As the series finale of Breaking Bad nears, and with Walter White set to confront Todd, Uncle Jack, and (potentially) rescue Jesse Pinkman, Americans may pass the time this Friday by heading to the multiplex. Opening, and expected to take the weekend with ease, is Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, though it’s unlikely that members of #teamwalt will be interested in that, unless they have kids of their own (“a scary thought”). No, they’ll most likely see one of the other three primary offerings, all with hyper-masculine protagonists. There’s Rush, director Ron Howard’s racing period piece. If not that, perhaps Don Jon, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut about a guy from Joisey with a porn addiction. If neither of those strike a chord, there’s always the macho spectacle of Metallica: Through the Never, which bumps Dorothy and Toto from IMAX theaters on Friday.
In addition to these films about racing, porn, and heavy metal, we have college football and NFL to tide us over. Well, perhaps as Michel Gondry reminded us earlier this year, audiences should step back momentarily and separate the “I” from the “we,” and proceed with a bit more caution. The last film from 2013 released into more than 2,000 theaters on opening weekend to star a woman was We’re the Millers, which opened in the first week of August and became the surprise hit of the month and, arguably, the entire summer. Before that, The Heat beat White House Down and has since grossed $159 million, making it the highest-grossing live-action comedy of the year. And prior to that, it was Temptation, which “surprised” pundits with a $21.5 million opening from just 2,047 theaters, despite a 16% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Now, before someone exclaims, “But see, there are successful female-lead films in the marketplace,” let’s remember that hegemony operates with a certain degree of compromise—that is, some of the alternative offerings sneak in and, even, become successful, to assuage feelings of absolute oppression. It’s not enough to point to The Heat as a success story and be done with the matter—and September’s slate reflects that, with its dearth of female-headlining films. Clearly, the time has come to stop being surprised when female-driven films break out, since the numbers are speaking loudly and clearly that moviegoers want more of them. Rather, it’s time to be less surprised when Oblivion, Elysium, and Riddick all “underperform”; no wonder, given each of them essentially offer the same A-list actor in a high-concept sci-fi actioner premise.
Even less surprising is that Baggage Claim, the other(ed) wide release this week, will likely be marginalized because of these “higher profile,” male-driven openers. A quick glance at Rotten Tomatoes reflects this probable outcome, as Rush, Don Jon, and Metallica: Through the Never all have positive ratings hovering in the 80-90% range, while Baggage Claim is 17% positive with only six reviews (as of Wednesday morning). The problem isn’t contingent on Baggage Claim’s critical reception, per se, but that either studios marginalize their own films with shoddy marketing and limited press screenings or many critics are too quick to review a film within the grip of the hype machine—as if it existed in a vacuum—rather than taking a more distanced, reflective stance of filmmaking/releasing trends.
To return to Breaking Bad: Much digital ink has been spilled over whether or not Skyler White is given agency and exists as more than a spoilsport for Walt throughout the show’s five seasons. The A.V. Club’s Stephen Bowen considered such an “argument,” and the evidence is both convincing and troubling. As the final episode arrives, Skyler and Marie have been relegated to the edges of the narrative; the time has come for the (white) men to handle their business. The same is set to happen at the box office this weekend. And yet, there’s a slight wrench here. Last weekend, Enough Said had such a strong showing in four theaters (besting even Rush in five theaters), that Fox Searchlight has decided to give it a much expanded release this weekend. Though it’s written and directed by Nicole Holofcener and stars the Emmy-winning Julia Louis-Dreyfus, the press and buzz has been for the late James Gandolfini. The irony should not be lost on us; the dawn of the “New Golden Age of Television” began with Gandolfini’s role in The Sopranos as a conflicted, violent man striving to manage his life of crime and family. As TV’s haute couture show is about to come full circle on Sunday, so too does the icy-cold hand of hegemony present us with an unfortunate coup de grace.
Box Office Weekend Predictions
1. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2: $35.8 NEW
2. Prisoners: $12.5 -40%
3. Rush: $10.3 +5399%
4. Don Jon: $8.2 NEW
5. Baggage Claim: $7.8 NEW
6. Insidious: Chapter 2: $6.5 -53%
7. Instructions Not Included: $4 -25%
8. We’re the Millers: $3.3 -28%
9. Lee Daniels’ The Butler: $2.8 -32%
10. Enough Said: $2.5 +974%