The Indie Month That Was
By Michael Lynderey
July 2, 2009
Just as the major studios did, the indies unleashed a torrent of new releases upon filmgoers in May. Some well-known names popped up in front and behind the camera, but the year's streak of underperforming smaller releases continued.
Soderbergh keeps at it
A somewhat unusual release was Steven Soderbergh's the Girlfriend Experience. While most people are familiar with the director's big hitters, like Erin Brockovich, Traffic, and the Ocean's Eleven movies, Soderbergh's actually been building up an army of Indie esque films on the side - titles like Full Frontal, Bubble, The Good German and Che. The Girlfriend Experience is another unusual addition into that meme - it's an experimental drama about the life and times of a New York call girl, with a focal point being the obsessions of her clients. To point out that the film was screened at Sundance would be redundant. Despite the sordid premise and the presence of former (?) porn star Sasha Grey in the lead, the film has generally been appraised as exploration, not exploitation - with Roger Ebert declaring it "true about human nature".
While I suspect that the Girlfriend Experience indeed had good intentions, not all reviews were as enthusiastic as Ebert's - the RottenTomatoes score is only 58%. Opening in 30 theaters on May 22nd, the film pulled in an acceptable per-screen average of $5,432, which gave it a mandate to expand, ultimately getting to 48 screens before running out of gas. The total gross currently stands at $642,853, not untypical of Soderbergh's indies.
Movies about high-priced call girls just don't do box office like they used to.
Con games & Coward films
May's highest profile indie release was the Brothers Bloom. This one was pushed back from its original December slot, probably for fear of being lost among the bigger-buzz Oscar wannabes. It stars Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel Weisz, who have all spent the last few years alternating between some big Hollywood movies and films exactly like this one. Also on hand is Rinko Kikuchi, who was great as the troubled Japanese girl in Babel and hasn't been seen again on American screens until now. The direction is by Rian Johnson, helmer of the apparently well-known indie, Brick; every single review of the Brothers Bloom mentions how good Brick was, so I'll be creative and not say that.
Anyway, the Brothers Bloom is another in what seems like an endless parade of movies about con artists; I could be totally wrong on this, but at this point I seriously think there are more people practicing this profession in the movies than in real life. In fact, it might actually be the overt familiarity with this subgenre that limited the film's box office appeal (a theory that also applies to the recent Duplicity). By now, we all know the hallmarks of the Con Film, including: the opening con that establishes the characters; the unsuspecting victim who actually knows more than they let on; and the final twist, revealing that everything we knew was wrong - and turning the con man into the conned. Still, 63% of reviewers on Rotten Tomatoes voiced their approval.