Tom McCarthy's critical favorite is already a quiet indie hit — but can it find that elusive mainstream audience?
"Win Win" has one win. Will it get a second?
The Fox Searchlight film, directed by Tom McCarthy ("The Visitor," "The Station Agent") and starring Paul Giamatti and Amy Ryan, is well on its way to becoming a quiet indie success. It picked up rave reviews, strong word-of-mouth and solid grosses in its first two weekends in theaters, averaging between $26,000 and $42,000 per screen in limited release.
It so far has taken in $800,000 at the box office. So where can it go from here?
The filmm expanded to 149 screens on Friday, a significant acceleration of Searchlight's original plan because of the film's initial success, and should reach 200 next week.
In the indie world, so far so good.
"In a way, I feel as if the movie has already done what we wanted it to do," said the film's producer, Michael London, who noted that second-weekend grosses fell a negligible one percent in New York and Los Angeles, the two cities where it had opened the week before.
"That was a really clear signal that word-of-mouth is as good as it could be, and that the movie will fulfill its potential within the indie arthouse/smarthouse universe," he told TheWrap on Friday
But there's a whole other universe out there, as London knows from producing the $70 million-grossing Best Picture nominee "Sideways."
"Now that we've accomplished our first goal," he said of "Win Win," "here comes this crazy second level that we never allowed ourselves to think about: can the movie find a real audience outside of the urban, indie community?"
With the film shifting tone from drama to comedy in its story of a small-town lawyer and part-time wrestling coach (Giamatti) embroiled in financial troubles, London always figured it would be a tough sell to mainstream audiences.
Now he thinks a crossover is conceivable, though hardly guaranteed; the next two weekends, he said, are the crucial moments.
The film's 94 percent Rotten Tomatoes rating is tops among 2011 releases, which has enabled Searchlight to trot out the multiplex-friendly ad line "The Best Reviewed Movie of the Year."
And before those reviews kicked in, the studio and the filmmakers employed a strategy that started with what London called "relentless" screenings around the country, with McCarthy hitting 18 different cities and reporting back that the movie connected in a way that his previous films (both critical favorites) had not.
"I don't know if it's the wrestling or the fact that it's the only movie out there to deal with how hard it is to make ends meet these days, but audiences are responding," London said.
"And one of the things that really helps is that it plays as a comedy. If a movie makes you laugh, you don't care if it's an indie movie or a studio movie – you just laugh, and some of those rules go out the window."
Many of the similar indie films that have gotten traction with a wider audience, from "Sideways" to "Little Miss Sunshine," have benefited from late summer, fall and winter releases, when London said "the Oscar buzz factory becomes a major means of getting movies out there to a wider audience."
Without that, he said, "this movie has to earn its own way. What's wonderful is that we're coming into the big moviegoing season. When 'The Visitor' survived March and April and May, it played all summer, all the way into September."
One advantage that "Win Win" has: a thinner release schedule for comparable indie movies, courtesy of a shrinking marketplace.
"Right now, there's nothing else out there that feels like a humanistic comedy with an indie vibe," he said. "A couple of years ago there might have been two or three other movies with that feel. So all we really have to do is be a good alternative to the tentpole movies."
Searchlight is buying television ads in New York and Los Angeles this weekend in an attempt to push the film to a wider audience — and with Regis Philbin spontaneously raving about the movie on a show this week, London says talk show bookings (Conan O'Brien, for instance) have started to kick in.
"Searchlight spends all their time working for that perfect storm, when a movie connects to the audience, crosses over to that bigger audience and delivers something that you haven't seen before," he said.
"But you never know when that's going to happen."