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Arthouse Audit: Two Comedies Score as 'Chef' Beats Out 'Fading Gigolo,' 'Palo Alto' Shows Promise

Photo of Tom Brueggemann By Tom Brueggemann | Thompson on Hollywood May 11, 2014 at 4:28PM

Jon Favreau's "Chef" (Open Road) and Gia Coppola's "Palo Alto" (Tribeca) both scored more than $20,000 per screen in limited openings this weekend. Radius/Weinstein veered from its usual pattern with a wider initial release of the food documentary "Fed Up," eschewing VOD for now.
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Laurie David, Katie Couric and Stephanie Soechtig of 'Fed Up'
Laurie David, Katie Couric and Stephanie Soechtig of 'Fed Up'

The story about upscale Bay Area alienated high-school students covers somewhat familiar territory, including Sofia Coppola's "The Bling Ring" (which A24 opened last year with more than double the PSA). "Palo Alto" nabbed mixed to favorable reviews and featured Emma Roberts and James Franco (as producer-actor-writer). Luring younger specialized audiences is tricky for any distributor. Still, particularly when combined with major ad pushes, some recent films (particularly "The Spectacular Now" last year, which did nearly $200,000 in four theaters its opening weekend) have shown that this demo can be reached. "Palo Alto" is more of an art film aimed at conveying its creator's vision (including off-putting characters and a tricky ending). All this means that it, despite its pedigree, was never an automatic sell. That it achieved this PSA (similar to recent decent openers like "Only Lovers Left Alive" and "Locke") means that Tribeca and its associates got the film as far as it could be expected to be.

What comes next: Fifteen cities this Friday, with more planned as they emphasize the theatrical model for this film.

"Fed Up" (Radius/Weinstein) - Criticwire: B+; Metacritic: 71; Festivals include: Sundance 2014, San Francisco 2014, Hot Docs 2014

$130,000 in 18 theaters; PSA: $7,222

Also atypically eschewing VOD for its opening, Radius launched this doc (focusing on how food production leads to obesity) to multiple cities beyond the normal New York/Los Angeles model (which reduces the PSA), with a decent start considering its issue-oriented subject matter. Weinstein as usual wasn't modest with its advertising. With ads looking like a throwback to Michael Moore films (listing corporations who refused to be interviewed) and Katie Couric involved in both the production and promotion, this has a much bigger head of steam going for it than most similar films. But none of that guarantees ticket sales, and these initial numbers show that it has attracted at least a promising level of initial interest.

What comes next: Given any sign of success, a Weinstein film is going to get full attention. So expect this to widen and get to a high-end gross level (over $2 million) for any doc, even in these best of times.

"God's Pocket" (IFC) - Criticwire: C+; Metacritic: 48; Festivals include: Sundance 2014, Sarasota 2014; also starts on Video on Demand on Wednesday

$23,400 in 3 theaters; PSA: $7,800

"Mad Men" actor John Slattery's film directorial debut didn't exactly set the world on fire with its Sundance competition debut. Lead Philip Seymour Hoffman's untimely death soon after complicated matters more. But his appeal likely helped bring the initial New York/Los Angeles limited openings to an at least modest level (considering the reviews).

What comes next: This will widen theatrically over the next few weeks, but its mid-week premiere on VOD suggests that IFC thinks most of the interest will be on those platforms.

Among the openers of note not reporting grosses this weekend are two from Magnolia -- Richard Ayoade's highly regarded thriller "The Double" with Jesse Eisenberg, as well as Canadian horror film "Stage Fright" (also on VOD). Arthouse mainstay Atom Egoyan's "The Devil's Knot" (Image) with Reese Witherspoon, following four docs about the West Memphis 3, also went VOD along with scattered theatrical dates just before the director's "The Captive" awaits its Cannes competition premiere. An extended version of the once-Miramax released French historical film "Queen Margot" (Cohen) opened to $5,500 at one theater.

Ongoing/expanding

An impressive 11 films managed to gross $50,000 or more as they add runs across the country, led by two-month leader "The Grand Budapest Hotel" (Fox Searchlight) at #11. It grossed $1,465,000 in 770 theaters (-114) to reach nearly $53,750,000. In raw numbers, this is the best domestic performance yet for a Wes Anderson film, though adjusted for inflation "The Royal Tenenbaums" would have reached $72 million. This continues to represent a rarely-achieved total for a specialized film released outside the awards-enhanced zone late in the year.

Two second-week films continued to justify the signs of promise from their opening weekends. "Belle" (Fox Searchlight) had a rapid expansion to 45 theaters (+41) to take in $473,000 for a healthy (particularly for this number of theaters) PSA of $10,511. Next weekend will tell even more as clearer signs of its word of mouth level develop, but so far this looks like it has potential for substantial growth. At a much smaller number of theaters, Music Box's acclaimed Polish 1960s drama "Ida" took in $104,000 in 7 (+4), with the PSA of just under $15,000 only slightly below its take last weekend despite the expansion (mainly to outlying Los Angeles theaters). Though clearly an art-house oriented film, this continues to show signs of unexpected appeal, with a particularly strong (and unusual) increase of growth at New York's key Lincoln Plaza Theater. The initial success for this could lead to one of the surprise subtitled hits of 2014.

In its third week, A24's "Locke" continues to struggle, with $239,000 in 73 (+48), total $540,000. The PSA of $3,274 suggests that audience response to this riveting Tom Hardy-starring film isn't developing as hoped. John Turturro's "Fading Gigolo" (Millennium) took in $768,000 in 340 (+230, PSA $2,259) to pass $2 million. They are moving much more quickly with this than they did with their hit "Bernie" two years ago. That film grossed more at a similar level of theater expansion in its 7th weekend despite having played in many of them in prior weeks on its way to over $9 million. "Gigolo" looks like it might end up around half that much. Weinstein's "The Railway Man," which opened the same week as "Gigolo" to a lower gross, is holding up much better. In 181 theaters (+17) it grossed $453,000 (PSA $2,503, down less than 20% from last weekend) to reach $2,276,000.

The longer runs continue to be led by the continuing impressive strength of "The Lunch Box" (Sony Pictures Classics), with $249,000 in 153 theaters (+4) getting it over $3.4 million. It is possible that it could end up the first Indian film ever to be the biggest grossing subtitled film for a year, even more unusual with its early year release. SPC's "Only Lovers Kept Alive" continues its more modest run, with $197,000 in 92 (+25) for $1,081,000 total. A24's "Under the Skin" added another $146,000 in 93 (-32) to top $2 million, less than seemed possible though when it opened strongly a month ago, "Finding Vivian Maier" (IFC) took in $101,000 in 82 (-8) to reach $1.1 million (along with its concurrent VOD earnings). And Music Box's "Le Week-End" continues its successful run with $55,000 in 57 (-33) to near $2.1 million.

This article is related to: Box Office, Box Office, Chef, Fading Gigolo, John Turturro, Woody Harrelson, Woody Allen, Palo Alto, Gia Coppola, Emma Roberts, James Franco, Fed Up


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.