‘Phillip Morris’ helmers take on WB comedy

Requa, Ficarra bring skewed sensibilities to their pics

Screenwriters may be treated as second-class citizens in Hollywood, admit scribes Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, but that’s not why they moved into directing.

“We didn’t do it out of vengeance,” says Ficarra, who, along with Requa, is finishing Warner Bros.’ “Crazy, Stupid, Love,” while awaiting the December release of their debut feature as directors, “I Love You Phillip Morris.”

Aspiring filmmakers since they were kids, the L.A.-based duo met at Pratt U. in New York 23 years ago and have worked together ever since.

Their first job in the entertainment business, Nickelodeon’s animated show “The Angry Beavers,” led to scripting the CGI kids film “Cats and Dogs” and a three-picture deal at Warner Bros.

While Requa says children’s content came “unnaturally” to them — “our stuff had always been edgy, so we had to suppress a lot,” he adds — the animated work was ultimately helpful. “You really have to think in pictures,” he says. “It teaches you to envision the end product.”

To satisfy their more adult-minded interests, Ficarra, who grew up in New Jersey, and Requa, who hails from suburban Seattle, developed a parallel career focusing on grown-up fare based on their scripts “Jack Tucker” (“It was almost made 30 times,” quips Ficarra) and “Bad Santa,” which the Coen brothers scooped up for Terry Zwigoff to helm.

“I Love You Phillip Morris” certainly fits the latter category. Based on the improbable true story of Steven Russell (played by Jim Carrey), a conman who is sent to jail and falls in love with another inmate (Ewan McGregor), the dark-edged gay romantic comedy appears light years away from “Cats and Dogs.”

But Ficarra and Requa say the projects are not all that dissimilar. “We’re always looking for a subversive way into something,” says Ficarra.

“We actually don’t think of ourselves as making dark comedies. We think of reality as funny,” adds Requa.

In “Phillip Morris,” for example, the depiction of prison life may be harsh, Requa says, “but in our minds, we’re putting these two guys head over heels in love together in this really charged prison environment, and for us, it’s accentuating their love and their ability to rise above it by showing the humor.”

Longtime collaborator Andrew Lazar, a producer on “Cats and Dogs” and “I Love You Phillip Morris,” says, “What’s so unique about Glenn and John is that they’re not cynical in a nihilistic way; they’re cynical in the service of the humanity of their characters. Even in ‘Bad Santa,’ there’s redemption.”

While Ficarra and Requa have embraced their transition into directing, they call their first outing “trial by fire.”

“It was such an arduous task,” says Requa, citing the film’s low budget and multiple company moves, and the fact that his wife gave birth a week before pre-production.

Adding insult to injury, the distribution troubles surrounding “I Love You Phillip Morris” only made the experience worse.

For months, newbie distrib Consolidated Pictures Group, which acquired the film post-Sundance, failed to fulfill on its contractual obligations; three scrapped release dates later, financier EuropaCorp bought the picture back. Finally, last August, it was announced Roadside Attractions would distribute domestically.

When they read Dan Fogelman’s script for WB’s “Crazy, Stupid, Love,” they emerged from their doldrums and told Jeff Robinov they wanted to direct again.

Starring Steve Carell as a man grappling with a divorce, “Crazy, Stupid, Love,” slated for an April release, resembles a “culmination” of the two strands of their career, says Requa. “It’s a little subversive and a little family at the same time,” he says.

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