JUST MARRIED chronicles the beleaguered romance of Tom Leezak (ASHTON KUTCHER) and Sarah McNerney (BRITTANY MURPHY), a young couple unexpectedly swept off their feet after their first meeting. Tom is a late night radio traffic reporter whose good looks, blue collar lifestyle and unrelenting passion for sports makes him the ultimate alpha-male. Sarah is a beautiful, free-spirited writer whose family is as wealthy as it is snobbish.
Much to the surprise of Tom's friends and the dismay of Sarah's family, the two quickly fall in love. Tom's attempts to assimilate himself into Sarah's world of privilege and expectations fall short, but Sarah ignores her father and sister's incessant attempts to dissuade her from following her heart and marrying her knight in rusty armor.
Following their wedding, the happy couple sets off with the highest of hopes and ideals about love and marriage, on what they expect will be the perfect vacation in Italy. But thanks to Sarah's wealthy ex-boyfriend and a relentless string of bad luck, the happy couple experiences a honeymoon from hell that tests the limits of their young love.
Twentieth Century Fox presents a Robert Simonds Production, starring Ashton Kutcher and Brittany Murphy JUST MARRIED, also starring Christian Kane. The film is directed by Shawn Levy ("Big Fat Liar"), written by Sam Harper ("Rookie of the Year"), and produced by Robert Simonds ("The Wedding Singer").
JUST MARRIED was inspired by screenwriter Sam Harper's chaotic experiences on his own honeymoon in Italy, fifteen years ago. "My wife and I started fighting on the first night on our honeymoon," laughs Harper. "We had a month in Italy with all these great places to stay and see, but we were at each other throats the entire time. By the end of the honeymoon, she was staring at me with a look of buyer's remorse.
"Thankfully," Harper adds, "my wife and I are still happily married. But everyone I have spoken to on the subject has had at least one day, or at least a couple hours on their honeymoon where they were looking at the person across the bed and thinking to themselves, 'What did I do?'"
Years later, Harper envisioned a story that would explore the universal and often hilarious struggles of a young married couple. "It took over a decade for me to process that moment in my life and turn it into a screenplay," says the screenwriter.
Harper's script found its way to producer Robert Simonds - who happened to be returning from his own Italian honeymoon. "Sam had just finished writing a different project for me, and his JUST MARRIED screenplay happened to be in my pack of scripts to read on the long flight back from Italy," recalls Simonds. "I got about twenty-five pages into the script when I called Sam from the plane and told him I would buy it. I thought his screenplay was funny and authentic, with Sam's insight into marriage being spot-on. His story is emotionally disorienting in the same way being in an intense relationship can be disorienting. "
Shortly after returning from his honeymoon, Simonds found a home for JUST MARRIED at Twentieth Century Fox, and Simonds and Harper's early vision for the film began to crystallize. "Our goal with JUST MARRIED is to tell a story with emotional depth and mix it with a lot of comedy," says the producer. "Many people I know have had less-than-perfect honeymoon experiences, or have had a romantic vacation with a significant other that was just a complete mess. We thought it would be interesting to take characters that were told they were too young to get married and immediately put them through a vacation that goes awry and makes them doubt their heart and decision. "
With their concept in place and Harper fine tuning the script, the filmmakers began discussing actors to play Tom Leezak. Tom's testosterone-fueled world is turned upside down when his errant football pass knocks over a comely young woman, Sarah, who is walking her dog on the beach. It's love at first sight for Tom and Sarah, who move in together and decide to get married against the better advice of their family and friends.
The filmmakers' search to find Tom Leezak began and ended with Ashton Kutcher. "Ashton has developed an increasing loyal following of fans from 'That '70s Show' and 'Dude, Where's My Car?'" Simonds points out. "Lucky for us, he was looking for a project that showcased his range as well as comedic talents. "
For Kutcher the role was love at first sight. "I laughed out loud and was sold after reading the first three pages," says the actor. "The story felt authentic in its depiction of the idiosyncrasies of relationships and marriage. Men and women are very different in terms of how they deal and work within that dynamic, and JUST MARRIED shows both perspectives. The characters have these subtle, quirky qualities that really hit home for anyone who has ever been in a relationship. Which is pretty much everyone. "
With Kutcher on board, the filmmakers began their search for a director who could balance the story's physical comedy with its romantic backdrop. Shawn Levy, whose directorial debut "Big Fat Liar" was a box office success, got the nod.
"I thought 'Big Fat Liar' was an interesting combination of physical comedy and emotion, which was totally in line with what we were trying to do with JUST MARRIED," notes Simonds. "There's an old adage that movies take on the personality of the people who make them, and for JUST MARRIED we needed a high-energy, strong point of view. I felt Shawn would be able to deliver what we all wanted this film to be: a funny, energetic emotional rollercoaster ride. "
Levy embraced JUST MARRIED's comedic elements without sacrificing its heart and idiosyncrasies. "My intention was to make a different type of romantic comedy, one that is funny and touching without being to sentimental," he explains.
Levy also was eager to exploit the untapped potential of his lead actor. "Ashton is very comfortable with himself, which is an important trait of Tom Leezak. This character is a departure for Ashton, and JUST MARRIED announces a new stage of his career. We all know how charismatic, attractive and hilarious he is, but people are going to be surprised by the emotion he brings to the film. "
Next came casting the role of Sarah McNerney, a young writer trying to break free from the standards and expectations of her wealthy and hard-to-please family. In Tom, she finds her liberation and is able to create a life for herself that she desires rather than the life her parents want her to lead.
The filmmakers looked for an actress who could not only go toe-to-toe with Kutcher's physical comedic talents, but also ground him in the tender, gentler moments of the story.
"It wasn't easy to find an actress who could keep up with Ashton comedically," explains Levy. "The natural instinct when you're on screen with someone that funny is to just get out of the way. Of the actresses we saw, only Brittany Murphy had that critical pop' or, more accurately in Brittany's case, champagne bubbles of a personality.
"Brittany's honesty on screen is astounding; she is incapable of playing a false note," adds Levy. "Her natural effervescence and energy were the perfect counterpoint to the dynamic among the other members of Sarah's stilted family. Despite Sarah's privileged upbringing she has managed to preserve her feistiness, which Tom finds so attractive. Brittany naturally has those qualities, which made her perfect for the role. "
Murphy previously garnered critical success playing a wide variety of on-the-edge characters in dramatic films such as "8 Mile" and "Don't Say a Word. " So, playing the leading lady in a romantic comedy was an opportunity she couldn't refuse. "It's exciting to be part of a film that gives me the opportunity to make people laugh," she explains. "Who wouldn't want to go to work and play a character that's head over heels in love and is getting married? At this point in my career it's important to play characters that are grounded. I've always been a fan of romantic comedies, and this role in JUST MARRIED was an amazing opportunity for me to begin a new chapter in my career. "
Although Sarah has fallen head over heels for Tom, her family's suitor of choice is wealthy young business tycoon Peter Prentiss, played by Christian Kane.
"Peter Prentiss has always been surrounded by privilege and grown so accustomed to wealth and power that he doesn't have any perspective on it," says Levy. "He is not your cardboard cutout antagonist; he's charming, charismatic and effortless in his power that is quite seductive to women. "
"Peter Prentiss is the 'maybe' guy," injects Kutcher. "When you date a girl, there's always a guy who she's friendly with that you're a little bit suspicious of because she gets a little awkward whenever he's around. It's the guy she might've hooked up with, but you're too afraid to ask because you don't really want to know. "
When Tom and Sarah begin to experience difficulties on their honeymoon, Peter coincidently shows up at their hotel in Venice on a "business trip" with the hidden agenda of breaking up their marriage.
"Peter is used to getting what he wants because he has a lot of money," says Christian Kane. "But for the first time in his life he runs into something he can't have, because Sarah is getting married. He becomes more than a little obsessed with winning her back. "
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
As the ensemble of actors came together, the filmmakers faced the challenge of "casting" the location that would serve as the visual and emotional canvas for Tom and Sarah's ill fated romantic getaway.
"Tom and Sarah are on this can't-miss, idyllic honeymoon, but they are getting progressively more irritated with each other," explains Harper. "We needed a romantic setting to offset some of the newlyweds' growing acrimony. "
Since Harper and Simonds had both spent their honeymoons in Italy, that country seemed the natural locale for Tom and Sarah's post-nuptial holiday. After considering setting the story in Rome, the filmmakers decided that Venice, considered by many to be the most romantic city in the world, would serve as ground zero for the explosive honeymoon.
For Shawn Levy, shooting practical locations abroad was essential in differentiating JUST MARRIED from other romantic comedies. "We really felt it was necessary to shoot a large part of JUST MARRIED in Italy," he explains, "because most romantic comedies are typically contained in terms of scope. We wanted to see what happens when you put a story in a cinematic location that is much larger than the genre usually demands. "
The decision to shoot in Venice allowed the production to also take advantage of the city's proximity to the picturesque Italian Alps and its surrounding regions. The beauty and serene nature of the mountains was an ideal starting point for Tom and Sarah's wedded "bliss" and the mishaps that add to the newlyweds' growing tension.
Once shooting began in Italy, it soon became apparent that the ambitious Italian shooting schedule would prove invaluable to the filmmakers in conveying the disorientation and occasional frustrations of being in foreign country.
"At the start of the Italian shoot," remembers Simonds, "there was this not-so-vague sense of terror, which helped create the frenetic energy that comes from being in a foreign country and feeling a little off-center and unfamiliar with the surroundings. That energy permeated the film, helping convey the uneasy feeling between Tom and Sarah, who are unable to control and fix what goes wrong on their honeymoon. "
"Chaos isn't something that is easy to fake," adds Kutcher. "Being unaware of what's around the corner definitely helped the acting feel more authentic. I don't speak Italian, so I didn't have a clue what the crew and extras were saying on set. That really helped me feel like an outsider, which was exactly what my character was supposed to be experiencing. "
After JUST MARRIED completed the northern leg of the Italian shooting schedule, which included locations in the snow-capped mountains of Cortina and in century-old castles in the valley of Campo Tures, the production headed south to Venice.
While the city's canals and lack of roads and motorized vehicles give Venice its distinctive flavor, they also presented a tremendous challenge for the production and dictated a more hands-on filmmaking approach. For example, massive equipment had to be ferried on narrow gondolas - instead of the usual trailers and trucks found on a typical film set.
The physical rigors presented by the Venice shoot brought Shawn Levy back to his early days of filmmaking. He explains: "In the U. S. , if you decide to change a shot on the fly, you just move a few things and it takes 15 or 20 minutes. When shooting in Venice, it takes three hours to move our various barges because the canals are only wide enough for one boat at a time. Everything takes time, so you're forced to revert back to that guerilla film making mentality where everyone wears many hats and you do whatever it takes to get the shot completed. "
Despite these challenges, the production skillfully maneuvered its way through Venice, shooting many of the city's landmarks that serve as backdrops for Tom and Sarah's honeymoon from hell.
Levy found shooting in Italy an experience he would not soon forget. "We went to the most beautiful places in the world and got to experience Italy in the most astounding ways," he notes. "We had access to locations that have never been filmed in before; from palazzos and churches to the cliffs at the top of the Dolomites in the Italian Alps. "
With the Italian portion of the shoot wrapped, cast and crew headed back to Los Angeles to complete filming. The filmmakers were thrilled to witness the chemistry between Kutcher and Murphy, as their on-screen alter egos traversed the treacherous roads of young love and marriage.
"The vibe between Ashton and Brittany was on from the get-go," recalls Levy. "They have a sexy, flirty, romantic vibe. But it's not at the cost of them being loose and goofy with one another. Their chemistry is the backbone of the movie. "
It was vital that Levy and cinematographer Jonathan Brown capture this dynamic between Kutcher and Murphy with a visual style that accommodated both the lighter comedic moments as well as the edgier, more romantically poignant elements of the story.
"We had a visual progression that we wanted to do with colors, filters, camera moves and lens focal lengths for each varying segment of the film," explains Brown. "For the comedic beats we tended to use wider lenses and the lighting was very broad. We kept the more romantic scenes a little warmer, and went with a more industrial, grittier color and lighting scheme for the more dramatic moments that take place at the height of Tom and Sarah's troubles. We also augmented those scenes with longer lenses and more aggressive camera movements. "
Production designer Nina Ruscio's sets also played a key role in establishing Tom and Sarah's comic and downward spiraling relationship. The production's scheduling didn't make things easy for her. In creating the "Hotel Giana" (Venice) set, where Tom, Sarah and Peter Prentiss have their climactic confrontation, Ruscio created the interior of the grand Italian suite on a Los Angeles sound stage. This had to mesh flawlessly with the Italian location that doubled for the hotel's entrance and lobby.
As production wrapped in Los Angeles, Murphy and Kutcher reflected upon their experience filming JUST MARRIED. "I can't wait to do another romantic comedy," proclaims Murphy. "I never in my wildest imagination thought I could possibly have such chemistry with another actor in this genre, as I did with Ashton. It was an incredible experience to work with someone you're constantly in sync with and is a barometer for you all the time. I've learned so much about comedy from Ashton and he was the best on screen husband I could have ever asked for. "
"Brittany and I are both very extroverted people who can sit down and talk about anything forever," adds Kutcher. "She can really light up a room and we work so well together because she has an innate ability to sell the more emotional side of the relationship, while I tend to anchor the more comedic elements of the relationship. "
Kutcher and Murphy's on-screen fireworks were critical to Shawn Levy's efforts to bring an edge to the romantic comedy genre. "We have some spectacular locations that really give JUST MARRIED a sense of scope," says the director. "But most of all, I'm very proud of Ashton, Brittany and all our cast doing such wonderful work. Their efforts allowed me to capture not only some inspired comedy, but real moments between real people. "