Few filmmakers have been as pivotal to the mumblecore movement as Joe Swanberg, whose micro-budgeted, improv-heavy dramas have brought him widespread acclaim and considerable success over the past decade. In 2013, he had the biggest hit of his career with Drinking Buddies and followed it up with another high-profile project, titled Happy Christmas, which sent his profile soaring even higher. Now, Swanberg is continuing his progression toward mainstream cinema by taking on his first studio film.
Romantic comedy Work Wife, which Swanberg will direct for New Line but (in an unusual move for him) not script, centers on two thirtysomething lawyers who decide to try their luck at dating co-workers. Screenwriters Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins previously created the beloved yet short-lived ABC comedy Trophy Wife and also have two scripts in development – Lunch Lady at Universal and Booksmart at 20th Century Fox.
Swanberg has made more than 17 films since 2005’s Kissing on the Mouth, but the director’s last three efforts – Drinking Buddies, Happy Christmas and recent Sundance premiere Digging for Fire, which was promptly acquired by The Orchard – showcased a turn toward more commercial fare, with more concrete stories and casts including big names like Anna Kendrick, Jake Johnson, Olivia Wilde, Rosemarie DeWitt, Orlando Bloom, Brie Larson and Sam Rockwell. With Work Wife, he’ll finally bring his singular talents to a studio comedy.
Halpern and Haskins are distinctly original, comic voices, and if Work Wife manages to strike the same, sharp blend of heart and humor that was so evident on Trophy Wife, it will certainly be a film worth waiting for. And if Swanberg is able to make the pic his own, challenging his actors to give natural, unaffected performances while fanning the same sort of genuine romantic sparks that we saw in Drinking Buddies (also about colleagues falling in love), all the better for us.