Monday, January 10, 2011

When a film 'flops', always blame the actress. If a film doesn't flop, call it a flop and blame the actress. If a film is a hit, blame the actor.

The Huffington Post linked to the AP box office analysis piece yesterday with their own headline, titled simply 'Gwyneth flops'. It wasn't a surprise, as Huff Post (which I of course contribute to) and other entertainment websites and publications never miss a chance to trash any given actress for anything whatsoever. Never mind that Country Strong was a $15 million picture that opened with $7.3 million in the first three days, guaranteeing long-term profitability. Never mind that the opening weekend of Country Strong was nearly double the single-largest weekend ($4.2 million) for last year's Crazy Heart. It's no fun to merely report that Paltrow's small picture had a modest opening that was relatively successful in regards to its budget and Paltrow's long untested drawing power. It's so much easier (and more fun) to just proclaim the film a flop and take the bitch down a peg or two. Because it's always the girl's fault, even when there is no fault to be had.

When The Tourist opened slightly below expectations, the headline everywhere was 'Angelina Jolie BOMBS'. If you didn't know better, you'd have no idea that Johnny Depp was the co-star of said movie and thus shared at least partial responsibility for the film's relative under-performance over its first weekend. And the following week saw the very disappointing opening weekend for the James L. Brooks romantic comedy How Do You Know? The film starred Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd, and Jack Nicholson. Do you think the headlines all screamed about the box office failure of the all-star cast? Of course not, the blame fell entirely on the shoulders of Reese Witherspoon (who received $15 million for the film), as if Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd, and Jack Nicholson had no star power that justified their (respectively) $10 million, $3 million, and $12 million paydays for the $120 million comedy.

And let's not forget Nicole Kidman, who got tagged as 'box office poison' after a series of uber-expensive (and sometimes troubled) genre pictures only opened to 'just' $15-30 million. Did Will Ferrell's career take any real damage after Bewitched opened to a 'mere' $20 million? Of course not. Did Daniel Craig take any of the blame for the disappointing opening numbers posted by The Invasion ($7.9 million) or The Golden Compass ($25 million)? Nope, he's got a shiny new franchise this summer with Cowboys and Aliens, plus a starring role in David Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo remake (and if that tanks, it will fall entirely on the shoulders of virtual unknown Rooney Mara). Did Hugh Jackman share any of the responsibility when the $120 million Australia opened with $15 million over Thanksgiving 2008? Nope, he still was able to star in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and got to host the Oscars to boot. But Nicole Kidman is of course box office poison.

But what if the film is a hit? Well, if at all possible, find a way to give credit to the male lead. Sandra Bullock had her (at the time) biggest hit ever with The Proposal in June of 2009, but if you read much of the press that followed, you would have sworn that most of that $33 million opening weekend and $164 million total came from fans of co-star Ryan Reynolds. And The Ugly Truth opened with $27 million later that summer on the strength of Katherine Heigl and Gerald Butler. He may have deserved some of that credit, but much of the press acted as if Gerald Butler was a known entity when it came to opening romantic comedies. So if he gets half the credit for that solid hit, why did he get none of the blame when it was falsely reported that The Bounty Hunter was a flop upon opening with 'just' $20 million? Because his costar was Jennifer Aniston, and no one, I mean no one, misses a chance to trash Aniston (notice how Jason Bateman escaped unscathed for the The Switch).

Call it sexism. Call it laziness. Call it a crass knee-jerk reaction to appeal to the baser instincts of uninformed readers. But pay close attention after this year's Oscar ceremony. If it goes well, then more power to everyone involved. But if it fails as entertainment, who do you think the press will aim their swords at, James Franco or Anne Hathaway? As always, we'll see...

Scott Mendelson

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Fantastic piece, it's so sad but unfortunately very true.

Karl said...

In Hollywood proper, "How Do You Know" is considered more of a disaster for a legacy feature director like James Brooks than it is for Reese. She's still working. Johnny Depp couldn't get viewers past a pedestrian title and dubious accents for "The Tourist." It's considered an equal surprise that tanked for them both. Jason Bateman is hugely talented but primarily a TV star. Gerald Butler isn't as identified with Hollywood, i.e. Hugh Jackman. Paul Rudd is considered more a nice guy and talent than a movie star. Ashton Kutcher couldn't brand "The Killers." Execs know this.

Kidman is getting acclaim for "Rabbit Hole" and will still get work with smart directors as she takes risks & isn't on the same unreachable pedestal as when she was Mrs. Cruise. She lives in the South. DVD viewers will find "Rabbit Hole" (and "The Tourist" if for nothing more than a date night at home film and for the styling).

Alas, actresses are more unwitting avatars of wish-fulfillment for their fans in real life than for their onscreen art (Reese's romance! Anniston's body at 40! Angelina's tattoos and date night! Heigl's new hair color! Nicole's post-pregnancy figure! Gwyneth's yoga style!). Most people didn't even know "How Do You Know" was in theaters or what is was about, but they do know Reese is engaged to an agent. Philip Seymour Hoffman rocking some jeans isn't going to get the cover of 'Us.'It's absurd, I know.

We're definitely in a new era with creaky paradigms and funny math. You're right to call out lazy media participants for misstating the extent of a 'flop' and for misogyny. I think the public is also smarter than the people spooning out the goop and that will become clearer in town.

tamarapaulin said...

I never noticed this phenomenon! Thank you for pointing it out, but also, I curse you (very mildly, like 'oh darn you') because now I'm going to get agitated when I see this happening in the future.

Karl said...

In Hollywood proper, "How Do You Know" is considered more of a disaster for a legacy feature director like James Brooks than it is for Reese. She's still working. Johnny Depp couldn't get viewers past a pedestrian title and dubious accents for "The Tourist." It's considered an equal surprise that tanked for them both. Jason Bateman is hugely talented but primarily a TV star. Gerald Butler isn't as identified with Hollywood, i.e. Hugh Jackman. Paul Rudd is considered more a nice guy and talent than a movie star. Ashton Kutcher couldn't brand "The Killers." Execs know this.

Kidman is getting acclaim for "Rabbit Hole" and will still get work with smart directors as she takes risks & isn't on the same unreachable pedestal as when she was Mrs. Cruise. She lives in the South. DVD viewers will find "Rabbit Hole" (and "The Tourist" if for nothing more than a date night at home film and for the styling).

Alas, actresses are more unwitting avatars of wish-fulfillment for their fans in real life than for their onscreen art (Reese's romance! Anniston's body at 40! Angelina's tattoos and date night! Heigl's new hair color! Nicole's post-pregnancy figure! Gwyneth's yoga style!). Most people didn't even know "How Do You Know" was in theaters or what is was about, but they do know Reese is engaged to an agent. Philip Seymour Hoffman rocking some jeans isn't going to get the cover of 'Us.'It's absurd, I know.

We're definitely in a new era with creaky paradigms and funny math. You're right to call out lazy media participants for misstating the extent of a 'flop' and for misogyny. I think the public is also smarter than the people spooning out the goop and that will become clearer in town.

K9R said...

Interesting point, but how about being more specific about who's making these declarations, like some Huffington Post stump did last week re. Reese Witherspoon's recent output, and NY Post swine/troll Lou Lumenick, who trashes Cameron Diaz at every opportunity, even calling Bad Teacher a "turkey" even though it made over $100Mil?

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