[This story contains spoilers for Netflix’s Me Time.]
Me Time brings a type of buddy comedy to Netflix that theatrical audiences haven’t gotten to experience as much in recent years, and the film is courtesy of a writer and director who knows quite a bit about the genre’s glory era.
The movie, currently streaming, stars Kevin Hart as Sonny Fisher, a musician and stay-at-home dad who manages to find some coveted time away from breadwinner-wife Maya (Regina Hall) and their kids by joining carefree pal Huck (Mark Wahlberg) on a hedonistic weekend adventure that quickly goes awry. The filmmaker behind the project, who also wrote the script, is John Hamburg, known for a string of successful 2000s laughers, including working as a writer on all three Meet the Parents films and 2001’s sleeper hit Zoolander, along with helming Along Came Polly (2004), I Love You, Man (2009) and Why Him? (2016).
Hamburg didn’t initially pen Me Time with its eventual stars in mind, but having worked as a writer on Hart’s 2018 film Night School, he knew the star would be a perfect fit for the lead, although the script needed some tweaks to make it work. Hamburg recalls Hart suggesting that Sonny’s first in-person meeting with Huck be a bit more memorable, which was achieved thanks to an added scene in which Wahlberg gamely shows off his toned bare backside after his character emerges from a skinny-dipping session.
“I remember sending it to Mark, and obviously, I was nervous that he would respond and maybe not want to do it,” Hamburg tells The Hollywood Reporter about the cheeky scene. “But once I described how it would be done and that this wasn’t Boogie Nights — it was gonna be tasteful — he was on board, and it ended up being a really fun introduction. Of course, we’d made sure it was a closed set, and everything was done right. But I think he was a little nervous.”
During his chat with THR, the filmmaker also weighs in on the decisions behind Sonny’s harrowing masturbation moment, the real-life production injury involving a crewmember, the future of nudity in comedies, why it’s tough to get people to buy tickets to the genre and whether there could be a return for the Meet the Parents franchise.
Me Time features themes that we’ve seen you explore in the past, with both male friendship and also living up to in-law expectation. How did the movie get going, and why did it feel like the right fit for you at this time?
It’s themes I’m definitely interested in-slash-obsessed with. In my life, having a kid and the idea of looking at time differently, I started to observe that both in myself and in friends and family, and the idea — whether you have kids or not — like, how do you choose to spend your time? That’s one of the most significant decisions we make in life, and then I merged that idea with the Mark Wahlberg’s character, Huck, of the idea of a friendship where you just take different paths, and your insecurities. The idea of exploring these two guys who have made different choices felt interesting to me, so I merged that story with the idea of somebody who finds himself without his family for a long time and came up with this story.
How long was the process of bringing the film together, and at what point did Kevin and Mark join?
It was an idea I was playing around with for a while, and I wrote it as a spec script. I brought it to Netflix, and they wanted to do it, and we worked on it. I think I did a couple drafts. First, we went to Kevin Hart. He just felt like the perfect person for it. Thankfully, he was interested in doing it, and he had a lot of thoughts because, at the time, it was not a “Kevin Hart movie.” He has such a specific and strong voice, and we would just have all these conversations, and he’s riffing and being hilarious and talking about certain situations. Then I did a pretty significant rewrite to make it more in Kevin’s voice. Once I did that, and Kevin officially joined, we were thinking about who could play Huck, and Mark was really our one and only choice. We just loved that combination. He and Kevin had wanted to do something but hadn’t been in a movie together. I had seen Mark in so many movies, but I hadn’t seen him play this specific character. Mark has this bravado and can have a larger-than-life personality, but he can be very grounded and sweet. That was important to me in this Huck character.
What went into getting Kevin’s masturbation scene right?
If you’re doing a movie about a middle-aged guy who is home without his family for the first time in a decade, you have to have a masturbation scene. I didn’t want it to be gratuitous, but I felt like it wanted to be true to what Kevin’s character would be going through. Early drafts were different, and I just scaled it back and made it this one moment where he’s a fan of vintage pornography. It might sound absurd, but at least in my mind, being a fan of vintage pornography seemed a little more innocent. Then our thought was, “Well, what’s the worst thing that could happen to this guy?” There’s nothing worse than having your family walk in on you. A lot of times in my movies, I think of, “What’s the nightmare scenario for this relatable character to find him or herself in?” When we screened for audiences, it was almost like a horror movie, like a shock moment where the entire theater erupted because they weren’t expecting the daughter to walk in.
There were moments in your film, either with the masturbating or the strip club scene, where the movie could have included nudity but didn’t. Is it now tougher than it once was to have nudity in comedy films, or was that just a specific choice for this film?
It’s a good question. We do have a little nudity — you see Mark Wahlberg from behind. This movie felt like you could almost watch it with your family, and we definitely have that reaction from audiences that they felt like maybe there’s a couple of moments that pushed the envelope a little, but for the most part, we called it PG-15. It’s rated R because of some language and the masturbation scene, but it’s not really dirty. It is a movie that deals in family themes, and what Kevin’s character going through, we want to be relatable to parents, and what the kids are going through is relatable to a younger generation. Thus, the choices to not go extreme with the R rating.
Was it a challenge to film the bare-backside scene?
What was funny was, that wasn’t in the first draft that Mark read. I remember talking with Kevin, and he was like, “I feel like when I meet Mark for the first time face-to-face as guys in their mid-40s, it’s gotta be a bigger moment.” So I rewrote their meeting and had the idea that Mark is skinny-dipping with all of these twentysomethings who he goes on these parties with — they’re the only people he can muster up to go with him for a few days because they have fewer responsibilities than people his age. I remember sending it to Mark, and obviously, I was nervous that he would respond and maybe not want to do it. But once I described how it would be done and that this wasn’t Boogie Nights (Laughs.) — it was going to be tasteful — he was on board, and it ended up being a really fun introduction. Of course, we’d made sure it was a closed set, and everything was done right. But I think he was a little nervous. That was actually his first day of filming, so we definitely threw him into the deep end, but he was an awesome sport about it.
Why was Seal the right choice for the cameo, and were other artists considered?
You never know if you’re going to be able to get somebody, so we had a short list of people. But Seal was really the first person we went after for the cameo. I had that idea that Kevin’s character was a musician and in the adult contemporary space, and his musical alter ego is Dr. Silk. I was like, “Who would he have loved back when he was coming up?” I was a big Seal fan — when his early albums dropped, it was like, “This guy’s incredible. He’s got a great voice. He’s striking looking, and he’s got one name.” With those scenes, you want somebody who’s larger than life, even though in real life, Seal is the sweetest, most generous, thoughtful guy. The idea of bringing an icon into Kevin’s backyard for a concert felt important.
As far as the on-set injury, is it clear what happened there, and how is the crew member doing now?
It was on our sound stage, but we were filming at a totally different location, so I was not there. It was our rigging crew. I can’t speak specifically about what happened — there’s been a whole investigation — but the crew member has done a lot of rehab and has had a miraculous recovery. I met with his family, and they’re unbelievably strong people. It’s horrific — I’m the director and producer, and he’s building something on our movie. But I think all the correct steps were taken.
Kevin Hart had a different Netflix comedy, The Man From Toronto, come out just recently. Was that something you were aware of or maybe trying to avoid?
Man From Toronto was in the can for quite some time. It was for Sony but sold to Netflix. Me Time is the first in Kevin’s Netflix deal. But Man From Toronto was acquired, and that stuff is way beyond what I can control. I think they’re different tones, and it’s just the way it turned out.
There’s been debate lately about the state of comedy films in the industry. Having worked on one of the major comedy franchises of the past two decades with Meet the Parents, do you have a sense of whether comedy can still be as viable as it once was?
It’s a great question, and obviously, it’s one I think about a lot. I still love making comedies, and when you make people laugh, they still enjoy it. I think what happened is, theatrically, it became harder and harder to get audiences to go see these movies. Yes, there is an outlier once in a while, but for the most part, it’s challenging because the audiences feel like they can watch them at home, even if they’re released theatrically. They feel, “I’m gonna go see The Avengers in the theater because of the spectacle; I’m gonna go see Spider-Man; I may take my kids to an animated movie. But I’ll wait to see that movie that looks funny because I can watch it at home.”
By the way, some movies I’ve been involved in have been the beneficiary of that: Zoolander wasn’t a big hit and became a hit with people watching it and discovering it at home. But some of the streamers have realized that audiences like these movies as much as they always have — they just don’t necessarily want to run out and spend all that money on a babysitter and tickets and parking. The world is in a challenging place right now, to say the least, and when we test-screened Me Time, people just enjoyed laughing. It’ll be interesting to see what happens in the next few years, but I don’t think comedies will go away. I just think it’s shifted to more of an at-home experience, with the occasional outlier in the theaters.
Which is a bummer because comedy is such a social experience.
No, I agree. Listen, some of my best memories of my career are sitting in preview screenings, watching the audience respond to these movies. That’s what we live for as comedy filmmakers. So you do give something up, but you also gain something where you don’t have to compete against Star Wars and everything else. That stress goes away, and you’re able to have people just have a treat, and on a Friday night, they can click a button and watch Kevin Hart, Mark Wahlberg and Regina Hall be ridiculous for 95 minutes.
We’re in such a moment now with reboots and sequels. Has there been recent talk about a fourth Meet the Parents movie or bringing back that franchise in some way?
I’m not going to comment on that at this time. I will refrain from discussing that question, but I love everybody involved, and we all are still in touch, and I think that’s all I’m gonna say on that.
Just so you know, as a fan, I’m choosing to interpret that as promising.
Oh, God! (Laughs.) I’m not leading it any which way. I’m just gonna say, I love the characters, and that franchise is very near and dear to my heart. And who knows?
Ben Stiller has been open recently about his personal feelings toward Zoolander 2. When a follow-up movie doesn’t quite reach the audience that’s hoped for, does that make it less likely that you want to do other sequels, and what was the experience with that?
I really wasn’t very involved in that movie, so I can’t speak to that. My theory on sequels is, they work when you are making them for the right reasons. Often, you’ll make a sequel because the first one was super successful, and everybody can make a lot of money. But when you make them because you really have a story to tell and a continuation of characters and dynamics, that’s when it succeeds. I look at Meet the Fockers as a good example. The first Meet the Parents, we didn’t know the movie was going to be successful, but it ends with something like, “All we have to do now is meet his parents.” So it felt inevitable and warranted to tell that story. I just think we have to be careful and, and if there’s a story to tell, then doing a sequel will be worth it.
Interview edited for length and clarity. Me Time is currently streaming on Netflix.