The Indie Month That Was
By Michael Lynderey
September 10, 2009
While August was a surprisingly lively month for wide releases, the indie world was considerably less virile. A few high profile entries made almost token appearances and were promptly ignored, before going away to bide their time on DVD. The big story was the Zooey Deschanel-Joseph Gordon-Levitt match-up (500) Days of Summer, but that one fairly quickly escaped to over 800 theaters and thus is now firmly in wide release territory (in many ways, it's playing out like a 2009 version of Garden State). As for the other films in the fray, they can basically be summed up as such:
The Indie darling
Paper Heart might have seemed like another notch in Michael Cera's indie cred belt, but it's really a cinematic Sweet 16 party for comedienne Charlyne Yi, who co-wrote and stars in the film. It's about Yi's quest for love, which culminates in meeting Michael Cera, apparently playing himself. Paper Heart is an apparent mixture of documentary and comedy (some of it real, some scripted, as is probably true for almost every documentary ever made), and it's also got an awful lot of cameos by Apatow people (Seth Rogen, Martin Starr) and young stand-up comedians-turned-actors (Paul Rust, Demetri Martin). To formally inform you that the film premiered at Sundance would be a redundancy of epic proportions.
The reviews were good enough (61% on RottenTomatoes), so I was curious how the film, which almost literally embodies the young hipster image that Cera projects, would do at the box office. Not all that well, as it turned out - while it opened with a decent $5,776 average at 38 screens, the expansion to 68 immediately brought it down into the $2,000s, and climbing higher, to 78 and 96 locations, dropped it down even more (the current total gross is about $1.1 million). While that means that the film's not particularly successful, the goodwill it generates will probably parlay Yi into some decent Hollywood roles - a Janeane Garofalo for the 2010s, perhaps?
The highest-profile British import of the month was In the Loop, a low-budget political satire adapted from the English television mini-series The Thick of It. This one was released in the U.K. in April and was critically praised then and there, before being released here in July, only to be praised all over again. That's all well and good, but In the Loop didn't have much American appeal - while the presence of James Gandolfini guarantees a recognizable face in the crowd, the film lacks even any particularly well known British character actors. The plot - an intercontinental melée between the British and American governments over a war in the Middle East - is certainly topical, but that might not be a bonus. In the Loop did have a few good first weekends - per-screen averages like $23,983 in eight theaters, or even $8,315 in 35 - but its likely total of around $2 million doesn't quite stand up to previous U.K. imports to the States. In fact, judging by the performance of both In the Loop and earlier summer comedy Easy Virtue, the golden age of British comedies seeing strong box office reception in the U.S. appears to be coming to an end.