We can at least be grateful that Paramount+ did not remake “The Godfather,” even if they gave us the disastrous and wrongheaded limited series “The Offer,” which concerns the making of “The Godfather.”
“The Offer” would probably have been brilliant if it had a sense of humor. Alas, it is not self-aware or savvy enough for that. Instead, its goofy failures create a veritable list of guidelines of how not to tell a story when otherwise trying to get across how hard it is to make a movie in Hollywood. And that it is kicked off by Dexter Fletcher, the real director behind Queen’s greatest hits feature “Bohemian Rhapsody,” should indicate how openly shallow and on-the-nose its vision of the creative process is.
For starters: actors and directors can be interesting focal points for Hollywood stories, but making a love letter to producing is too masturbatory even in La La Land standards. And for all that they do in assembling a project, Hollywood producers are not good contenders for underdogs in a narrative. It’s just too transparent a business move, without the motivating integrity of artistry. “The Offer” stands opposite to what "The Godfather" symbolizes in Hollywood, and it can't even sell itself correctly. "The Offer" is a business deal, about business deals.
Anywho, “The Offer” states in its opening credits that it is “Based on Albert Ruddy’s experience of making ‘The Godfather,’” who so happens to be an executive producer here. Ruddy is the sole-credited producer on the Francis Ford Coppola-directed film, which is an interesting piece of trivia, but the series’ hero worship is awful and funny from the get-go. Played with immense seriousness by Miles Teller, “The Offer” seems to break the land-speed record for an underdog asserting his prowess in a true story: within two or three scenes of meeting Ruddy, once a corporate drone, he breaks into Hollywood, pitches and starts producing “Hogan’s Heroes,” and also woos and has sex with future partner Francois (Nora Arnezeder). The series maintains this tone of flattery to Ruddy as he seeks to make “The Godfather,” canonizing him as a people-pleasing maverick with always the right gut instinct.
Created by Michael Tolkin and Leslie Greif, the ten-episode series goes super in-depth on the making of the movie, so much that casting it alone takes roughly five hours. Ruddy bounces back and forth between power-move meetings in New York City and Los Angeles, having to prove to head honchos like Charles Bludhorn (Burn Gorman) and Robert Evans (Matthew Goode) that Ruddy alone can make Mario Puzo’s popular but expansive novel a box office hit, the one that early 1970s Paramount needs to stay alive. But the emotional part of this adventure is a non-factor, even though it concerns the creation of a film as beautiful as “The Godfather.” Instead its making-of moments, like how Coppola and co-writer Mario Puzo (Patrick Gallo) dreamed up pivotal film sequences, are treated like little trinkets, cheap thank-yous for your Paramount+ subscription.
As the hero we are stuck with, Teller is humorless and stiff, even when his character is telling jokes. He's then joined by a whole circus of strange embodiments and performances that would fare better if "The Offer" were something of a parody. Sometimes the actors have fun with their tough gigs, like Matthew Goode going extra nasal as classic Hollywood producer Robert Evans, showing the eccentric, often prissy way of business that we now apparently look on with nostalgia. Other actors are trapped, like the guys who play Al Pacino (Anthony Ippolito) and Marlon Brando (Justin Chambers), who physically resemble their legends enough but are not loved back by the plotting. Then there are talents like Dan Fogler, who is so good at his own version of a laser-focused Francis Ford Coppola that you wish his embodiment could thrive elsewhere.
“The Offer” can’t tell how funny it should be in showing the absurd juggling act of casting actors, securing locations, etc., and you can sense that in a weak subplot about the Italian American response to someone making a movie out of Mario Puzo’s novel. Giovanni Ribisi, with a stretched face and a frog in his throat, plays mafioso Joe Colombo, who leads intimidation efforts encouraged in part by Frank Sinatra (Frank John Hughes). Ribisi looks completely lost, and his sad-clown performance takes up an awkward amount of space as “The Offer” pays dues to the shadier parts of the film’s origins, like how Evans and Ruddy were threatened to shut the film's production down or else. These parts give the story some life and death stakes, but it's far from making us more involved.
With many scenes set on the Paramount studio lot, which includes a gargantuan backdrop of clouds, “The Offer” focuses also on the studio’s travails in the 1970s, related to how Evans gave them a rare hit with Arthur Hiller’s “Love Story.” This is paired with an emphasis on the women behind the scenes who helped influence the creative decisions (Juno Temple’s Bettye McCart), which is more recognition of women in producing than we normally get from 1970s Hollywood history books. But it plays more like lip service, the same with any inserted moment it has Ruddy musing about the unmatched glory of the cinematic experience, as part of his motivation to be a producer. Yeah, sure.
There are many scenes in which the creation of “The Godfather” leads to characters musing about its importance and relevancy—it’s about family, immigrants, America, capitalism. These whiffs of nostalgia for watching Coppola’s perfect film then crash into the series' shamelessly expository dialogue that only becomes less tedious by the viewers’ submission. "The Offer" draws a thick line down the current standards of IP, that if you can’t remake one of the most popular films ever made, you can at least appeal to the all of its winking references to cannolis and such and such, or show a scene in which Brando stuffs tissues in his mouth to birth the voice of Don Corleone. These are all part of the “Godfather” brand—and now, unfortunately, so is “The Offer.”
Five episodes screened for review. The first three episodes of "The Offer" are now playing on Paramount+, with a new episode every Thursday.