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Whatever Happened to …?: Vol 1 – Rawson Marshall Thurber
June 23, 2013Posted by on
In mid-June of 2004, the domestic box office was seized by the unlikeliest of candidates, a little comedy film called Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story. In a season traditionally filled with 150 million dollar blockbusters with 100 million dollar advertising campaigns attached to them, Dodgeball went on to gross a very noticeable 114 million dollars against a miniscule 20 million dollar budget. Even better for Dodgeball was that it was met with generally high critical praise and seemed well-liked by fans. Eventually, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story was much more profitable than many of the films released within the same time frame, including the big budget franchise film Chronicles of Riddick, the middling Steven Spielberg drama The Terminal, the critically reviled The Stepford Wives remake, and the mega-budgeted disaster Around the World in 80 Days. Dodgeball director Rawson Marshall Thurber seemed primed to reap the rewards of making a successful, well-liked film.
Thurber graduated from film school at USC and began working a series of jobs in the entertainment industry (he collaborated on scripts and wrote/directed a small film called The Band in 1999). Before he directed Dodgeball, Thurber also created a series of NFL commercials for apparel giant Reebok beginning in 2002. One of which these ads featured prominently during Super Bowl XXXVII. The commercials, collectively known as Terry Tate: Office Linebacker, were a big hit, with downloads reaching seven million from Reebok’s website (quite a big number for the pre-YouTube time period, when many people didn’t have high speed internet connections).
And then, on June 18th, 2004, Dodgeball was released, and I have to imagine it changed Thurber’s life forever. Previously mostly unknown, Thurber now had a massive hit film on his resume. I imagine he was bombarded with offers for script writing, directing, and producing gigs in the weeks after Dodgeball hit hard. His film, which featured the considerable comedic talents of Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Christine Taylor, and Jason Batemen, found him forming relationships with some huge names in the industry, particularly Stiller, who featured in some five films in a 12 month span from December 2003 to December 2004, many of them (Meet the Fockers, Anchorman, and of course Dodgeball) considerable hits.
And yet, it seemed like Thurber didn’t take much advantage of his newfound fame or Hollywood connections, because no high-profile post-Dodgeball film turned up in the aftermath of his success. There was some talk of a Magnum, P.I. film adaptation in 2006, which has since been shelved (probably indefinitely). I have to believe the mixed reaction to the glut of television-to-film adaptations of the mid-00s probably killed it off (was Starsky and Hutch, coincidentally starring Ben Stiller, the only successful one of those?). Otherwise, it seems like it would have already been made. Other than those whispers, things were pretty quiet regarding Thurber’s career in the years immediately after Dodgeball.
As the post-Dodgeball fame waned for Thurber, he began working on a small, independently-released movie called Mysteries of Pittsburgh, a film he directed, produced, and wrote the screenplay for (based off of a Michael Chabon novel of the same name). Released by Peace Arch Entertainment Group (a production company I have never heard of), Mysteries of Pittsburgh was filmed in 2008 and released in April 2009, where it met with negative reviews and dismal box office numbers. The story drew comparisons to two other independent films released in April 2009, including the flop Bret Easton Ellis adaptation The Informant and the well-reviewed Greg Mottola film Adventureland.
Four more years went by with little reference to Thurber, and in this time period I continued to wonder what the heck happened to this guy and why his career had hit the dumpster so soon. A lot new directors who hit it big with a film go on to notable, successful careers. Guys like Sam Mendes and Greg Mottola built careers off of unexpected big hits, and even guys like Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (who have recently scored once again with the surprise hit This is the End) have had incredibly successful careers as well. For a long time I wondered whose cereal Rawson Marshall Thurber must have pissed in, because someone doesn’t just direct a 100 million+ hit film and then disappear. And then…
A few weeks back, I caught a trailer for the upcoming comedy film We’re the Millers, starring Jason Sudeikis and Jennifer Aniston. As an aside, the film looks like it’s going to end up being quite funny, and has a shot to be a substantial late-summer hit in the vein of something like Little Miss Sunshine. When I looked the film up online to check it out in more detail, I noticed Rawson Marshall Thurber’s name attached to it, and was surprised to see he was working on a high profile project. Though We’re the Millers might just be a directing gig for Thurber (he doesn’t have a writing or producing credit for this one), it just might be the film to give this guy the career it seemed he’d have nearly a decade ago. Mystery solved, I guess.