Born in 1976 in New York Jonathan Levine worked as assistant to Paul Schrader on the film “Auto Focus” (2002) and two other short films, until he directed “All the Boys Love Mandy Lane” (2006) which marked his debut in the feature-length film racket. That teen-horror thriller rose well above the usual productions found under this genre. Levine the director made all the right noises, drawing from the movies which inspired him (“Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” etc.) and handing Amber Heard her first major role.
“All the boys love Mandy Lane”
Shooting for “Mandy Lane” took place in a ranch that belonged to the family of Hilary Duff. An honest-to-goodness haunted house, no less (or so the crew thought). There were reports of a little girl, age 7, walking around in a white dress, whereas no child was supposed to be on set. What’s more, a kid had died from suffocation in that very house a few years earlier (talk about the right mood-setter). Having garnered wide praise at Toronto, “Mandy Lane” never did get released here, all the more reason to ensure getting the DVD edition.
Levine’s second feature film “The Wackness” (2008) portrayed nineties New York, a place—in which this writer came of age—that was shrouded in hip hop culture (the film’s soundtrack is stuffed to the gills with Wu Tang Clan and NAS cuts) and which was being brought to its knees by the white-knuckling methods of mayor Rudolph Giuliani, intent on cleaning up what he saw as a city’s ailments. As it were, “Wackness” was a very autobiographical film for Levine, give or take a few drug deals. Just like the film’s young lead Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck) Levine graduated in summer of 1994 and became hooked on rap culture. “Wackness” earned the American Dramatic Audience Award at Sundance in 2008, quite a coup for Levine. By now it’s clear that that award helped pave the way for the successes that came later. On the momentous event Levine commented, “I just accepted an award from William H. Macy in a cowboy hat; that is fucking weird.”
50/50: This all-out funny melodrama was inspired by difficulties producer Will Reiser was experiencing in real life. He was supported throughout this tough time by his pals Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen who encouraged him to write, and, once out of the woods, Reiser signed off on a screenplay which they co-produced and which led to Seth Rogen playing the young patient’s best friend. James McAvoy was originally tapped to play him but eventually bowed out a week before the shoot, allowing Joseph Gordon-Levitt, called to the rescue by Rogen, nab the role (and what a happy accident that was for J.G.L.). As for Jonathan Levine, he simply campaigned to land the director’s chair on “50/50” and landed the job, turning out his biggest success at the box office thsu far, before doubling the take two years later with “Warm bodies,” starring John Malkovich and Nicholas Hoult.