When is inspiration imitation? That’s what one reviewer is wondering after watching Amy Heckerling’s “Loser” but remembering Billy Wilder’s “The Apartment.”
The Sacramento Bee’s Joe Baltake has pointed out a number of striking similarities between the recent Columbia Pictures release and the classic Wilder comedy that United Artists distributed in 1960.
The films’ plots are virtually identical: A put-upon nice guy (Jack Lemmon in “The Apartment,” Jason Biggs in “Loser”) has a crush on an off-beat young woman (elevator operator Shirley MacLaine; rebellious college student Mena Suvari) who likes him but who, in turn, thinks she is in love with an authority figure (boss Fred MacMurray; professor Greg Kinnear) who’s taking advantage of her in a clandestine and damaging relationship.
Wacky coincidence? Consider the following scenes:
In “The Apartment,” a trio of pushy and unsavory superiors from Lemmon’s office have a party at his place and he has to clean up afterward. In “Loser,” Biggs has a trio of pushy and unsavory roommates who party at his place and he has to clean up afterward.
In “The Apartment,” MacLaine stands up Lemmon at a performance of “The Music Man.” In “Loser,” Biggs is stood up by Suvari at a rock concert.
In “The Apartment,” a doctor pumps MacLaine’s stomach and gives a warning to Lemmon, who pretends to be her boyfriend. MacLaine then stays at Lemmon’s place to recuperate and he offers to cook for her. In “Loser,” a doctor pumps Suvari’s stomach and gives a warning to Biggs, who pretends to be her boyfriend. Suvari then stays at Biggs’ place and he offers to cook for her.
“The Apartment” ends with MacMurray complaining to MacLaine that Lemmon “threw that big, fat promotion back in my face.” The camera lingers on her face as she realizes who she really cares for, and she rushes back to Lemmon’s apartment for a happy ending. “Loser” ends with Kinnear complaining to Suvari how Biggs threw a big “A” back in his face. The camera lingers on her face as she realizes who she really cares for, and she rushes back to Biggs’ place for a happy ending.
As Baltake points out, the likelihood that the teen audience for “Loser” would pick up the similarities are next to nil.
If Heckerling did filch from Wilder, it wouldn’t be the first time a summer movie was appropriated from a classic.
Sources say that the producers of DreamWorks/Universal’s “Gladiator” realized somewhat belatedly that their film contained a rather persistent echo of Anthony Mann’s 1964 “The Fall of the Roman Empire” and quietly took legal steps to ensure that no lawsuits would spoil the film’s launch.
Heckerling made no bones about adapting “Clueless” from Jane Austen’s classic (and public domain) novel “Emma.” But when inquiries were made to Heckerling’s representatives about “Loser,” a CAA spokeswoman said that any resemblance between “Loser” and “The Apartment” was only coincidental.
“She did not base ‘Loser’ on ‘The Apartment,’ ” she said.
There is, however, a very strong tie between the two filmmakers: Wilder was the signatory on Heckerling’s application to join the Directors Guild of America.