chicago, which is the bible of Chicago production news; but check out this link to the actual court documents from the lawsuit (included in her article), which detail chapter and verse the plaintiff’s allegations against Michael Keaton.

According to the suit by Merry Gentleman, LLC; Keaton’s bad behavior during and (especially) after principal photography for the film The Merry Gentleman unnecessarily added millions to the budget and essentially doomed the picture to low box office revenues.

The suit alleges that as production for the film approached, slated director Ron Lazzeretti (who also wrote the screenplay) fell ill, and the company began looking for another person to direct the film. That was when Keaton offered to take on directing duties, and in 2007 two separate agreements, one for acting and one for directing, were drawn up between Keaton and the producers. This is when the shenanigans allegedly started on Keaton’s part:

First off, he refused to hire an editor to help him look at and evaluate the footage shot each day during production (aka “the Dailies”) and shirked the task himself, leaving an integral part of the director’s job undone.

After primary filming wrapped, despite the contractual understanding that he was responsible for producing a “first” cut, but not a “final” cut (the responsibility of the producers), Keaton still refused to hire an editor and went back home to California. The producers then used their own money to set up a professional editing suite in Santa Monica near Keaton’s home so he could participate in the editing process. Whereupon Keaton announced that he was leaving for a fly fishing trip to his estate in Montana.

The producers spent their own money again to build yet another professional editing suite in Montana and even hired an assistant, so Keaton could edit between trout outings. Yet he spent little or no time in the editing suite during the weeks in question, leaving important issues to be decided by subordinates.

When he returned to California his haphazard work habits continued, costing the production further delay and expense, and when he did finally produce a rough cut of the film, all parties (Keaton included) agreed that it sucked (technical legal term). After some negotiation between the producers and Keaton’s attorney, it was determined that Keaton would be given another try and the producers would also work on their own cut back in Chicago, whereupon Lazzeretti and company would decide which one was best. When Keaton found out there was another cut being worked on in Chicago he refused to have any further contact with anyone he had previously disagreed with- which happened to include basically everyone involved in the higher levels of production.

The two cuts were screened a few months later and it was determined by consensus that “the Chicago cut” (as it became known) was far superior to Keaton’s second attempt, which not only was still flawed but now had a score done by his son (who had no experience) that was intrusive and amateurish. The producers decided to go with the Chicago cut, which was totally within their rights under the contract.

The Chicago cut was submitted to the prestigious Sundance Festival and was accepted by them, which would have positioned the film to at least be an Art House hit if not a mainstream one. But when Keaton found out about this he and his people pitched a hissy fit (another legal term) to the Sundance authorities,  telling them that he would refuse to appear at Sundance if his cut wasn’t shown at the festival. The Sundance people, intimidated by his clout and star power, sided with Keaton. This forced the producers to cut a deal with Keaton allowing his cut to be shown, but just at Sundance, provided Keaton put in some work to clean up and fix some remaining flaws in his cut. Keaton allegedly also blew off these duties/obligations and in addition forced the producers to pay expensive licensing fees for some popular songs he insisted be included in his cut at Sundance (for which they got a one-time licensing fee). Despite everything the Keaton cut was well received at Sundance.

The suit goes on to allege that Keaton’s hijinks delayed the movie from being able to be released during Christmas season of 2008 (which would have been perfect as the film is set during the holidays- plus dark dramas always fare better during that time period), thus depriving the film of its optimal release time and causing the revenues to suffer because of it. They also detail Keaton’s bizarre and distracted behavior during promotional appearances for the film, which contributed to the poor box office showing (less than $350,000).

ALTHOUGH THEY ARE NOT PLAINTIFFS OR INVOLVED WITH THE SUIT IN ANY FASHION, two of the individuals identified in the complaint as people involved in the film whom Keaton later refused to deal with (Producers Steven A. Jones and Christina Varotsis) are actually featured in Hollywood On Lake Michigan, 2nd Edition.

I have been told that the suit was brought by an investor whose lack of film experience and own emotional excesses may have contributed to the situation.  So we shall see how this plays out.

The biggest irony in this whole ordeal is that the version of the film I saw in a theater in 2009 and later on DVD (apparently a mixture of Keaton’s second cut with several tweaks by Lazzeretti and a different score) is an excellent piece of work. A really fine dramatic film that deserves much more recognition that it has received. I will rent it again and whip up a review in the next week or so.

Keaton’s performance in it is brilliant and he seems to have a fine eye for directing. If only he could have done all his work on time and played nice with the other kids. Or at least hired an editor!



Not seen this man much lately? Turns out there may be good reasons for that.

Not seen this man lately? Turns out there may be good reasons for that.