Ben Stiller has dived into the Black List from last year to become attached to Help Me Spread Goodness, a screenplay by Mark Friedman which was included on the aforementioned list of the best unproduced screenplays.
The story follows a banker in Chicago who is duped into giving away his son’s college fund by email spammers and then travels to Nigeria to confront those who have wronged him.
It sounds like an interesting project but I can imagine the key will be Stiller finding the right tone for the story. This wouldn’t really be something you would like to see a Will Ferrell-like lead take on, I don’t think. It also doesn’t want to be too serious or sincere about a movie in which a banker loses all his money within the current climate of Wall Street distrust.
Stiller himself is currently also attached to The Trial of the Chicago 7, previously under the control of Steven Spielberg, which of course tells the story of the protests and subsequent trials at the 1968 Democratic Convention in the city. That project seems a similar challenge for Stiller to step outside of his comic zone and produce a serious, politically-motivated drama. That in itself is difficult for most directors to do and Stiller, with Reality Bites the only remotely serious project under his belt, will have to show a new side to pull that off.
For Help Me Spread Goodness however, he may have a chance to revisit the blackly comic tone of The Cable Guy, a somewhat unsuccessful but still interesting work which has now garnered a pretty strong cult following. Maybe this will provide some better material and a more opportune moment for Stiller to show those chops.