Once or twice a year, some pundit declares the movie star is dead, usually based on the flimsiest of evidence.
The US flop Larry Crowne, despite the pairing of Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts, has prompted the latest premature obituary.
“Oops, here we go again,” Variety's Peter Bart opined in an article in the Wall Street Journal. “Star-driven movies seem to be an extinct species as young audiences world-wide obsess over big-concept action movies and digital extravaganzas.
“To studio hierarchs, the lesson is that the moment belongs to the Big Idea rather than the Big Star. I would argue that the talent is at hand but the studios don't know how to nurture what was once their most valuable resource.”
With due respect to Bart, who was my boss for 18 years until a parting that wasn't amicable, that argument is bunkum. Audiences are as keen as ever to see their favourite stars - Clooney, Pitt, Damon, Diaz, Bullock, Smith, Hanks, Roberts, to name a few - when they're in an entertaining movie. That's the way it's been for more than a century.
When people get the sense that a movie's subject or tone isn't relatable, they stay away, as was the case apparently with Larry Crowne, in which Hanks (who also writes and directs) plays a nice guy who gets fired from a Wal Mart-type company and enrols at a community college, where he meets Roberts' jaded teacher, who's got a deadbeat marriage and a drinking problem.
Like Bart, Moviefone's Gary Susman made a rash and simplistic judgment when he said, “As a marketing tool, stars are a relic.” But Susman is on surer ground when he observed, “Sure, it helps to have talented performers like Hanks and Roberts if you're going to tell a complicated story about the inner lives of two middle-aged people rebooting their lives. But who wants to see glamorous Hollywood icons doing that?”
Despite the US results, Australian distributor Pinnacle Films, which pre-bought Oz rights from international sales agent Summit at last year's American Film Market, hasn't lost faith and plans to launch the film on more than 200 screens on July 21.
“We always thought the film would appeal to older females,” Pinnacle's Richard Sheffield told SBS. “With the help of the major cinema chains we're doing a lot of paid previews. The best advertisement is the film itself. It's a nice film and it delivers.”
Gold Coast-based computer game wholesale distributor All Interactive Distribution launched Pinnacle Films last August. Sheffield aims to release 6-8 titles theatrically each year.
It had disappointing results with Australian titles The Reef and Cane Toads: The Conquest 3D, although Sheffield says the former performed strongly on DVD.
Among upcoming Pinnacle releases are Drive, which stars Ryan Gosling as a Hollywood stuntman/getaway driver, and Carey Mulligan; Spud, a South African coming-of-age saga set in 1990, with a cast headed by John Cleese and Aussie lad Troye Sivan; and Australian director Rolf de Heer's The King is Dead!, a dark comedy about neighbours, ice and baseball bats.