British director Stephen Daldry currently holds what I believe is a unique record: all four of his films to date have received Oscar nominations for either Best Picture, Best Director or both. That he’s managed to maintain this Academy favor even when his last two films — “The Reader” and, in particular, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” — ran into some critical opposition means any new project of his will be regarded in some quarters, however blindly or cynically, as a prestige player.
His latest, however, could follow a different path. “Trash,” which commences production in Rio next month, is scheduled to be released by Universal next May — making it Daldry’s first film since his 2000 debut “Billy Elliot” not to nab an awards-baiting December release spot.
It’s also his first film made with famed British production company Working Title. The script has been adapted from Andy Mulligan’s well-regarded 2010 children’s book by the quintessential Working Title writer, Richard Curtis — an Oscar nominee nearly 20 years ago for “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” his name has since become a byword for a particular strain of soft-edged British crowdpleaser. (We’ll see if that holds with his upcoming Rachel McAdams-Domnhall Gleeson romance “About Time.”)
Mulligan’s book tells the story of Raphael, a homeless trash-picker subsiding on a massive city dump in an unnamed Third World country, whose chance discovery of a mysterious bag makes him and his friends a police target; as they go on the run, they find in the bag a dead man’s mission to right a severe wrong. Several reviews of the book likened its narrative to that of “Slumdog Millionaire,” which may give an indication of how Working Title sees the project. (The novel was disqualified for a BBC children’s book award due to its violent content and use of foul language — that alone may make it one of Curtis’s edgier undertakings.)
Newcomer Rickson Tevez takes the lead, while starrier support was confirmed today: Oscar nominee Rooney Mara (“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”) will play an NGO worker, while Martin Sheen plays a kindly priest who looks after the dumpsite children. With the focus of the story principally on the boys, however, this represents another chance for Daldry to nurture a new young star as he did Jamie Bell in “Billy Elliot” (and, to a lesser extent so far, Thomas Horn in “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”).
Daldry and Curtis are both names who now attract a fair amount of critical skepticism, so “Trash” will likely be vulnerable to that, however good it does or doesn’t turn out to be. Collaborating on a film principally for a family audience — a demographic Daldry covered in “Billy Elliot,” and Curtis most recently with “War Horse” — could deflect some of that. It’ll be interesting to see to what extent this spring release crosses over.