By Tom Brueggemann | Thompson on Hollywood May 19, 2013 at 4:25PM
After a weak spring dominated by three indie hits that went wide quickly, "Frances Ha" stands out a potential arthouse success. This film could stay in limited release for a while, unlike quick-breaking multiplex players "The Place Beyond the Pines," "Mud" and "Spring Breakers," which will all likely pass the $15-million mark. Coming on the heels of decent starts for "Stories We Tell" last week in New York, and "What Maisie Knew," and ahead of the anticipated big performance for "Before Midnight" opening next Friday, specialized numbers look to improve to decent levels--even if so far nothing has risen to the levels of last May's major successes "Moonrise Kingdom" and "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel."
Three films for significant distributors failed to report numbers, including Weinstein (its VOD offshoot Radius opened "Erased" with Aaron Eckhart), LD's 2012 Sundance genre entry "Black Rock" (also VOD), and most significantly Music Box's "Augustine," which received both favorable reviews and significant theater placement in New York and Los Angeles, suggesting it didn't perform up to expectations, particularly after showings in the Rendezvous With French Cinema and City of Angels/City of Lights festivals in those cities.
"Frances Ha" (IFC) - Criticwire grade: B+; Metacritic score: 81; Festivals include: Telluride 2012, Toronto 2012, New York 2012
$134,000 in 4 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $33,500
This is the best limited opening since the star-power enhanced and much higher-budgeted "Place Beyond the Pines" in late March. The opening positions "Frances Ha" as a significant specialized film going into the summer. Noah Baumbach's black-and-white comedy/drama co-written with and starring Greta Gerwig benefited from strong reviews (including all-out raves from the New York and Los Angeles Times) and in-person appearances by its director and stars (who split the coasts) to achieve a much better gross than most youth-oriented comedies of late.
Gerwig herself starred in two of them last summer -- "Lola Versus" and "Damsels in Distress" -- both of which had PSAs of half or less than this. "Ruby Sparks" was also much weaker, while "Celeste and Jesse Forever" is the closest recent example of the genre (ending up at $3 million). All of these tried to duplicate the big crossover success of "(500) Days of Summer" which Fox Searchlight turned into a $32 million hit in 2009. Similar to HBO's hit series "Girls" in its New York City setting and the age of its heroine (as well as the star's involvement in the writing), if "Frances Ha" ignites similar audience enthusiasm as it enjoyed at festival screenings, it could turn into a strong core arthouse film with broader potential, despite its black-and-white format.
Curiously, this opening (in PSA) is slightly below Baumbach's last three openings ("Greenberg," "Margot at the Wedding," and "The Squid and the Whale"), the last of which reached the highest total gross ($7 million). Those films were helped by either late-year awards expectations and/or bigger leads to make them initially stronger. But this comes at a time when specialized limited films have been opening at lower levels recently, so in context this remains a positive initial result.
What comes next: IFC frequently pushes video on demand for its films, but not in this case as they pursue a normal theatrical run. Twenty new markets will open next weekend, showing confidence that this should show quick immediate success elsewhere. With the acclaim so far for the film, if this indeed achieves traction over the summer, awards consideration for both Gerwig's performance and the script are real possibilities.
"Becoming Traviata" (Distrib) - Criticwire grade: B+; Metacritic score: 70; Festivals include: New York 2013
$5,040 in 1 theaters; PSA: $5,040
Opening at New York's Film Forum, home for many of the top-grossing documentaries, this is a modest showing for this niche audience (opera lovers) as it shows a production of Verdi's classic being staged in France with renowned soprano Natalie Dessay . This opened on Wednesday, pushing its gross to around $6,300.
What comes next: Opera fans, often with fewer options to choose from, abound around the country, which means this should find plenty of bookings elsewhere, starting with the Los Angeles area next Friday and expanding elsewhere over the next few weeks.