"If a film fell in the multiplex, and no one was there to see it..."
Limited release: such a simple phrase, and yet two words that all but indicate to a majority of moviegoers that whatever it is they want to see may or may not escape the confines of a NY/LA run before the film in question comes to them by way of Netflix mere months later.
Meanwhile, screens upon screens across the nation are filled by the likes of the same stars and the same stories, with the same special effects and the same happy endings, leaving the smaller films, the different films, the better films to slip through the distribution cracks, as it were.
Among their number falls The Promotion, a film which we've admittedly supported ad nauseum to the oh-so-ironic tune of $365,928 on a grand total of 81 screens. It opened just this past weekend in my market, Orlando, Fla., on a single screen, for a whopping four days, with a grand total of eight showings, before being shuffled off to make room for that other Jason Bateman co-starring comedy-drama hybrid.
It was the first day of July, and the last night for the film. Having enjoyed it twice before and driven by - I don't know - a sense of romantic futility, I turned out for that final showing. Lo and behold, I wasn't alone...
I'm not sure what could've drawn those two other men to that auditorium. After all, there was at least one remaining showing for Hancock, and surely others for other films. The theater in question, the Regal Oviedo Marketplace, has not so much as a poster for any film with which to lure interest, not to mention it's located on the relative outskirts of town and rarely serves as a venue for any number of one-week indie runs in town (that would be the Regal Winter Park Village).
I had seen the slapstick-skewing trailer attached to no prints whatsoever, and I seriously doubt that there had ever been so much as a TV spot for it in any market. The daily paper's review was a half-hearted three stars out of five, my condensed rave hadn't even run in print for our college paper that week, the general critical consensus nationwide had been lukewarm, and some of the biggest reviews had managed to be, well... downright asinine (example 1) (example 2).
And yet, here they were against all odds, these two individuals, mere rows away but there nonetheless. Within a matter of months, I'd gone from seeing it with a packed and quite responsive house at its SXSW premiere, to a sparsely attended and relatively quiet press screening, to a public showing that was halved on all counts. The trailers attached beforehand indicated an equally indifferent appeal: Australia, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Meet Dave, and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. (Given that this same theater had once started playing The Fog instead of the family-filled Saturday night sneak of Zathura that was scheduled, I began to wonder whether or not we were likewise about to be subjected to Prince Caspian instead.)
No, we were indeed offered The Promotion for our viewing pleasure - having sat back and center, I overheard the begrudging remarks of our 'projectionist' about how of course there had to be someone in there - and as it unspooled, it got some modest laughs between the three of us. The credits rolled, the lights went up, and we filed out, going in our separate directions. I almost wanted to ask either or both of them why they had picked this film, why tonight. I had also considered asking the manager on duty just how many tickets they sold over the eight showings. But it all just seemed that much more pointless.
I'm not saying that we're talking about a film that demands any sort of grand big-screen presentation in order to be appreciated. If anything, the low-key nature of the humor might be best appreciated at home. However, knowing that Winter Park had managed to give In Bruges, The Visitor, and The Fall a couple of weeks a piece to work their charms, I couldn't help but wonder what kind of chance The Promotion might've stood had it been given a full week, whether in Oviedo or Winter Park, had the Weinstein Company and its various off-shoots had committed to a set weekend for its wide release and arranged a modest push including at least one word-of-mouth screening or maybe weekend-before sneaks. It's admittedly failed them in the past - The Hunting Party went similarly underseen and underappreciated - but it could claim that there was something resembling an effort to put it out there.
But now it's gone, off into the ever-passive ether of public interest. There are surely few tragedies in the grand scheme of things more trivial than having small films and the greater theatrical experience of discovering them taken for granted so easily, but WALL-E and Willy will still be there in four days; the same can't be said for Doug Stauber and Richard Welhner.
So, please, if you're still reading this, do me a favor, do yourself a favor, and seek something out this weekend. Go see Baghead, or Kabluey, or The Wackness, or Son of Rambow, or The Foot Fist Way, or Mongol, or Operation Filmmaker, or When Did You Last See Your Father?, or yes, even The Promotion (for a select few still, it appears), and make it worth your while. It's a film about making the most of opportunity, and in its own way, there couldn't be a pursuit more fitting. Here's to movies that care, and to caring about movies.