The Indie Month That Was

By Michael Lynderey

July 2, 2009

She may be pickin' but she sure ain't grinnin'.

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Opening on May 15th, the film started out at four screens (delivering an excellent $22,600 per-screen average) before expanding on to 52, 148, 173, and finally 209 locations - the film's peak. The movie's best weekend was its third, where it grossed $627,971 out of 148 slots. The Brothers Bloom now stands at a total of $3.1 million, which isn't bad, but with that cast and pedigree, expectations were probably higher.

Next, late May brought the release of Easy Virtue. On paper, this sounds like a home run. It's a British film based on an old Noel Coward play (the guy's been dead for over 35 years, so I guess all his plays are old). It stars those markers of English prestige, Colin Firth and Kristin Scott Thomas, along with Jessica Biel (giving this some American cred) and Ben Barnes, who headlined that Narnia sequel last summer and is now back in his natural habitat - 1920s British period pieces. Easy Virtue's directed by Stephan Elliott, an Australian previously responsible for the Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert; aside from being a major indie hit in 1994 ($11 million!), it was one of those movies with a title so great I'm actually afraid to see it and ruin the mystique.

As hinted above, Easy Virtue is another in a long line of English country house comedies featuring bickering eccentrics doing what they do best. Coward wrote this one in 1924, and no less than Alfred Hitchcock himself directed a film version in 1928 (no, he didn't turn it into one of his thrillers). I guess 81 years is long enough for those who weren't satisfied with the original to hunger for a remake, and so here it is. At a glance, Easy Virtue reminded me of another May release - namely, the 2002 adaptation of the Importance of Being Earnest. That one, a light period piece comedy which also trapped Colin Firth in a big English country estate, grossed a fair $8.4 million in its limited run. It came out at a peak time for British films - especially costume dramas, many of which were then taking in very respectable grosses at the American box office. But, times have changed, and Easy Virtue now seems like a kind of relic from the past - one of the last of its kind, perhaps.


Anyway, the folks at RottenTomatoes gave this a mixed consensus of 50%, and the film's so far totaled only $2.0 million, with not much chance of reaching higher ground. Easy Virtue's widest release came in mid June, when it played in 255 theaters and took in a per-screen average of only $1,683. It's too bad, really, because Jessica Biel was taking a chance here - a definite break from her higher profile films. And she got pretty good reviews for her troubles, too. Looking at Easy Virtue's reception, though, I have to wonder - when it comes to British filmmaking, does this film mark the end of an era?

Foreign film fest

Getting less box office recognition, but worthy of a mention, is the Japanese release Departures. This was the film that surprised at the Academy Awards this year, winning the Best Foreign Film prize away from heavy favorites Waltz with Bashir (Israel) and The Class (France). Departures is a family drama involving the mortuary business, so it's not exactly the cheeriest of subject matter, and at 72% on Tomatoes, it wasn't as well reviewed as foreign films tend to get. But still, interest based on the Oscar win must have been high enough, because the movie's nine theater opening took in a respectable $8,327 average. In the weekends following its May 29th release, the film went up to 16, 23, and finally 27 slots; as custom has it, the average gross dipped down in the process, bottoming out at $3,167 and a total gross, so far, of $612,518. Frankly, that tally is bigger than I would have expected - it may be that most people have never seen a mortuary movie where the dead don't actually come back to life, and wanted to know what one was like.

Also on the foreign film circuit lately was O'Horten, a Norwegian drama about a retiring train driver. The director, Bent Hamer, previously helmed Factotum, the Matt Dillon movie that was sort of about Charles Bukowski. At 87% on the TomatoMeter, O'Horten had an absolutely impeccable critical mandate, but do I really have to tell you that it didn't do very well at the box office? $197,000 is about what it's pulled in so far. If you want to look at the plus side, though, I could tell you that this tally may well make it one of the highest grossing Norwegian films in the U.S. That's something, right?

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