This was supposed to be a positive review of Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, but a funny thing happened on the way to posting. The first box office projections started coming in and I found myself enthralled by the widely diverging fates for Friend and Pixar’s Brave, the two big chick flick contenders this weekend.
The source of my fascination is a question that keeps popping into my head with each successive tent pole’s release – simply put, and pardon my language in advance, ‘WTF is going on at the marketing departments in Hollywood?’ It could be just me, but the campaigns this summer are looking increasingly slap dash and a little clueless even. This looks to be the case right across the board with films as divergent as Rock of Ages, Prometheus, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, Spider Man, and so on.
Both films this weekend had counter-intuitive marketing campaigns, and while things turned out great for Brave at $66.7 million domestic, the results were really dire for Friend which barely grossed $3.8 million for a tenth place finish. Both campaigns decided it was best to hide the fact that ultimately, these were flicks for chicks. The primary quadrants were definitely female here and I can’t help but wonder what suddenly gave Hollywood the idea that women of legal drinking age don’t go to see films, but there you have it.
Disney was very nervous about the first Pixar fairytale and the first Pixar film to feature a female lead. Disney of course has cause to worry – their past is littered with failed female princess vehicles like Snow White, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid…(yes, sarcasm is absolutely necessary here). They went the warrior princess route with their campaign and the gamble paid off. They got us into cinemas to see for ourselves, and the result was both heartwarming and action packed enough to make up for the shock of the film we received versus what we were expecting.
For Friend, it was the weight of expectation that doomed it. Audiences were set up for a comedy – and while this film does deal with the impending apocalypse with some levity (the asteroid is innocuously named Matilda after all), ultimately this is a film about relationships, regret, and the meaning of life. This is most definitely a bittersweet relationship drama, and one that I actually found to be quite touching. There is just no way that a sentimental romance like this can live up to the expectations of a screwball comedy-road movie as set up by marketing, and the damning word of mouth bears this out. If you set the dinner for steak, you better produce a steak!
For what it’s worth, a completely unscientific exit poll of my film going companions post-Friend did reveal a definite fault line forming along gender lines. Does this mean men were never going to see it, or could this have been the date movie of the weekend with a different approach? We’ll never know for sure, and that is too bad.
It will be interesting to see the figures for Brave’s second week, now that the proverbial cat is out of the bag and the boys know what the movie is about. I’m betting it won’t matter and expect to see a standard drop here, nothing disastrous.
Brave is sitting at 75% on Rotten Tomatoes, significantly lower than the average for a Pixar property ( which generally hover closer to 90%) and some are blaming the mother-daughter theme for the perceived shortfall. Again, I can’t stress enough that if you set up a warrior princess story in the trailer, you can’t substitute will o’ the wisps, witches and bears and expect people not to be jarred.
In the meantime, I am simply breathless with anticipation for the results of the next bizarre tent pole campaign (I’m looking at you Magic Mike). Will it be a success? I honestly can’t say, but the buzz is building nicely and I do think I owe it the Eye Candy treatment at the very least.
Now excuse me while I go ponder on the fact that I used Magic Mike and tent pole in the same sentence.