Out of all the specialty releases that have appeared in theaters -- including American indies, docs, and world cinema -- why is one standing out this summer as a "word-of-mouth" hit? That's how Steven Zeitchik in The Hollywood Reporter descibes Guillaume Canet's terrific French thriller Tell No One, which has grossed nearly $1.7 million since opening in New York and Los Angeles at the beginning of July.
Zeitchik provides background on distributor Music Box Films and its founder William Schopf and then says that strong reviews in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and The New Yorker "certainly helped, particularly with the film's older demo." (Hmm, did someone take a poll?) He also speculates that press days for director Canet, its mystery/thriller genre, and timing -- an indie slipping between the cracks of the big summer movies -- may have been factors.
Tell No One opened the same July 4th holiday weekend as Hancock, and the mixed reviews for the Will Smith picture may indeed have pushed some folks to try the French flick. But The Wackness also opened that weekend, and despite some very good reviews and a smashing opening weekend, its per-screen average has declined as it has expanded across the country. More than one million dollars at the box office is a decent return for a rather desultory stoner period comedy-drama, in my opinion, though it's far less than others thought it could achieve. Still, why did Tell No One -- with, evidently, a substantially smaller marketing budget -- catch on and not The Wackness?
Eric Kohn considered the impact of French thrillers for Cinematical a couple of weeks ago, but I think it goes beyond the relative quality of the films themselves (Rotten Tomatoes pegs Tell No One at 91% positive, by the way, and The Wackness at 64% positive; Cinematical's James Rocchi loved the former and Erik Davis the latter). The "heat" around a film often dissipates after it opens in New York and Los Angeles. By the time it expands to other cities, the heat has cooled off, replaced by newer releases grabbing the attention of the movie world.
So why did Tell No One have crowds lined up last weekend in my overheated home city of Dallas, while Werner Herzog's excellent, thoughtful Encounters at the End of the World (marked at 93% positive from Rotten Tomatoes; our own Jeffrey M. Anderson liked it too) went begging for customers? They both finally opened locally on Friday, in the two biggest auditoriums in the same arthouse multiplex, and when I saw them both on Saturday (late afternoon / early evening), the contrast was striking. When I saw The Wackness at an early afternoon screening a couple of Saturdays ago, the crowd numbered barely a dozen.
Frankly, I don't know. You tell me: Was the marketing for one better than the other? Are people inherently more interested in French thrillers than existential documentaries? Are middle-aged and older people disinclined to see stoner flicks? Have you been spreading the word of mouth for Tell No One? Why haven't you gone to see Encounters at the End of the World? Did you encourage your friends to see The Wackness -- or warn them against it?