I realize the post-Labor Day weekend is just about the lowest-stakes box office game of the year, but this year’s weekend feels both retro in its lack of big movies (did the usually superstitious-acting studios forget that Contagion made money in this slot last year?) and haphazard in terms of what gets released when. For example, the widest new release is the movie Bradley Cooper starred in for his buddies, The Words. It’s great that CBS Films makes mid-to-low-ish budget movies aimed almost exclusively at actual grown-up audiences; it just sucks that CBS Films also seems to have taste levels comparable to, or perhaps somewhat shabbier than, CBS Television. Also, as a struggling writer, I object to Bradley Cooper playing a struggling writer twice; first in Limitless and again here, where he plays a guy who publishers someone else’s manuscript and achieves Bradley Cooper-ish levels of undeserved fame. I could’ve stomached Cooper as a writer once; twice is pushing it. I realize Cooper has dabbled in screenwriting; I still object. Just let us have writing, Bradley Cooper!
For most studios, The Words would be something of a dump, but for CBS Films, it’s pretty much the crown jewel of their last five months of releases (note: for this analogy to work, you have to picture a crown that might look better with zero jewels in it). If The Words were a Weinstein movie, for example, we almost certainly wouldn’t see it until 2015. And yet Bachelorette, which the Weinsteins acquired at Sundance, is here less than a year after the festival—after a month and change working the On Demand rental circuit (I’m dying to see this movie but I would generally rather pay fourteen bucks to go to a theater than 10 bucks to watch TV). These experiments in On Demand pre-releasing must be going well enough, because mini-studios keep doing them; the Weinstein Company is generally a higher-profile outfit than experienced On Demanders Magnolia. But sometimes I wonder if these sorts of distribution solutions are just lazy: I’m sure a Kirsten Dunst/Lizzy Caplan/Isla Fisher comedy did pretty well on iTunes or whatever over the past few weeks, but I’m also pretty sure you could wide-release a movie with those same stars and this title and get $10-$15 million right off the bat if you marketed it correctly, especially on this empty weekend.
Instead, Bachelorette gets the art-house treatment, while The Cold Light of Day somehow goes wide. The flip side to the just-release-the-damn-thing strategy, this Henry Cavill thriller with supporting turns from Bruce Willis and Sigourney Weaver was unceremoniously bumped from its early-April release date, and while I can’t say for sure whether its trailer was pulled from theaters, I definitely saw it a lot in the first few months of the year and never again since. It looked to be headed for a limited dump-release this weekend but—surprise! It’s coming out in 1,500 theaters! Ok then! I’m a general proponent of the just-release-the-damn-thing-and-try-to-make-quick-cash strategy, but usually I would recommend that strategy including creating any kind of awareness that your movie is coming out and—preferably, though obviously sometimes it’s not an option—not having your leading man be Henry Cavill. In short, it seems to me that Bachelorette should be the one taking its chances on 2,700 screens; The Words should be getting Cold Light‘s 1,500; and Cold Light could get Bachelorette‘s 40.
The movie of this weekend that I have seen and in fact recommend is Hello I Must Be Going, not the kind of movie anyone would think about releasing wide (though its low-key charms might play ok On Demand, if they had gone that route). Melanie Lynskey plays Amy, a 35-year-old woman staying with her parents; I say “staying” rather than “living” because she doesn’t seem to be living much of anywhere. Mostly she sleeps, sulks, and wears out a raggedy T-shirt while her upper-middle-class parents look on. Director Todd Louiso doesn’t lay the misery on quite so thick as he did in the darkly amusing Love Liza; he has a surprisingly deft touch with oddball suburban details. The hook of the movie is supposed to be Amy’s fling with a guy half her age, played by Christopher Abbott (you know him as Marnie’s ex-boyfriend on Girls), and while I appreciate that the movie doesn’t go for romantic gimmickry or ever utter the word “cougar,” it’s a little dispiriting when Amy’s self-help (she’s the one millionth movie character whose big problem is “never finishing things”; who knew that if we all just finished things, we’d become financially solvent and professionally satisfied!) takes priority over this actually pretty interesting relationship. Still, Lynskey’s performance is strong enough to carry the movie through these human-drama cliches. Plus Abbott’s character is Oberlin-bound, which makes it easy enough to imagine this as some kind of bizarre Girls prequel.