Lake Bell's Sundance prize-winner "In a World" (Roadside Attractions) had the best initial showing this weekend in limited openings. With the female segment of the specialized audience continuing to be underserved, Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine," about two sisters' troubled relationship, continued its impressive slow rollout. It almost landed in the weekend top 10 despite playing at fewer than 2,000 theaters. Already at $6.2 million after three weekends, it will easily become the most successful specialized release of 2013 as it expands in weeks ahead.
Films directed by women have gone from rare to almost non-existent: only two woman directors were among all of 2013's wide release studio openings thus far: "Tyler Perry Presents Peeples" and one segment of "Movie 43." This year only Sofia Coppola's "The Bling Ring" has nabbed much attention beyond foreign language and documentary films, as Sally Potter's "Ginger & Rosa" and Mira Nair's "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" came and went. (Still to come among indies are Lynn Shelton's "Touchy Feely," already on VOD, Maggie Carrie's "The To Do List," Kelly Reichardt's "Night Moves," Susanne Bier's "Serena," Diablo Cody's "Paradise," and Nicole Holofcener's "Enough Said"; wide releases number two: Disney's "Frozen," co-directed by Jennifer Lee, and Kimberly Peirce's take on Stephen King's "Carrie.")
Two other new releases from Sundance, "Lovelace" and "Prince Avalanche," were also available on Video on Demand. The other strong new release, unusually, opened only in Reno, Nevada: Rocky Mountain's sports drama "Snake and Mongoose" scored a per screen average almost as high as "In a World."
"In a World" (Roadside Attractions) - Cinemascore: B+; Metacritic: 79; Festivals include: Sundance 2013, Seattle 2013, Los Angeles 2013
$71,000 in 3 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $23,667
Actress Lake Bell directed, wrote, produced and starred in this truly indie comedy, which won her the screenwriting prize at this year's Sundance and which Roadside then acquired. Backed by among the best reviews of any film this year (including an all-out rave from A.O. Scott in the New York Times), the film earned a promising gross in three top-drawer New York/Los Angeles theaters, though dwarfed by more marketable recent specialized releases. This still achieves the high end for a lower-profile, non-star-driven marketing challenge.
Bell plays a voice coach who wants to follow her legendary (and sometimes difficult) father as a voice over artist (the title comes from the use of the iconic phrase in movie trailer narration) and deals with the larger issue of the difficulty of women to be taken seriously in the film world. In a year where female directors seem to be an endangered species, driving an independent film not only to completed production but this level of attention and initial success is a significant accomplishment for all involved, including Roadside, who showed confidence in the film with major (for a limited film) ad buys in the two cities.
What comes next: Eight new cities open next Friday, with further expansion in its initial two, with a further rollout planned throughout the month.
"Lovelace" (Radius/Weinstein) - Cinemascore: B-; Metacritic: 50; Festivals include: Sundance 2013; also available on Video on Demand
$184,000 in 118 theaters; PSA: $1,559
An unusually wide release for a VOD-parallel film, even wider than Radius' Ryan Gosling starring "Only God Forgive" three weeks ago, ended up with a mediocre performance. Directed by longtime directing partners Rob Friedman and Jeffrey Epstein ("The Times of Harvey Milk," "Howl") and starring Amanda Seyfried, it is exactly the kind of independent film with a wider interest that likely lends itself to maximum viewing at home, with the theatrical presence (and marketing) helping to elevate awareness. So, as is often the case with these films, the gross is only a small part of the picture. Movies about explicit sex are often a turn-off for moviegoers (which will encourage Focus to keep the budget low on "50 Shades of Grey").
What comes next: Not likely to sustain most of these theaters for long, this should have a long life on VOD.