Dee Rees Reflects on Netflix Misfire ‘The Last Thing He Wanted’: ‘It Felt Like a Rite of Passage’

“The Last Thing He Wanted” was doomed from the start. Hopes were high at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival for director Dee Rees’ follow-up to the Academy Award-nominated “Mudbound,” but the film immediately suffered scathing reviews, dimming all hopes for its Netflix premiere. In a new interview with Entertainment Weekly, Rees talked about how she’s made peace with the project, adapted from the 1996 novel by Joan Didion, and “would make that film again.”

“You take your knocks, you live and you learn, you try to do better,” said Rees, who broke out of Sundance in 2011 with her feature debut “Pariah,” and for whom a cascade of bad press was a new experience.

“The Last Thing He Wanted” stars Anne Hathaway as a journalist covering the 1984 U.S. Presidential election who inherits her ailing father’s position as an arms dealer for Central America. The movie was beaten against the rocks in Park City, with reviewers calling the film “thunderously wrong,” “convoluted,” “incoherent,” and “confusing.” (IndieWire’s review wasn’t kind, either.) After a brief, awards-qualifying theatrical run, the movie dropped quietly on Netflix on February 21.

Still, Rees said, “I would make that film again. I’m still proud of it.” However, she admitted to feeling guilty about the outcome for her crew and cast, which also included Ben Affleck, Rosie Perez, and Willem Dafoe. The movie was originally set up by producer Cassian Elwes before Netflix came aboard. “When you’re making a film, [your team] has to believe in you and trust you and spend six, seven months of their lives with you. All this toil and sacrifice, I didn’t make it pay off for them,” she said.

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But the movie didn’t stop her from quickly scooping up a followup project, as MGM tapped Rees back in February to write and direct a new feature adaptation of George Gershwin’s classic musical, “Porgy and Bess.” Rees said Irwin Winkler dismissed her worries after the flop of “The Last Thing He Wanted.”

“Irwin was like, ‘We don’t care, it’s going to be great — onward,’” Rees told EW. “[Porgy and Bess] is an iconic property. It’s a lot of pressure to get it right, a lot of nerves. I want to do the characters justice, and I feel really honored to work on it. [Winkler and MGM] have an expertise in this, so it’s cool to work with people who really get how to construct these kinds of narratives.”

According to Rees, the experience of “The Last Thing He Wanted” actually turned out to be informative. “It felt like a rite of passage,” she said. “Now there’s nothing to be afraid of. I know the worst that can happen.”

Rees has to her name two Primetime Emmy nominations for writing and directing the 2015 HBO film “Bessie,” and an Academy Award nomination for Adapted Screenplay for 2017’s “Mudbound.” She’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

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