In our Unsung Auteurs column on American filmmaker Betty Thomas (The Brady Bunch Movie), we asked whether a director needs to be “great” (obviously a very subjective word) in order to be an auteur. Our answer was and still is a resounding no. Though directors of unapologetically commercial and mainstream films like Betty Thomas, Dennis Dugan, Shawn Levy, Raja Gosnell, Chris Columbus and many others might be regularly excoriated by critics, their work is undeniably possessive of an authorial voice, and a continuing set of stylistic and thematic interests. Whether film commentators like it or not, these highly successful directors are indeed auteurs, and while their films may waver in terms of quality, they are unquestionably their films. Another director to add to this list is Anne Fletcher, who, like Betty Thomas, is rarely if ever discussed when talk turns to successful female film directors. While film commentators (rightfully) fall over themselves to celebrate the likes of Jane Campion and Greta Gerwig, they (wrongfully) completely forget about Anne Fletcher, whose movies have made millions for Hollywood’s studios.
Born in 1966 in Detroit, Michigan, Anne Fletcher began dancing at an early age, and achieved almost instant success, eventually moving to Los Angeles where she became a professional dancer and was accepted into the iconic ranks of The Laker Girls, the legendary cheer squad for the NBA’s LA Lakers. In 1990, Fletcher met fellow dancer and eventual choreographer and director Adam Shankman (The Wedding Planner, Hairspray) when both were performing as dancers at The 62nd Academy Awards. A few steps ahead of Fletcher on the career ladder, Shankman hired the talented performer as his assistant choreographer, and the two forged a strong, mutually beneficial relationship. Fletcher worked on many projects with Shankman as choreographers (including Boogie Nights, She’s All That and many others) before breaking out on her own with a variety of other projects.
Fletcher made her directorial debut in 2006 with Step Up, a dance based drama about a kid from the wrong side of the tracks who gets a leg up and out of his impoverished surroundings by becoming a dancer. Not only did the film introduce Channing Tatum to the world, it was also a much loved (by audiences) smash hit. Brimming with energy and excitement, and driven by a series of energetic dance sequences (not to mention the chemistry of Tatum and co-star – and eventual wife – Jenna Dewan), the film was a perfect showcase not just for Anne Fletcher’s obvious facility for dance, but also for her skill in working with young and largely untested actors. Fletcher wisely bailed on the inferior 2008 sequel, Step Up 2 The Streets.
Fletcher moved from the dance floor to the considerably less energetic world of the romantic comedy with 2008’s tepid 27 Dresses, a gluggy vehicle for Katherine Heigl, but fared better with 2009’s The Proposal, which at least benefitted from the sparky banter between stars Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds, and turned out to be a surprise smash hit. Far more impressive was Fletcher’s very amusing 2012 comedy The Guilt Trip, in which Seth Rogen must travel cross-country with his overbearing mother, played by Barbra Streisand in a bravura piece of casting. “We were very connected,” Fletcher told Women In Hollywood of working with the superstar actor/director. “We spoke the same language. I adored her and I think we created a great friendship. On set, I would say it was never spoken and I don’t know from Barbra if it was conscious or unconscious, but she had my back 100%. She was my ally. And I think – conscious or unconscious – she wanted to have my back because I was a female director. During the time she was directing, I’m not sure she had that support. I think it was important for her to be there for me, and to be that support for a female director. We never discussed it, but I knew it was always there.”
Fletcher effectively helmed that rarest of beasts – a female action buddy flick – with the entertaining and fast-paced 2015 giggle-fest Hot Pursuit, in which Reese Witherspoon’s uptight cop must protect the mouthy widow (Sofia Vergara) of a drug kingpin against a violent array of crooks and corrupt cops. Far more enjoyable (and even slightly ground-breaking) than it was given credit for, Hot Pursuit again showcased Fletcher’s impressive facility for on-screen movement and colour. “I can’t look at reviews because the types of movies I’ve made, the critiques are as if I’ve basically murdered their children in front of them,” Fletcher joked of reviewers to The Wrap. “My movies are meant to entertain and just have a good time. Critics definitely have a job to do, but… the movie is really just to have a great time and entertain. I’m making it for the audience. Come watch two people kick butt,” she said of Hot Pursuit.
Shifting gears considerably, Fletcher delivered arguably her best film to date with the utterly charming 2018 comedy drama Dumplin’, a winning adaptation of the YA novel by Julie Murphy about a “plus size” teen (the wonderful Danielle Macdonald) whose protest of a local beauty pageant stirs up a mini-revolution. “The main reason I wanted to do it was for girls, because I grew up with no movies like this,” Fletcher told Collider. “It does not matter what body you’re born in, you’re amazing already and you should not listen to any outside anything that’s going on. I’m a girl, so I know what my girl experience was, and we hear what society has to say – whether it’s teachers, friends, parents, magazines, movies, or whatever – and we somehow internalise it as truth, and we grow up with this lie that’s embedded in our bodies, which messes with our identity of how great we are, just the way we are, period. We try to fix our hair and our skin, and we lose weight, which is crap. This movie really spoke to that, in a fun way, without beating you over the head with a message.”
Currently dividing her time between TV (with episodes of the series This Is Us and Love Victor) and the big screen (she is currently in post-production on the belated sequel Hocus Pocus 2), Anne Fletcher is a hugely successful and truly talented female director effectively plying her trade in a notoriously male dominated industry…and she deserves a lot more praise and recognition for her considerable list of big screen achievements.
If you liked this story, check out our features on other unsung auteurs Bobcat Goldthwait, Donna Deitch, Frank Pierson, Ann Turner, Jerry Schatzberg, Antonia Bird, Jack Smight, Marielle Heller, James Glickenhaus, Euzhan Palcy, Bill L. Norton, Larysa Kondracki, Mel Stuart, Nanette Burstein, George Armitage, Mary Lambert, James Foley, Lewis John Carlino, Debra Granik, Taylor Sheridan, Laurie Collyer, Jay Roach, Barbara Kopple, John D. Hancock, Sara Colangelo, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, Joyce Chopra, Mike Newell, Gina Prince-Bythewood, John Lee Hancock, Allison Anders, Daniel Petrie Sr., Katt Shea, Frank Perry, Amy Holden Jones, Stuart Rosenberg, Penelope Spheeris, Charles B. Pierce, Tamra Davis, Norman Taurog, Jennifer Lee, Paul Wendkos, Marisa Silver, John Mackenzie, Ida Lupino, John V. Soto, Martha Coolidge, Peter Hyams, Tim Hunter, Stephanie Rothman, Betty Thomas, John Flynn, Lizzie Borden, Lionel Jeffries, Lexi Alexander, Alkinos Tsilimidos, Stewart Raffill, Lamont Johnson, Maggie Greenwald and Tamara Jenkins.