Indie Insights: Three Award Contenders, Box Office Appeal of ‘The Descendants,’ and ‘Sleeping Beauty’ Trailer

Indie Insights: Three Award Contenders, Box Office Appeal of ‘The Descendants,’ and ‘Sleeping Beauty’ Trailer

Nov 23, 2011

Opening

My Week with Marilyn. From her sultry voice to her wiggling bottom, Michelle Williams becomes Marilyn Monroe in Simon Curtis’ lively, funny, and touching adaptation of two memoirs by Colin Clark. Young and privileged Clark (Eddie Redmayne) snared a job working for Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) during the production of The Prince and the Showgirl, which allowed him to get up close and personal with the blond bombshell as she struggled under Olivier’s direction.

The film plays like a light, romantic comedy fantasy until Monroe’s personal troubles step out fully into the light, and then a poignant drama emerges. Williams’ performance eloquently suggests the anguish and the agony that lay beneath Monroe’s one-of-a-kind talent. My Week with Marilyn also features Judi Dench, Dominic Cooper, and Emma Watson. Reviews have been mixed; Grae Drake, our critic, wrote in part: “The movie is so airy that even the slightest breeze would blow it away, but it is firmly anchored by incredible performances.”

A Dangerous Method. David Cronenberg’s period drama examines the roots of psychoanalysis and the friendship between two of its most famous practitioners, Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender). Keira Knightley plays a disturbed woman who is treated by Jung, and then becomes a psychoanalyst herself. Reviews have been generally favorable, though our critics have split. (Hint: expect a lot of talking.) You can read critical thoughts from Monika Bartyzel, Dave White, and Grae Drake, as well as Robert B. DeSalvo’s interview with Mortensen.

The Artist. What’s black and white and seen all over? The Weinstein Co. is hoping it will be The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius’ silent romance that stars Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo as a movie idol and chorus girl, respectively, who fall in love just as the sound era begins. John Goodman also stars as a studio head. Initial reviews out of Cannes this year were rapturous, though the critical buzz has dimmed somewhat since then. Our own Grae Drake says: “Although it's imperfect, its charm and grace make the flaws easy to forget.”


Analyzing the Indie Box Office

The Descendants

We noted the other day that Alexander Payne’s The Descendants debuted to very good numbers last week, earning an estimated $42,150 per screen at 29 locations. That’s good, but, as Indiewire reported, considerably below Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air, also starring George Clooney, which averaged more than $78,000 in 2009, and also falls short of Payne’s last film, Sideways, which scored $51,760 per screen back in 2004.

Up in the Air went on to gross $83 million in the US, and about the same overseas, totaling $166 million, while Sideways made $71 million domestically and an additional $38 million from foreign territories, per Box Office Mojo. Could The Descendants enjoy similar success?

It looks like an uphill battle. Sideways showcased wine culture, featured breakout performances by its small cast (Paul Giamatti, Virginia Madsen, Thomas Haden Church, Sandra Oh), and revolved around romantic travails. Up in the Air tapped into the zeitgeist of discontent about corporate downsizing, while also including an element of romantic entanglement for Clooney with Vera Farmiga. Lacking those more marketable components, The Descendants must rely on the reconnection of a nuclear, well-to-do family to draw audiences. The Hawaiian setting has been played up in the advertising, and the film itself explores an angle on Hawaiian culture -- property ownership by the descendants of a mixed marriage -- that is less familiar. But that's not terribly compelling on its own.

If the film continues to gain ground as an Oscar frontrunner during the next few weeks (by winning recognition from critics groups), it may be that the family dynamic will have an opportunity to resonate with older audiences (and their children) as word of mouth spreads. It has three weeks to pick up traction before Reitman’s comic drama Young Adult opens in wide release, and the expected Christmas-time onslaught of Steven Spielberg’s War Horse and David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
 

Trailer of the Week

Sleeping Beauty

Two independent films about sexuality open in limited release next week, though I don’t think either could be described as “sexy.” Steve McQueen’s Shame stars Michael Fassbender as a troubled soul who is unhappily dealing with sexual addiction, while Julia Leigh’s Sleeping Beauty features Emily Browning as a troubled soul who is unhappily dealing with her new job as a prostitute.

Shame has sparked conversation because of its NC-17 rating, a controversy sidestepped by Sleeping Beauty, whose distributor (Sundance Selects through IFC Films) is apparently sending out unrated. Browning plays a young woman who enters an elegant house of prostitution, where the patrons are generally older gentlemen who pay good movie to sleep with comatose prostitutes.

The film debuted at Cannes, and reviews have been decidedly mixed, but the subject matter is provocative, and the haunting trailer is definitely worth watching once or twice. We’ve embedded it below for your viewing pleasure. Sleeping Beauty is currently available via various Video On Demand platforms.

Categories: Features, Indie
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