The auteur's grimmest movie in years has Sony Pictures Classics executives smiling
Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine” is off to a terrific start at the box office — more than $6 million in 20 days of limited release – and could eclipse "Midnight in Paris” as his highest-grossing movie ever.
"Paris" won an original screenplay Oscar, was nominated for three other Academy Awards including Best Picture, and finished with a whopping $56 million at the domestic box office.
But moviegoers expecting another frothy fantasy romp should be forewarned.
"This isn't Owen Wilson on a lark in Paris,” said Michael Barker, co-president at Sony Pictures Classics, which has released the last five films Allen has directed. "I get the comparisons because of the box office, but the two movies aren't at all alike."
In "Blue Jasmine," Cate Blanchett plays a delusional Manhattan society wife who loses everything and moves in with her sister when her husband is sent to prison for defrauding investors.
"They're both entertaining, and it has some laughs,” he said "but this is a very serious movie.”
And "Blue Jasmine" has done some serious business at the multiplexes.
It's brought in more than $6 million in 20 days, after posting the year's best limited debut, averaging $102,000 at six theaters. It's moved to 119 locations last weekend and continued to build momentum, and Barker said the plan is to double that count this weekend and then go nationwide and into between 1,000-1,200 theaters on Aug. 26.
Barker said that when SPC executives were talking with Allen and his producing partner (and sister) Letty Aronson prior to the film's opening, the director was insistent that "Jasmine” not be misrepresented in the marketing or the trailer.
"It was a bit of a gamble. We didn't go for the jokes or the fast cuts,” Barker said of the trailer, which can be found at the bottom of this story. "It was an unusual approach.
"I remember going to a multiplex and seeing it play as one of about six or seven trailers, and it was really gratifying to see the audience respond the way they did. I think the fact that it was serious made it different, and people paid attention.”
Being something out of the norm has helped it in the crowded summer marketplace as well, Barker said.
"Ever since Tom (Barnard, SPC's co-president) and I started, there's always been room in the marketplace for a strong indie film at the end of summer. People get tired of seeing all these blockbusters, but they're still in the moviegoing habit.”
Dramas have been few and far between this summer, and the only one that's done much business was Baz Luhrmann's splashy "The Great Gatsby.”
Barker credited the ensemble cast of "Blue Jasmine” – which includes Alec Baldwin, Andrew Dice Clay, Sally Hawkins, Louis C.K., Tammy Blanchard and Bobby Cannavale – for their work promoting the film.
"It's very rare to have a film where every actor, and I mean every actor, works as hard as they can to get the word out, but that's what's happened on this one, and it has really helped.”
He said that in marketing "Blue Jasmine,” his team made a point of reaching out via social media and other means to connect with the fan base of the actors, several of which are large enough to make a difference at the box office.
Whether the film can match the $56 million domestic and $151 million worldwide totals of Allen's "Midnight in Paris” will become clear after the film goes nationwide in two weeks.
Barker was hopeful that the 77-year-old Allen's latest film, in a career that spans more than five decades, can connect with mainstream audiences. He said said he was optimistic, because it's been playing broadly so far.
"When a Woody Allen movie clicks, younger audiences tend to come in the third and fourth weeks,” he said.
"But this is a drama, so we'll see.”