The Indie Month That Was
By Michael Lynderey
July 9, 2009
This week: Mendes' quirky road trip, Allen's annual escapade, and Pfeiffer's historical shenanigans
After a slow start, the indie film summer's finally picked up, with a few choice new releases by some top directors coming in with decent box office (and good reviews, too, but that's expected).
Allen & Mendes keep churning 'em out
The highest-profile release of the June batch is Away We Go, British director Sam Mendes' latest opus on American life. Unlike his previous (serious) films, this is a quirky comedy along the lines of fellow road trip movies About Schmidt and the Savages. By casting TV stars John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph in the leads, Mendes has given the two some solid cinematic credibility - up until now, Krasinski's been toiling away in hit and-miss comedies like License to Wed and Leatherheads, while Rudolph's been mostly neglected to the sidelines of whichever films she's appeared in. Since the movie is about a young couple on a road trip looking for a place to put down roots, there's a natural opportunity to plug in a lot of nifty character actors, as Mendes has done - the cast includes Jeff Daniels, Catherine O'Hara, Jim Gaffigan and Maggie Gyllenhaal, among others (I'm not sure how realistic this is - I went on a road trip once, and I didn't meet a single character actor).
As for Mendes himself, his directorial output has gone from two solid $100 million grossers (American Beauty and Road to Perdition), down to the less-respectable $60 million mark (with Jarhead), and finally into the shallow waters of last December's Revolutionary Road, which pulled in $22 million and was a disappointment on almost any level. It's clear that, unlike all of Mendes' previous films, Away We Go was never really intended to be a serious Oscar contender. At 66% on Rotten Tomatoes, though, it's not much down from Revolutionary Road's 69%; the lower expectations of the summer season have helped the film coast along with critics, without the sense of unfulfilled promise that Rev. Road brought out in some.
Away We Go opened in four theaters on June 5th, taking in a strong average of $32,603. The film's next few weeks saw expansions to 45, 132, 495, and finally 506 screens, as the per-screen average dipped gradually down to the $2-3,000 range. Its strongest week was June 29th, when it took in $1.7 million - the week after saw a drop to $1.1 million, so it's clear enough that the movie doesn't have many good weekends left. While it's definitely going to be Mendes' lowest grossing movie thus far, the current total of $6.1 million is good for a limited release (especially by this year's standards), and I think this one can stick around for the few weeks more it takes it to get to $10 million.
Whatever Works, on the other hand, is the latest film by Woody Allen, whose one film per year output rate doesn't look like it's going to slow down anytime soon. After dalliances in Spain (Vicky Cristina Barcelona) and Britain (Scoop, Match Point), this one marks Allen's return to his natural habitat, New York City. Allen is in a unique box office situation - while his movies don't usually make very much money, he seems to have developed enough of a reputation to get every new one at least a moderately-sized theatrical release. Allen did put out some hefty grossers back in the day (Annie Hall's $38 million adjusts to over $100 million today), and his films still do well - sometimes. His two biggest recent grossers, Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Match Point, took in $23.2 million each, but the last Allen movie to outgross those two was Hannah and Her Sisters, which pulled in $40 million all the way back in 1986. The 20+ films he made in between didn't get much past $10 million, if that, and I suspect no Allen film will ever again scale the heights that Hannah/Sisters did.