June 26, 2009
On the Big Board
||I enjoyed the arc of Michelle Pfeiffer's character. I did not enjoy the mental picture of Kathy Bates as a former courtesan.
||Sympathy for the decadently wealthy is hard to achieve, and like most attempts this movie takes too long to get there.
Ever since the explosion of the art house film in the early 1990s with Sex, Lies and Videotape and Pulp Fiction, the indie film world divides into roughly two categories: the hipster indie from folks like the Coens, Paul Thomas Anderson and Danny Boyle, and the prestige indie, the Merchant/Ivory or Lasse Hallstrom type flicks.
Both varieties rely more on word-of mouth and awards attention than on event picture marketing for the most part. And the majority of these films fall into the general art house muck. They may pull in a respectable gross to budget ratio, but they rarely become a phenomenon of the Spider-Man, Harry potter variety. But, hey, a profit’s a profit, right?
The upcoming Cheri is an indie more of the prestige variety. Cherie tells the tale of a courtesan’s son who explores his romantic boundaries with a much older woman, as well as the repercussions of that relationship, in 1920s Paris. With no concept of the film’s awards reception, if any, one can only assume that an introspective examination of the sexual mores of France almost 90 years ago is more likely to earn a respectable return on its investment before slipping into netflix/HBO obscurity.
The cast is talented and able, problem is, Michelle Pfeiffer and Kathy Bates are also more prestige types than actual draws. Sure, she’s in the biggest box office success of all time, but I doubt that Bates really added much to Titanic’s coffers. One could argue that Pfeiffer brought a few bucks in for Batman Returns, but the film would have still been a blockbuster had anyone else (Halle Berry notwithstanding) wielded the Catwoman claws.
The same story applies to Cheri’s director Stephen Frears. While no stranger to acclaim, he just doesn’t have the ability to transform a stuffy period piece into a mainstream phenom. A two-time Oscar nominee for The Queen and The Grifters, Frears’ career is more notable for critical respect than for box office. Some of his bigger successes, The Queen ($56 million), Dangerous Liaisons ($34 million), and High Fidelity ($27 million), one could argue, verge on blockbuster territory for an art house film, but they either got awards attention boosts or, in the case of High Fidelity, were of the hipster indie variety.
Chances are, Cheri will draw some positive notices. The festival buzz seems to be strong. But as with Frears’ The Queen, it would need some awards attention to really cash in. So, unless those notices are unusually strong, chances are it’ll come and go in the night, leaving little in the way of box office by which to remember it. (Martin Felipe/BOP)