When Town & Country premiered on April 27, 2001, everyone at New Line Cinema was already aware that they had a dud on their hands. That’s what happens when a movie’s release date is delayed 12 times. What the studio didn’t know, though, was just how poorly the romcom starring Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, Goldie Hawn, Garry Shandling, Andi MacDowell and Charlton Heston was going to perform.
Despite its only rivals being the Sylvester Stallone racing drama Driven and the Liv Tyler comedy One Night At McCool’s, Town & Country somehow managed to gross just £2.1million, finishing seventh in that weekend’s box office results race. Ultimately, it earned a grand total of £8.6million worldwide from a budget of £74million, making it one of the biggest and most notorious flops in movie history. The question is, why would any studio spend such an ungodly sum of money on what should have been a relatively simple romantic comedy? The answer: greed and incompetence.
When Michael Laughlin originally sold his script for Town & Country, it was supposed to cost about £11million to make. That amount tripled once Warren Beatty signed up to play the leading role of Porter Stoddard, a prosperous New York architect who is married to Diane Keaton’s Ellie, but starts an affair with her best friend Mona, played by Goldie Hawn. Beatty was given £8million up front to star, despite the fact that he had just turned 64 and the film mostly revolved around him chasing various younger women, including former models Nastassja Kinski and Andi MacDowell.
Nevertheless, the production’s start date was set for June 1998. It was expected to be finished by the autumn of the same year, before hitting cinemas as early as the summer 1999. It would be late by nearly 24 months.
The problems started early – before the cameras had even rolled. Gerard Depardieu injured himself in a bike accident, and was replaced by Garry Shandling. The screenplay was still unfinished, too. That shouldn’t have been a big concern, as productions regularly chop and change pages several times during the course of filming. But with writer Michael Laughlin’s ending deemed unsatisfactory, the likes of Donnie Brasco’s Paul Attanasio and Pleasantville’s Gary Ross were brought in. The Oscar nominees were unable to right the film’s many wrongs though. If that wasn’t enough, thieves broke on set and stole two days worth of film reels that needed to be reshot, while Jenna Elfman (Fear The Walking Dead) started to lose her hair after she suffered an allergic reaction to a hair product.
The biggest concern, though, was Beatty’s perfectionism and demands to do as many takes as possible, which caused filming to go on, and on, and on, and on. Eventually, Chelsom and Beatty’s relationship soon deteriorated to the point that they reportedly had a physical altercation.
Even that didn’t help to speed up proceedings. Somehow, production on Town & Country was still taking place in April 1999. Later that year, in November, New Line Cinema chairman Bob Shaye put all the blame on Beatty, who responded by sending a cease-and-desist letter to him, insisting that there was no truth to his remarks. By this point, though, Town & Country had long started to look like a lost cause. Costs had reportedly risen to £58million (five times its original budget), it was still being rewritten, with The Graduate’s Buck Henry now overseeing the script, while Shandling and Keaton had left the set to start work on new films. It would take a full year for the cast’s schedules to open-up so that they could finish what they’d started.
Finally, in April 2000, Henry’s new scenes were shot. Rather than being a small rewrite job, though, Henry ended up scribing half of the film, and is believed to have pocketed enough to buy himself a new home. All of these extra pages meant that filming continued on to June, when Town & Country finally wrapped a full two years after its opening day.
In the end, Town And Country was eviscerated by critics – and now sits at just 13 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes. Chelsom’s career only survived because he’d shot the much more successful Serendipity, starring John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale, before Town & Country was released. Bucky Henry’s next writing credit came 13 years later with 2014’s The Humbling, while Beatty wouldn’t be seen on screen again until 2016’s Rules Don’t Apply. Unsurprisingly, he decided to write and direct that one himself.