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What Netflix’s Nancy Meyers drama says about the state of Hollywood’s rom-com

On paper, Nancy Meyers’ ambitious Netflix film in the works seemed to have all the makings of a classic Hollywood rom-com.

A semi-autobiographical plot about a filmmaking duo falling in and out of love; A-listers including Scarlett Johansson are expected to star; and Meyers herself, known for blockbusters like “The Holiday” and “Something’s Gotta Give.”

But the film’s large budget, itself a throwback to the pinnacle of the genre’s commercial powers in the ’90s and ’00s, proved too much for Netflix. The movie would reportedly cost more than $100 million to produce, a scale normally seen in action spectacles, not meet-and-greets.

Netflix pulled out of the project on Tuesday, according to people familiar with the matter, after a disagreement over the budget between the filmmakers and the streaming giant became public. Puck News reported that Meyers’ team wanted a budget of $150 million, while Netflix would spend no more than $130 million. A person close to the production disputed the reported figures, but declined to give specific figures.

Representatives for Netflix and Meyers declined to comment.

The move comes as streaming services, including Netflix, become more cautious with their content spending to meet investor pressure to boost profits. Streamers have recently canceled previously renewed shows, pulled out of movies and cut jobs to save money.

With Netflix’s withdrawal, Meyers’ film, titled “Paris Paramount,” will be sold to other studios, according to one of the people familiar with the situation, who was not authorized to comment. But it’s unclear which company, if any, would take on a project at those costs.

“This was not just a huge amount, it was an insane, unthinkable and unrealistic sum,” said Stephen Galloway, dean of Chapman University’s film school. “There’s a train that starts moving and people keep jumping, and at some point you start to say, ‘Wait, the load is too much for this train.'”

During the heyday of the studio romantic comedy, Meyers established herself as one of the biggest brands in the genre and one of the most powerful directors in the industry.

After making her successful directorial debut with 1998’s “The Parent Trap” (starring Lindsay Lohan), Meyers made hits like “The Holiday” and “It’s Complicated,” often centering on romantic entanglements (and impeccably furnished homes). of mature and wealthy professional women.

Those films benefited from their strong appeal to older, underserved female audiences. At the time of its release in 2000, Meyers’ “What Women Want” was the highest-grossing film ever directed by a woman, grossing $182 million domestically.

Meyers remains a magnet for stars, who are drawn to his crisp dialogue, swoon-inducing set pieces, and exacting devotion to getting the smallest details in his movies just right. “The most important thing is that I get what I feel the movie needs, and I’m the one who at that point has been entrusted with the job of making the movie work,” Meyers told The Times in 2009.

But the established level of star power that Meyers is used to comes at a high price. “Something’s Gotta Give,” starring Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton, cost about $80 million to produce, after “What Women Want” (Mel Gibson opposite Helen Hunt) cost $70 million.

And today’s theatrical landscape is far less hospitable to romantic comedy. Of the 100 highest-grossing romantic comedies at the domestic box office, only five have been released in the last decade, according to Box Office Mojo. (The genre’s biggest non-inflation hit of all time, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” came out more than 20 years ago.)

Last year’s Jennifer Lopez-Owen Wilson film “Marry Me,” released simultaneously in theaters and on Peacock, grossed just $22.5 million at the domestic box office, while Universal’s “Bros,” centered on two gay men Commitment-phobic, he was hit with a $14.8 million bombshell. million.

October’s “Ticket to Paradise,” starring seasoned rom-com veterans Julia Roberts and George Clooney, fared better, grossing a respectable $168 million worldwide, but lagging far behind box office hits. which both Roberts and Clooney did regularly in previous decades.

“We are not in a romantic-comedy era,” Galloway said. “I don’t know if it’s because there’s less naivety or optimism or because people use Tinder and that’s their idea of ​​a date. But for some reason, romance doesn’t have the same social appeal.”

Meyers herself has not directed a film since the 2015 workplace drama “The Intern,” starring Anne Hathaway and Robert De Niro, which grossed $195 million worldwide. That movie had a budget of $35 million, which is on the high end of what a typical rom-com now costs. “Crazy Rich Asians,” a hugely profitable hit in 2018, cost just $30 million to make.

With studios betting less on mid-budget movies, the rom-com found a new outlet on streaming services. Netflix showed a particularly strong appetite for the genre, churning out cheap rom-coms like “The Kissing Booth” and “Set It Up” that struck a chord with younger viewers.

More recently, Netflix released “Your Place or Mine,” starring Reese Witherspoon and Ashton Kutcher, and “You People,” starring Jonah Hill, Lauren London and Eddie Murphy, projects that would have been blockbusters in an earlier era. They were the top two streaming rom-com movie releases in the past six months, according to Samba TV.

“While generally attracting strong audiences, millennial parents, and women in particular, tend to engage in escapist rom-coms more than any other group,” Dallas Lawrence, senior vice president of Samba TV, said in a statement. . “Overall, star power seems to be critical to attracting audiences.”

But today’s hit streaming rom-coms often feature a younger generation of actors who may not be household names, and therefore aren’t nearly as expensive.

“Set it Up” starred Zoey Deutch and Glen Powell before “Top Gun: Maverick,” along with the more experienced Lucy Liu and Taye Diggs. “Kissing Booth” stars Joey King, Jacob Elordi and Joel Courtney were little known before the Netflix hit.

The streamer continues to invest in the rom-com space, with upcoming films “A Tourist’s Guide to Love” slated for April 21 and “The Perfect Find” on June 23. Netflix executives have long expressed the importance of having a mix of different types. of content on the platform to satisfy its diverse customer base.

“There is a stronger valuation on average for romantic movies on streaming compared to theatrical releases when you factor in revenue generated per film versus production budget,” said Julia Alexander, chief strategy officer at Parrot Analytics. in an emailed statement. “As companies try to better optimize their portfolio, it’s crucial to match the right rom-com with the right budget and the right streaming service.”