Hollywood Veteran Dennis Dugan Tackles Modern-Day Romance in ‘Love, Weddings and Other Disasters’

Forrest Hartman

 

In a Hollywood career spanning nearly 50 years, Dennis Dugan has tried – and succeeded – at everything from acting to producing. Despite such versatility, his resume was thin in one area … at least until now. With Love, Weddings and Other Disasters, a broad romantic comedy available on pay-per-view, Dugan earned his first feature screenwriting credit. He also directed, produced, and stars in the film.

 

Dugan admits to relatively little writing experience prior to Weddings, but he knew he had the skills after rescuing a TV project on the verge of collapse. The network that hired him to direct was unhappy with the screenplay and – just before a holiday weekend – issued an ultimatum. If there wasn’t workable script by the end of the weekend, the project was done.  

 

“I wrote for three days,” Dugan said. “I rewrote the entire thing for three days based on their notes and based on what I felt we were missing. On Tuesday, they said, ‘OK, we’re doing it,’ but I didn’t claim credit. … What it did tell me was, ‘Hey, you can write.’ So, the genesis of the writing career was an emergency.”

 

The arrival of Love, Weddings and Other Disasters was considerably less dramatic. In fact, Dugan says it took him 15 years to get the movie made. He decided he was going to write a screenplay but before settling on a topic, his wife asked that he tackle a genre she loves: wedding films. 

 

 

“I love her,” Dugan said, “So I go, ‘OK, let me try to write a wedding movie.’”

 

With the genre settled, Dugan faced a dilemma familiar to every writer. Where does one find surprises on a much-traveled path?

 

“The family, the wedding planner, they’ve all been done,” he said. “So I go, ‘What if we do something in sort of the structure of Love Actually, where we have the perfect day being tried to achieve, the perfect day for the perfect couple for the perfect romance, and everybody who works on the wedding or is surrounding the wedding, all of their relationships are complete chaos and heartbreak.”

 

With this idea of “perfection versus chaos” as a catalyst, Dugan sat down to write a story with several divergent story threads, each one centered on romance and the problems that accompany it.

 

 

At the heart of the movie is the wedding of Robert Barton (Dennis Staroselsky), a promising Boston mayoral candidate, and his beloved, Liz Rafferty (Caroline Portu). Although the two are deeply in love, they have drastically different ideas about the perfect wedding, and this friction has caused a variety of high-profile event planners to abandon them. Eventually, they end up with Jessie (Maggie Grace), an inexperienced entrepreneur who is recognized wherever she goes thanks to a starring role in an embarrassing viral video. Jessie’s rawness is an issue with Lawrence (Jeremy Irons), the couple’s fussy celebrity caterer. While struggling to deal with each other, these two outsize personalities navigate equally tricky personal lives. Central to the dilemma is Sara (Diane Keaton), a vivacious woman who is introduced to Lawrence through a literal blind date – literal in that Sara is actually blind.

 

Also central to the story are Robert’s brother, Jimmy (Andy Goldenberg), who is being followed by camera crews for a reality dating show, and Captain Richie (Andrew Bachelor), a Boston duck boat guide who falls hard for one of his passengers. Obviously, there’s a lot going on, and Dugan said the first thing he did was sketch out the various storylines with his writing collaborators, Eileen Conn and Larry Miller.

 

“We basically beat out five little mini films,” he said. “Then, I went away and wrote the screenplay and then had to shape everything to come to the climax.”

 

Dugan’s career has many highlights, including a much-loved acting stint as Captain Freedom on the TV drama Hill Street Blues. He has been even more successful in the director’s chair, with credits garnering more than $1 billion total. His directorial works include Problem Child (1990), Happy Gilmore (1996), Big Daddy (1999) and Grown Ups 1 and 2 (2010, 2013).   

 

For Love, Weddings and Other Disasters he tapped into his talent, not only writing, directing and producing, but playing the key supporting role of Eddie Stone, host of the previously mentioned dating show. Stone’s show – Crash Couples – purposefully chains mismatched daters together in order to see how long they can stand each other’s company. Dugan said he had fun with the game show segments and intentionally pushed limits.    

 

“I just wanted this to be blatantly politically incorrect, and if you don’t get the joke, then I’m sorry that you don’t get the joke,” he said. “One of the things that is good about comedy is that you are respectfully disrespectful; you should be able to get away with it. The shock of it should be fun.”

 

Dugan said he assembled the remaining cast by first reaching out to an old friend. He met Keaton in 1976 when the two worked on the Mark Rydell film Harry and Walter Go to New York, and he said they’ve stayed in touch ever since. 

 

 

“You know, we’re not once-a-week phone buddies, but we both respect each other,” he said. “We’re both photographers and we’re both artists, and we both have a similar sensibility.”
 

Since Keaton was his first choice for Sara, he made a phone call and sent her his script, even though confidants were convinced he wouldn’t get her. Needless to say, they were wrong.

 

“Once Diane was in,” Dugan said, “then Jeremy Irons goes, ‘I’m in,’ and then the bankers go, ‘We’re in.’ ”

 

Dugan said making Love, Weddings and Other Disasters was a unique experience, despite his decades in the film and television industry.

 

“When it’s yours and you’re basically shaping the entire thing, it feels very special,” he said. “It was a very nice, liberating feeling to be able to shape it in exactly the way that you want to. Everything is a collaboration, but in this case, I got to collaborate with actor friends of mine whom I’ve known for a long time. So it was a very comfortable, wonderful, exhilarating experience for me.”

 

This film is also different in that it is being released on demand during a global pandemic. Dugan said he isn’t upset that the film missed a traditional theatrical run. Rather, he’s pleased his creative vision is in front of audiences.    

 

“It seems to be making people happy,” he said. “Most people are saying, ‘This is a movie we need right now. Something fun and something positive.’ So, I’m very happy about that.”  

 

Author Bio:

Forrest Hartman, a Highbrow Magazine contributor, is a longtime entertainment journalist who teaches in the Department of Journalism & Public Relations at California State University, Chico.

 

For Highbrow Magazine

 

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