Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Measuring a Film's Success

For about a month I waited for the release of "He's Just Not That Into You."  A primary reason for my media diet is to escape into the fictional worlds provided.  Why escape?  These worlds are easily (a return phone call) or sometimes not-so-easily solvable (flying into an alien ship planting a virus).  But the point is that they are solvable - generally leading to a better (the scholar in me might say naive?) world.

For the past three months, local theaters put forth the Oscar bait which typically involves the melodramatic and emotionally involving.  These films strive for gold on Oscar night.  This is their goal - a ridiculously high standard.

But what about the film's that have absolutely no interest in these awards.  Some of them strive for box office clout.  I have not seen "Paul Blart: Mall Cop," but after spending two weeks at the top, something very positive for Columbia Pictures.  If you're game is comedy and reaping the rewards, then Paul Blart is a great success.  This is all it wanted.  I wonder if this means if it is a good movie.  Paul Blart made more money than Pineapple Express.

But I don't want this to turn into a box office business versus critical acclaim debate.  It's tired.  No, this is more subjective.  My subject is "He's Just Not That Into You."  I tired of the depressing Oscar fodder that made me want to guzzle whiskey (choose your vice accordingly) to feel something else.  I wanted to feel something else in the darkened theater.  "He's Just Not That Into You" provided such an experience.  With Oscar/Depressing season still in full swing, this film provided the feel-good adventure.  Manohla Dargis of the New York Times chastised "He's Just Not That Into You" by comparing its heroines to Thelma and Louise (characters in a well-received film).

I love Manohla.  She actually liked Tony Scott's "Domino" - an under-appreciated film starring Mickey Rourke for all you "Wrestler" fans.  Keira Knightley is also in it, but you knew that.  My problem with Manohla's comparison is that "He's Just Not That Into You" wants no part of Thelma or Louise.  The women in this film only want to be liked in the cutesy, call me back sort of way.  How do rom-com fans feel about the film?  I think they like it.  Ginnifer Goodwin is cuter than a button.  Justin Long works in a restaurant I want to eat in - actually I am hungry.

Soderbergh's "Ocean's Eleven" occupies the same territory.  In some respects, this is a perfect film (no scene wasted, no extra scene needed, well-executed).  Do I think Scorsese's "Casino" is better than "Ocean's Eleven?" Yes.  Do I think Mann's "Heat" is better than "Ocean's Eleven"  But the film doesn't care.  All this film wants is to be a heist movie in Las Vegas.  Cinema historians will probably tell me that I think of movies in too much of a vacuum - without any consideration for a film's potential family tree.  A deficiency? Perhaps.  An asset? Sometimes yes.

"He's Just Not That Into You" isn't trying for anything like an Academy Award.  It's a date movie.  With this is mind, it is quite successful.  Look at what a movie is trying to accomplish and then look at it.  Don't try and compare an apple with an orange.  The women of "He's Just Not That Into You" probably have never seen "Thelma and Louise," but they've seen "When Harry Met Sally" a few times.