Second life

Posted by · 4:51 am · August 16th, 2009

Seth Rogen in Funny PeopleOn Friday, John Foote raised the question of which recent films look likely to endure through the coming decades, despite, in many cases, having under-performed on initial release. You responded in your droves.

Interestingly enough, Joe Queenan recently addressed a similar issue in a very good essay for The Guardian, contemplating the odd phenomena that lead certain films to largely escape the notice of critics and audiences in theaters, but then go on to gain cult status on DVD (or, back in the day, home video).

Films he cites as key examples include “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” “The Big Lebowski” (which many seem to have forgotten was dismissed by many as a misfire following the crossover success of “Fargo”) and “Office Space” (which barely made it to theaters at all), as well as far older titles that slow-burned their way to classic status, such as “The Wizard of Oz” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

When it comes to predicting a similar path for current films, he dismisses naming broadly acclaimed specialty titles with moderate box-office (“The Wrestler,” “The Hurt Locker”) as too easy, too prestigious.

(I agree: if either of those films are still talked about in 20 years time — and I suspect at least one of them will be — no one could exactly say they were initially dismissed. Critical consensus trumps Oscar endorsement as a factor in this particular game.)

Rather, Queenan looks to two mainstream comedy titles bruised by critics and the public alike — though one arrived with considerably loftier expectations than the other. His advocation for the rehabilitation of maligned February release “Confessions of a Shopaholic” is more tongue-in-cheek, though he makes a convincing argument for the external economic factors that led to its failure.

However, his sincerest defense is reserved for “Funny People,” which may have more critical champions than a “Shopaholic,” but is nonetheless destined to go down as one of the summer’s biggest under-achievers. Suggesting that the film’s disastrous commercial performance stems from a combination of its own ungainliness and some very poor marketing (which I discussed recently), he thinks (and hopes) it might grow on the public via the small screen:

Moviegoers and critics alike are forever blasting Hollywood for playing it safe and refusing to do anything unconventional, yet here is an unconventional film, a film that uses the most famous young comedy stars in America to attack precisely the types of films and sneering attitudes that made all of them – including Apatow himself – famous.

Yes, it is too long, but Funny People is nonetheless the most interesting big-budget film to come out of Hollywood this year, and it certainly deserves a wider audience. It will probably have to wait until it comes out in DVD to find that audience, when the public comes to its senses. As for the public, if it keeps turning out in droves on opening weekend for films such as GI Joe and Watchmen, it doesn’t deserve to have any good films.

Having recently seen “Funny People” for myself, I can’t say I agree. Sometimes a film flops because the studio underestimates the public’s discernment and overestimates the film’s lovability — or, to put it more plainly, because the film isn’t very good. (And before anyone throws up the kneejerk “But ‘Transformers’ was a hit despite sucking” response, we’re talking different markets with very different demands.) If I were to pick the summer title with the best chance of improving its standing further down the road, it’d be “Public Enemies” — but I wouldn’t bet the house on it.

Still, an interesting argument and a good read. More here.

→ 16 Comments Tags: , , , , | Filed in: Daily

16 responses so far

  • 1 8-16-2009 at 7:39 am

    geha714 said...

    “Office Space” is the perfect example of the making of a cult classic. The movie barely made it to theaters and it was obvious than Fox wanted to get rid of it quickly (They didn’t know how to sell it is probably a reason).

    Still, when the DVD came out, the movie slowly gained its audience. Now compare the lasting effect of “Office Space” with other Fox releases.

    A more extreme case was another Mike Judge comedy: “Idiocracy” was dumped only to Austin, TX theaters on Labour Day weekend and no ad campaign at all (Not even a trailer). Still, the movie was discovered by audiences when it came up on DVD and later on cable TV. Now “Idiocracy” references are all around on the web, from politics to the state of Hollywood.

    Comin’ up next on The Violence Channel: An all-new “Ow, My Balls!”

  • 2 8-16-2009 at 7:56 am

    cinebrooding said...

    I love Idiocracy.

    Anyway…I think Funny People, once on dvd, will probably do just as well as 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up. The movies aren’t similar, but the comedy mostly is, and I think people care less about movie length when they’re at home. And Funny People is definitely funny.

    If it gets cult status, I feel like it will be as one of the Apatow films, not as its own unique cult..thing.

  • 3 8-16-2009 at 8:39 am

    Michael C. said...

    Not Public Enemies. I think that will probably fade as time goes on. Not fade as badly as, say, Miami Vice, but still, I saw it recently and very little of it stands out in my memory. Besides, Enemies isn’t a film that was sunk by its low profile release. Lots of people gave it a chance, and it was declared merely good. I think that’s the whole story on that one.

    No, the recent title that will improve its standing over the years, the one where you will have to remind people that despite being beloved now it flopped on initial release, is Adventureland.

  • 4 8-16-2009 at 8:47 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Did “Miami Vice” have much colour to fade from, as it were? I remember thinking it was dire at the time (I still do), and most people agreeing with me. Now I’m actually encountering more and more champions … not enough to rehabilitate the film’s reputation entirely, but more than I ever thought there would be.

  • 5 8-16-2009 at 9:19 am

    Michael C. said...

    Really? That’s funny. I brought up Miami Vice with friends the other day and everyone had forgotten it ever came out.

    But, yeah, I agree Miami Vice really didn’t have too far to fall. My point was, unlike the other films mentioned, Public Enemies had ample opportunity to be evaluated by the public unlike Lebowski, or Office Space (or Adventureland) which sank before most people were aware they existed .

  • 6 8-16-2009 at 9:52 am

    Frank Lee said...

    It’s very hard to predict the winners in this kind of lottery. I remember being blown away by “Blade Runner” when it was first released, as were all of my friends, so that would have been an easy one to pick. But Brian DePalma’s “Scarface” has reached an insane level of popularity on DVD, and I don’t know too many people who would have seen that coming. Janeane Garofalo makes an interesting comment on a “Reality Bites” DVD featurette, something to the effect that people really take to that movie, still, because it triggers a bit of nostaligia, even among people only in their late 20s, for a time (early 20s) when you have little responsibility and it’s awesome to hang out with your friends and have the cool boyfriend who plays in a rock band. Bret Easton Ellis’s novel “Less Than Zero” benefits in the same way: the characters get to have sex and drive expensive cars like adults, but they don’t have any adult responsibilities. I’m not saying all resurrected films will have that same type of appeal. Obviously, “Blade Runner” doesn’t. I’m merely suggesting that it is often something emotional and unpredictable that can build the movie’s appeal over time. Looking for great innovation or stylistic mastery may not be the most foolproof way to predict these winners. Martin Scorsese is technically a very skilled director, but I expect that the appeal of most of his movies since “Goodfellas” will fade badly and quickly, if they haven’t done so already. Yet a campy movie like Brian DePalma’s “Femme Fatale” — with its completely illogical and gimmicky plot — just might gain a following, which it already has to some degree among gay men.

  • 7 8-16-2009 at 10:02 am

    Danny said...

    I wouldn’t say Watchmen is on the same level as G.I. Joe. Much higher caliber of filmmaking.

  • 8 8-16-2009 at 10:57 am

    Chase Kahn said...

    “Public Enemies” is an amazing film. Sure it was given a wide release and a lot of hype, but in this case it hurt the product. It’s not a summer movie by any means, it’s very restrained and an exercise of style and tone — an art film.

    “Lots of people gave [Public Enemies] a chance, and it was declared merely good”

    Sure, overall, but don’t forget that critics like Turan, Dargis and Foundas all loved it. Plus, judging by sites like the Auteurs, it’s already becoming somewhat of a cult classic — i.e. people discussing it in a meticulous fashion.

  • 9 8-16-2009 at 12:21 pm

    Zach said...

    Is that shot at Watchmen putting it in the same light as G.I. Joe for real? I mean, damn. That’s rather asinine, to the point where it just about completely invalidated the rest of the article.

  • 10 8-16-2009 at 1:40 pm

    RC of strangeculture said...

    I’m glad you published this — when people were rattling off “future classics” i thought a lot of people were crazy with their critically loved status.

    I think it’s the underestimated romantic-comedies with the actors that people love that will be watched and endeered years to come. People may not know Marisa Tomei 60 years from now, but I have this feeling they’ll know Meg Ryan & Sandra Bullock.

  • 11 8-16-2009 at 2:07 pm

    Bill said...

    I expect that a couple decades from now “Funny People” will be regarded as an odd, curious entry in what will be the legendary filmography of Judd Apatow.

  • 12 8-16-2009 at 3:17 pm

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    I still need to see Funny People a second time because after the first time I was one of its biggest champions. I believed it was a truly brilliant film.

  • 13 8-16-2009 at 3:37 pm

    Zach said...

    Guy just pwned me with the utmost efficiency. Well played, sir.

  • 14 8-16-2009 at 4:44 pm

    Alex said...

    Why did Funny People cost $70 million?

  • 15 8-16-2009 at 8:46 pm

    Paul8148 said...

    I’m going to say that Anchorman is going to be remember as the best ferrell movie (well ferrell type of comedy) of all 30 to 40 years for now. It is the one that seems to hold up over time.