What Happens in Vegas (2008)

What Happens in Vegas (2008)

Tagline: Get Lucky.

For charismatic party guy Jack Fuller and buttoned-up commodities trader Joy McNally (Cameron Diaz), a rowdy weekend coincidentally shared in Las Vegas should have, by all rights, ended up being little more than a random blur. That is, if these two vacationing New Yorkers didn’t have a signed marriage license staring them in the face to shockingly remind them of the misstep they took while feeling no pain, Vegas-style.

Stacking the deck, not only did Jack and Joy tie the knot after tying one on, but later scored a mind-blowing three million bucks in a slot machine bonanza. Well, Jack won it with Joy’s quarter. At the machine she’d already been playing. Or was it the other way around? And whose loot is it anyway?

Therein lies the weird hand dealt this bickering duo who take their predicament back to Manhattan only to be sentenced by the intractable Judge Whopper to “six months hard marriage.”

Despite the hapless protests of Jack’s best friend and legal counsel Steve “Hater” Hader (Rob Corddry), Whopper refuses to grant Jack and Joy an annulment, freezes the prize booty, and forces the irresponsible couple to prove they have done everything humanly possible to make their impromptu marriage work.

What Happens in Vegas (2008)

This includes co-habitation, weekly counseling sessions, and doing something the old school Whopper believes Jack and Joy’s “generation” hates to do: try. Otherwise, the judge guarantees, the three million bucks will stay caught up in a legal battle so long and expensive no one but the lawyers will ever see a penny of it.

I now pronounce you man and wife. For real. Jack and Joy figure, “Fine, how hard can it be” and take the bait only to find themselves locked in a hilarious, patience-testing, panties-twisting game of wild one-upmanship–may the best “pretend spouse” win.

The battle of the sexes has never had a pair of gladiators like Jack and Joy, not to mention their partners in crime–Jack’s hair-trigger buddy “Hater” and Joy’s take-no-prisoners gal pal Tipper (Lake Bell), who despise each other with almost as much venom as do Jack and Joy. Throw in Jack’s demanding father, Jack, Sr. (Treat Williams); Joy’s hard-driving boss, Banger (Dennis Farina); her snooty ex-fiance, Mason (Jason Sudeikis); and a savvy shrink named Dr. Twitchell (Queen Latifah), and pretty soon there’s a whole team of folks making Jack and Joy’s frantic charade that much crazier.

Can Jack and Joy survive their six months of “wedded bliss”–without killing each other first–and ultimately cash in for the big payoff? Or will the fiery sparks that ricochet between them actually ignite, turning a fake relationship into something astonishingly real? In the end, what happens in What Happens in Vegas may prove the biggest surprise of all.

What Happens in Vegas (2008)

About the Production

From the first roll of the dice, the odds were good that What Happens in Vegas would quickly land in front of the cameras. On the strength of a winning pitch by screenwriter Dana Fox and producer Michael Aguilar, the studio immediately commissioned a script and the comedy was off and running.

Recalls Aguilar, “We sold the pitch in the spring, Dana delivered the first draft in the fall, Cameron [Diaz] and Ashton [Kutcher] soon became attached based on that draft, and we were shooting the following summer. By Hollywood standards, that’s pretty much warp speed.”

According to Dana Fox, What Happens in Vegas was actually an amalgam of several movie ideas she’d been working on. “I’m really interested in stories about finding love or getting to know someone through dysfunction or adversity. I first came up with this story about two people who strangely get to know each other while divorcing. Around that time, I kept hearing the phrase ‘What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas’ and thought, if it wasn’t already taken, it would make a great title for a film.

“Then, out of nowhere, Britney Spears goes and gets married in Las Vegas. And, it’s like, yeah–one of the things you can do in Vegas is get married on a whim, sometimes even to a total stranger. Of course, the other thing you can do there is win a ton of money. And then it hit me: what if both of those things happened on the same night?” And, thus, What Happens in Vegas was born.

Cameron Diaz thinks the film’s title evokes quite the vivid scenario. “Vegas is a 24-hour city,” she says, “you can’t tell what time it is, you don’t know how much money you’ve spent, how much you’ve drunk, how much you’ve slept, and so on. There’s kind of a built in safety net, though–because anything is possible in Vegas, you’re given the permission to basically do anything there that you’d probably never do anyplace else at any other time in your life.”

What Happens in Vegas (2008)

Diaz and Kutcher were both excited by the chance to bring the film’s kicky “what if” scenario to life. “I loved the script’s ‘grass is always greener’ theme,” confirms Diaz. “People in relationships often think their single friends are the lucky ones, while the singles just want to be in a relationship. In life, it’s ultimately about finding your own happiness. It’s not enough to be happy just because you’re in a relationship; first you need to be happy with yourself. That’s something I think my character Joy learns the hard way.”

“Jack and Joy are kind of flip sides of the same coin,” Kutcher asserts. “They’re both relationship challenged, even though Jack’s pretty relaxed about it all while Joy’s more uptight. Romantically, they’ve both been looking for the wrong thing, which is probably what draws them to each other to begin with–even if they are really, really hammered at the time.”

Director Tom Vaughan (Starter for 10) was taken with Fox’s script after reading just the first act. “The story setup is so incredibly dynamic, fast-paced, and inventive, it absolutely had me hooked by page 30 or 40,” reflects Vaughan. “It’s a classic sparring comedy with two characters who, deep down, are wildly drawn to each other, though of course they can’t see it.

“This kind of dynamic has been going on in movies since Cary Grant first laid eyes on Katharine Hepburn–and well before that. Basically, you put together two fantastic, attractive movie stars in a small, confined space, and let them fight it out until they realize what their relationship is all about. And, as always, it’s how they get there that’s the real fun.”

What Happens in Vegas (2008) - Cameron Diaz

Though the movie’s concept had its share of broad and funny conceits, the filmmakers worked hard to ground the story in as much reality as possible, especially when it came to the legal aspects of the main characters’ marriage and divorce. “We set the movie in New York because that state’s divorce laws jibed with the story we ultimately wanted to tell,” relates producer Aguilar. “It was also the perfect place to set the non-Vegas parts of the film.”

Concurs Dana Fox, “Tonally, we could get away with being a bit ‘larger than life’ because we always kept the emotional truth of the situations and the characters in the forefront.”

Once Vaughan became involved, he also recognized the need to keep the film’s humor in balance. “I wanted the comedy to be very strong and genuinely funny, but also for audiences to care about Jack and Joy’s relationship. I tried to avoid doing anything too extreme just to get a laugh.”

“Sure, I have to flash a cabbie, race down the streets of New York throwing mangoes, and wrestle Ashton to the ground in the middle of Central Park, but there’s an honest method to my madness,” assures Cameron Diaz. “Tom made sure we stayed real in what were some very surreal situations.”

“As someone who will do anything for a laugh, I appreciated Tom’s vigilance in not allowing us to go insane just for the sake of, say, a great bit for the trailer,” says Ashton Kutcher. “At the same time, I knew, given the script’s wild premise, we’d have our share of creative freedom.”

With such starry leads as Kutcher and Diaz on board from the start, there was a sure-fire foundation in place that couldn’t help but excite everyone involved. Vaughan considers the Kutcher-Diaz pairing “a fantastic piece of casting.” He remembers, “The minute I heard they were attached, it just made the most sense in the world. I thought, ‘Cameron and Ashton in a movie together? Why did nobody do this before?'” The director affirms, “From day one, there was never any question that they weren’t going to have fantastic chemistry.”

“I knew both Ashton and Cameron were incredibly funny,” says Dana Fox, “but I was really impressed by the immense amount of heart and depth they brought to their roles. Because they’re both so bright, we were able to turn this movie into something smarter than your average trip-and-fall romantic comedy.”

“That’s because I probably pushed you,” quips Kutcher.

The lead casting was a bit tricky in one sense, though, since, for most of the movie, their characters, Jack and Joy, have to hate each other. “The story forces them into that position,” notes Tom Vaughan, “but it’s important that you always know deep down they’re right for each other. With these particular movie stars, they look and feel right together on screen, so hopefully, it makes for a convincing core relationship for the entire film.”

With the magnetic Kutcher and Diaz toplining, the bar was set unusually high for casting the film’s supporting roles. “We wanted to surround Cameron and Ashton with really smart comedians, actors with original comedy voices,” recounts producer Aguilar. “For example, Rob Corddry, who I’d worked with on a few other films, is a brilliant comic actor, as is Zach Galifianakis. They were the perfect choices to play Jack’s buddies since we weren’t looking for traditional ‘best friend’ characters–that is, guys who just stand around making wisecracks. We wanted them to be fully fleshed out by actors who could bring a unique comic timing and sensibility to their performances.”

Adds Aguilar: “The same is true of Jason Sudeikis, who plays Joy’s fiance Mason. Jason was, maybe, a different way to go for the part, in that you don’t automatically picture him as a traditional Wall Street guy. But he’s so smart and talented and handsome that, once he puts on that power suit, you totally buy him in the role. With Jason, you also never risk losing the humor because he’s so genuinely funny.”

Cutting-edge comedian and talk show host Dennis Miller was also not necessarily “type casting” for Judge Whopper, the curmudgeonly legal veteran who presides over Jack and Joy’s would-be divorce. Says Aguilar: “Though Dennis might be a bit younger and wryer than your traditional judge, we wanted someone who could play Whopper seriously, yet also make you think he might be a little, well, crazy. Dennis accomplished both goals, plus added his own inimitable stamp to the character.”

Lake Bell, who plays Joy’s funny-angry friend Tipper, also brought a distinctive comic approach to her role. “Lake brings this almost masculine energy to the part,” says Dana Fox, “but manages to keep it sexy and fun and flirty, which is a really hard combination to bring to the table.”

“I love people who speak their minds, and that’s my favorite thing about both of the ‘best friend’ characters, Tipper and ‘Hater’ [Rob Corddry],” adds Fox. “I think there’s nothing funnier than the truth uttered at a really inappropriate moment and Lake and Rob just play that note so well. Also, considering ‘Hater’ is such a misanthrope, Rob brought a sweetness and innocence to the part that made the guy incredibly likable.”

“The movie was filled with so much amazing comedic talent, it brought everybody’s game up that much higher,” confirms Cameron Diaz. “It was a totally electric work environment.”

Although the movie has ‘Vegas’ in its title, most of it takes place in New York, which inspired director Vaughan to treat the celebrated city like it was another character in the film. “We managed to get some spectacular backdrops to shoot against, which also helps give the movie an authentic energy as well as its own specific look,” says Vaughan.

The filmmakers also use the city to show the differences between the main characters. Says Aguilar: “Joy works on Wall Street and has a faster, more upscale life, while Jack resides in Brooklyn and builds closets for a living. With such a varied pair, we were able to showcase the beauty and uniqueness of New York in so many interesting, contrasting ways. It basically doubled our possibilities.”

A madcap cross-town chase scene in which Jack and Joy race, separately, to make a mandatory appointment with their marriage therapist – each attempting to thwart the other’s journey – was the film’s most complex set piece. Vaughan storyboarded every shot, ensuring that the sequence’s inherent sense of fun and spontaneity was fully captured.

Filming concluded with two weeks on location in Las Vegas, with the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino serving as “home base.” Shooting a movie anywhere crowded can cause a commotion, but filming in Las Vegas can be more than challenging. “Picture trying to shoot a scene with stars as big as Ashton and Cameron,” says Aguilar. “The city isn’t going to block off an area that huge and popular, so you just have to go with it. You end up with a ton of people walking by, watching, and shouting to the actors. It’s tough, but you find ways to work with the environment, not against it.”

Vaughan wanted the shoot to finish in Las Vegas, thinking it would be “a psychologically nice, morale-boosting place to end up.” On a more practical note, it also worked better to film first in New York, during the summer, when the city’s visual landscape and light were at their peak. “The Vegas scenes were mostly interiors and night shots,” explains Vaughan, “so it worked out fine to wait and shoot there in the fall.”

In the end, not only does Vaughan hope audiences walk away from What Happens in Vegas having had a joyful, entertaining movie experience, but also with a better understanding of what brings people together. “Sometimes the person you’re meant to be with is right in front of you,” maintains Vaughan. “You just have to give yourself a chance to realize you’ve actually found them.”

“That’s the cool thing about life,” offers Ashton Kutcher, “you can never predict who you’ll end up with or why. But when it happens, you have to pay attention. Like they say, there are no accidents.”

Adds Cameron Diaz: “Most of the great decisions that will ever be made are the illogical ones. And those are the choices that work out the best for us.”

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What Happens in Vegas Movie Poster (2008)

What Happens in Vegas (2008)

Directed by: Tom Vaughan
Starring: Cameron Diaz, Ashton Kutcher, Rob Corddry, Lake Bell, Michelle Krusiec, Dennis Farina, Krysten Ritter, Jason Sudeikis, Queen Latifah, Zach Galifianakis
Screenplay by: Dana Fox
Production Design by: Stuart Wurtzel
Cinematography by: Matthew F. Leonetti
Film Editing by: Matt Friedman
Costume Design by: Renee Ehrlich Kalfus
Set Decoration by: Susan Bode, Jennifer Alex Nickason
Art Direction by: W. Steven Graham
Music by: Christophe Beck
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sexual and crude content, and language, a drug reference.
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Release Date: May 9, 2008