In Which Paramount Pits Up in the Air Against the American Moviegoer in an Effort to Convince a Slightly Better Class of American Moviegoer to See It

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11/30/2009 1:53 PM |


I laughed at this post, by NY Mag’s Vulture coeditor Lane Brown, about what a hard time Paramount is having the marketing Jason Reitman’s topically satiric, critically tolerated Up in the Air. So I clicked on through to the LA Times article, by Claudia Eller, from which the hands-thrown-skyward quotes come, expecting to write an easy post about how moviegoers are idiots and producers, studios and marketing people have never actually seen a movie, ever, and thus have no idea what to do with a good one. (Or a flawed but interesting one, as Nicolas Rapold says in the current issue of the L.) In fact, though, Paramount has come up with a genius solution: meta-marketing, in which they talk to a sympathetic reporter for a print outlet about how hard it is to market this thoughtful, zeitgeist-grappling work of art. So follow me, to that strange and distant land after the jump, where together we will ridicule a few choice quotes in an effort to show how Paramount and the unwitting Claudia Eller of the LA Times have conspired to sell us the movie…

At first, we admit, we were mostly just amused with both Paramount and entertainment journalism’s complete inability to deal with grown-up issues:

The great recession hit, unemployment soared to nearly 10% and adult audiences had largely forsaken films with weighty topics…

Poetry. Also: When you say it in that order you make it sound like the “forsaking” happened after the other stuff, which is a really funny joke you made (I assume).

The film’s release on Friday comes as the nation grapples with the worst economic downturn in 70 years, and the movie prominently features a theme — getting thrown out of work because of cutbacks — that could alienate potential moviegoers too pained to watch on the big screen what they are all too familiar with in real life.

Ok yes Americans are fat slobby children, as a rule. HOWEVER. The myth of “escapism” is one of the most pernicious and self-serving narratives in Hollywood. Have you ever seen Gold Diggers of 1933, the Busby Berkeley movie with “We’re in the Money” in it? I mean shit, its climactic production number is all about the Forgotten Man. My Man Godfrey opens in a junkyard hobo camp. Yeah these movies end with all the strugglers prospering, because they were musicals and comedies from Hollywood. But even the frothiest films of the day engaged, explicitly, with the times.

Disney’s recent comedy “Confessions of a Shopaholic,” about a young woman with a mountain of credit card debt, fell short at the box office. So did films with 9/11-related themes, such as “A Mighty Heart” and “United 93,” as well as those dealing with the Iraq war, such as “Stop Loss” and “In the Valley of Elah.”

Right because all of those movies were so good.

Incidentally, have we mentioned that the outside-the-marketing-paradigm auteur genius behind Up in the Air is the director of the noted unfashionable yet visionary film Juno? Anyway…

Furthermore, “Up in the Air” doesn’t fit neatly into a genre — it combines comedy and drama…

That is absolutely fucking unprecedented in the history of the American cinema.

Ok that was sarcastic. In fact, here is a partial list of movies that have combined comedy and drama:

Fred Ott’s Sneeze (will he sneeze? will he sneeze? ha ha that guy sneezed!).
Raising Arizona.
Et cetera.

But now, here:

“It’s not an easily marketable movie,” acknowledged executive producer Tom Pollock, whose Montecito Picture Co. co-financed the movie.

A quick translation: “‘It’s not just another assembly-line product,'” someone with a financial stake in the film told a reporter for a major newspaper for a story about how the film, with uncompromised artistry, faces up to the big issues and courageously forsakes a mass audience.”

In fact all the quotes from people involved with the movie are along these lines: “It’s not an R-rated horror movie where audiences know what they’re going to get.” “The movie will benefit most from strong reviews and word of mouth… The film’s issues are not important to 15-year-olds but have real resonance for adult audiences who are dealing with job loss.” “We wanted to give audiences a chance to understand the complex characters and story lines… We are not trying to cheat the audience and sell this film as a broad comedy, a romance or some other easily definable genre, because it does not fit neatly into a single category.” All from producers and in-house marketers.

All the above-ridiculed musing about the difficulties of selling such a movie are Eller’s, filling in around the remarkably lock-step quotes she got from her interviews. Paramount knows exactly how to market Up in the Air (which didn’t cost them that much, we learn): flatter a speciality, newspaper-reading audience by confiding about hard it’s been to sell the movie to people who’re stupider than them.