Two Australian films are sparking very different reactions at US cinemas.
2 Apr 2013 - 3:40 PM  UPDATED 2 Apr 2013 - 3:40 PM

American audiences aren't crazy about Mental but The Sapphires posted reasonably strong openings in five cities last weekend after launching in Los Angeles and New York a week earlier.

P.J. Hogan's semi-autobiographical comedy premiered at two cinemas in New York, two in Los Angeles and on single screens in San Francisco, San Diego, Chicago, Phoenix, Portland, Jacksonville, Hartford and Richmond.

On the same day (March 29), the film starring Toni Collette, Anthony LaPaglia and Liev Schreiber launched on Video-On-Demand platforms.

The total gross on those 12 screens amounted to $US9,804. The most respectable results were $1,747 at the Sundance Sunset Cinema in LA and $1,246 at the Chelsea in Gotham. At all other locations the per-screen tally was under $1,000.

Zucker Productions vice president Sean Gesell, a co-producer on the film, tells SBS Film that the US distributor, Dada Films, acknowledged the box office figures were “pretty lacklustre”. But he said the distributor noted the film had received wide exposure through interviews and reviews, particularly positive reviews from People and Entertainment Weekly, which “should hopefully positively impact the VOD sales”.

Most critics, however, gave thumbs-down. The New York Times' Stephen Holden panned the film as a “hectic, hyperkinetic farce” that “loses its tenuous cohesion and turns into a frantic, flailing mess”.

The Los Angeles Times' Gary Goldstein was similarly harsh, singling out Collette who “rips into her woolly role as if channelling a leftover personality from her United States of Tara days. She's game but exhausting. Just like Mental.”

Village Voice's Marsha McCreadie was a bit kinder, declaring the film “skewers the easy-on and -off labels of psychiatry, but some sequences, particularly one of 'bad dreams,' are sophomoric”.

McCreadie added, “The movie's real mess-up was to move [Collette's] Shaz into melodrama at the movie's end. Upenders look ridiculous when they get sappy.”

The reviews have been far more effusive for The Sapphires, which the Weinstein Co. launched in San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and Washington D.C after it platformed the previous weekend in two screens apiece in LA and New York.

Wayne Blair's musical comedy-drama rang up $71,629 on a total of 12 screens, for a solid per screen average of $5,969, which brings the cumulative earnings to $126,218. The producers say word-of-mouth is very positive, an encouraging sign as the film is due to expand to more cities on April 5.