Something went terribly wrong with Tamara Drewe, an entertaining romantic comedy that played well at Cannes from one of the great Brit directors, Stephen Frears, starring hottie-on-the-rise Gemma Arterton. Sony Pictures Classics opened it last weekend to disastrous business: $19,300 on four screens, a $4,825 per-screen average. Here’s why.
1. The movie boasted no stars. Art-house moviegoers don’t know statuesque Brit beauty Gemma Arterton, who thus far has supplied big-studio eye candy as a Bond girl, a strange Greek goddess in Clash of the Titans and Jake Gyllenhaal’s love interest in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Arterton is so busy that she didn’t go to Cannes to promote Tamara Drewe, walk the red carpet or fan her own flame; when she came to America briefly to support the film, the nightly talk shows wouldn’t have her. Frears made a huge error not casting ANYONE recognizable to lure moviegoers. Dominic Cooper pops in a small, sexy role. Three parts call out for more familiar players than Roger Allam, Tamsin Greig and American theater actor Bill Camp, who is capable but uninspired and could easily have been played by someone more familiar and endearing like Philip Seymour Hoffman.
2. Stephen Frears is out of his zone. Smart-house crowds know what they want from the director: smart, sophisticated dramas like The Deal, The Queen, High Fidelity and Dirty Pretty Things. This movie, adapted from a Posy Simmonds’ graphic novel take-off on Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd, is a light, romantic, fluffy and bucolic romp of an escapist comedy: far too twee for American audiences. Cheri also indicated a loss of directorial perspective for Frears; the movie starred a jarring mix of Brits and Americans in a French setting that never rang true. (For the record, I thoroughly enjoyed Tamara Drewe, and Luke Evans is a discovery–my Cannes flip-cam interview is below.)
3. Dismissive reviews from the LA and NY Times. While the reviews are generally favorable, key critics in the big New York and L.A. markets killed the film there, says SPC’s Tom Bernard. The NYT’s A.O. Scott wrote: “…there is something shallow and cautious about this film, which strains to maintain a glib, cheery demeanor…”
And the LAT’s Robert Abele: “For all its larkish jabs at the emotionally destructive impulses of distracted bourgeois weekenders, the movie feels like something dabbled in, as opposed to thought through.” These days, adult quality films are like delicate flowers, easily crushed.
4. Drewe’s free-wheeling sexuality. I can’t help but wonder if Arterton’s Drewe doesn’t make audiences a tad uncomfortable. While she’s a great-looking girl, Drewe is a heartless careerist who thoughtlessly screws whoever she pleases (including a married man), and isn’t very nice, really. Just a thought.
Here’s Luke Evans at Cannes:
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Here’s the trailer: