Like so many things in life, the meaning of the weekend gross for the Judd Apatow/Adam Sandler “serious comedy,” “Funny People,” is a matter of perspective. On the more cheerful side, we have the trades, which typically enough are accentuating the positive, noting that the somewhat risky project, at least by modern mainstream film standards, was actually #1 at the box office, even if the amount it took the lead by was less than mega-spectacular.
The Hollywood Reporter (actually the AP as carried by THR) thinks that Judd Apatow is living in the best of all possible box office worlds:
Movie audiences have taken a liking to Adam Sandler’s more serious side…[“Funny People”] grabbed the top spot at the weekend boxoffice with a $23.4 million debut.
Variety takes a more measured, but still somewhat upbeat, tone:
Adam Sandler’s “Funny People” has topped a moderate weekend box office with $23.4 million at 3,008 playdates.
Nikki Finke, however, has a different way of seeing things. Here’s her headline:
‘Funny People’ No Laughing Matter; Opens To Lousy $8.6M Fri And Worse $7.4M Sat For Disappointing $23.4M Weekend
La Finke goes on to point out that Universal has been lowering expectations from Sandler’s usual $30-$40 million openers to a more modest $25 million, and fell a bit short of that.
It really does come down to your frame of reference. In my weekend preview post, I mentioned the Sally Field/Tom Hanks starring “Punchline,” which I think is a better point of comparison than any particular Apatow or Adam Sandler film, including 2002’s “Punch-Drunk Love,” simply because of the subject matter, the more-serious-than-you-might-expect approach, and the level of star power. That movie got similarly mixed reviews but was one of 1988’s lowest grossing films, despite the presence of two bankable stars. Two small differences: one had laughs, the other doesn’t, and Sally Field was not ever thought of as a great comedian, “The Flying Nun” notwithstanding.
A side note: when describing the occasional phenomenon of movies with mixed reviews and worse box office eventually emerging as a sort of classic, I forgot last time that the Coen Brothers’ “The Big Lebowski” was another movie that divided and/or confounded critics while generating poor box office on its initial release. It’s worth mentioning as it is probably the biggest “cult hit” of our time responsible for God knows how much in DVD purchases and rentals, not to mention doing its bit for the bowling industry and the consumption of White Russians. You certainly wouldn’t have guessed that at the time, though it did seem odd at the time that the film did so badly when me and the other three people in the theater couldn’t stop laughing the whole way through.
I’m not saying that “Funny People” is a similar case, (maybe ask me after I’ve seen it), but it’s just worth noting that, as long as some people love a movie, the game is never really over. As the story goes, when Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai was asked, sometime in the middle of the 20th century, for his opinion about France’s 1789 revolution, he answered, “It is too soon to say.” Still, if I were Universal I wouldn’t be banking on that $100 million take they were hoping for, not this year.
At the #2 spot for this week, I can report that Harry Potter, apparently benefiting from those suspiciously helpful handwritten notes from the Half-Blood Prince as well as his movie’s expansion into a number of more expensive IMAX/not-really-IMAX 3-D screens, turns out to be holding his own this week. Indeed, he sent the rodents of “G-Force” back to the lab, beating the guinea pigs $17.7 million to somewhere around $17.1, or slightly less, says Box Office Mojo’s table.
The week’s other new releases pretty much sank like a stone. Audiences apparently thought “Aliens in the Attic,” which was not shown to critics, looked about as lousy as I thought it looked, and the film came in at a lackluster fifth place. This is not good for a high concept family film, especially since it actually debuted on slightly more screens than the R-rated “Funny People.”
Similarly, the lack of allure of the “torture porn”-esque “The Collector” might signal that the horror sub-genre, controversial under any name, has become inevitably played out. (You can only make people feel miserable so many times before they begin to resent it.) The feel-bad flick managed a mere $3.625 million. It’s true that it was only on a relatively modest 1,300 screens, but the lackluster $2,736 per screen average is nothing to get out of the iron maiden to celebrate over. Compare it to this week’s box office per-screen winner, the indie comedy romantic sleeper, “(500) Days of Summer,” which managed an outstanding $10,338 average for a total of $2.75 million on a mere 266 screens.