The Indie Month That Was
By Michael Lynderey
July 9, 2009
Three of Allen's recent films starred Scarlett Johansson, but Whatever Works potentially ebbs out a new muse for Allen, pitting indie darling Evan Rachel Wood together with sitcom star Larry David. As it turns out, their characters get married... and I think I'll leave that one there. David is new to starring roles in movies, so it's Wood who's worthy of discussion. She had her breakthrough role in Thirteen (2003), but instead of appearing in a summer blockbuster or high-profile teen comedy, she chose to follow-up that role with one indie film after the next. Most of these, like Pretty Persuasion and Down in the Valley, received mixed reviews at best and faded from the scene quickly. Across the Universe (2007) did well, but it's a telling sign that her highest grossing film remains Practical Magic (1998), which at $46 million outpaces the rest of her resume by a solid $20 million margin.
Whatever Works isn't going to change that, but it's shaping up to be an OK notch on both Allen and Wood's belts. With 45% on RottenTomatoes, it certainly doesn't have a strong critical mandate, but the Wood-David combination gave the film an excellent $29,574 per-screen average in its nine theater opening. The next week, June 26th, saw an expansion to 35 locations and a still-good average of $10,280. The third week was the real test, because that's when the movie entered regional release - 353 theaters, the kind of expansion that lets the studio know if the film's ready to rise up into wide release, or doomed to remain in the art house beltway. At that point, the film stumbled, taking in $960,061 for a $2,720 per-screen average, and a total gross thus far of $1.9 million. Hard to believe that the movie is going to make any more inroads, but it's probably got just enough momentum to get to around $5.0 million. Not one of Allen's best, even recently, but as he might say - whatever works.
Pfeiffer's Cheri blossoms
Cheri is another entry into the costume drama sweepstakes - it's a UK-French-German co-production set in 1920s Paris, and based on a book by the French writer known only as Collette. Cheri's plot revolves around a courtesan, like most films set in pre-1939 France (a courtesan is a more prestigious word for a you-know-what). And she's not just your ordinary courtesan, either, as she is played, after all, by Michelle Pfeiffer. The story's about the relationship between Pfeiffer's character and a much younger man (Rupert Friend) who's been placed into her care. The direction is by Stephen Frears, who is not unfamiliar with period pieces - he was at the helm for Pfeiffer's 1988 starring role in Dangerous Liaisons, among other excursions into the impeccably-costumed past.
The mention of Pfeiffer and starring roles is crucial here, because she's one of those 1990s stars who hasn't really carried many films in the 2000s. After sitting out live-action films from 2003 to 2006, Pfeiffer re-materialized with the summer 2007 double bill of Hairspray and Stardust, playing witches of two different kinds. Those roles were well received, but her two recent star vehicles - I Could Never Be Your Woman (opposite Paul Rudd) and Personal Effects (with Ashton Kutcher) both went more-or-less straight-to video. Cheri, on the other hand, got splattered right into 76 theaters on June 26th - the kind of release that makes you think the studio just wants to dump the film and get it over with. Frears' movies are usually heavy Oscar bait, but with 51% on Rotten Tomatoes, this wasn't exactly the best reviewed of the bunch.