Thanks goodness Fox Searchlight didn’t decide to go with “The Bayou.”
Specialty houses have been on a bit of a bender this year with renaming festival films for theatrical release. The latest is Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions’ decision, announced Thursday, to turn the Kristen Wiig-Annette Bening Toronto film festival comedy “Imogene” (directed by "American Splendor" filmmakers Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman) into the eminently bland, rom-com-sounding “Girl Most Likely” for its July 19, 2013 opening.
A few 2012 Sundance selections have been released this year with blander titles, too, including Ben Lewin’s “The Surrogate,” which Searchlight redubbed “The Sessions” (snore…) for its fall release, and Phil Dorling and Ron Nyswaner’s “Predisposed,” which IFC Films opened over the summer as “Why Stop Now.” (Actually, “Predisposed” was clunky, too.) In the midst of this fever for trying to broaden these indie films’ potential audiences, it really is a miracle that Benh Zeitlin’s Sundance grand jury prize-winning “Beasts of the Southern Wild” has retained its wondrous title.
Does Lionsgate really think it’ll be able to market “Girl Most Likely” to the same audiences that pay money to see “Failure to Launch” and “Along Came Polly?” Well, obviously it does. But “Bridesmaids” it is not, or "Imogene" wouldn’t have been in that festival slot to begin with.
So when did the indie-film world decide to latch on to one of the major studios’ most dubious habits? Isn’t the whole point of having a festival world that showcases original voices to provide hungry audiences with the odd, the provocative and the unexpected? Would “Reservoir Dogs” ring in the ears (let alone the guts) if it were called “The Heist?” What about renaming Cassevetes’ “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie” something like “The Debt?” Would we all still be talking about “sex lies and videotape” if Soderbergh hadn’t gone for the mystery (and the libido) with his title?
Remakes have become another creeping indie-film sin. The 2013 Sundance program includes a few (David Gordon Green’s Premieres comedy “Prince Avalanche” and Jim Mickle’s Park City at Midnight entry “We Are What We Are” come to mind). But can’t we leave the retreads to Warner Bros. and Paramount? Who wouldn’t rather stumble on the surprise of a “Beasts” or “Like Crazy” instead? Did the Coen Bros. really need to remake “True Grit” when they could have made something like “Fargo,” “Miller’s Crossing” or “Raising Arizona?” Granted, both Green's and Mickle's new movies could be wonderful, but it's their original storytelling that made us want to pay attention in the first place.
Filmmakers certainly have the right to explore whatever they wish, and some fantastic cinema has come from a new take on old material. But Sundance programmers should have a serious conversation about whether remaking someone else’s material is a disqualification for the spotlight that the festival is purportedly designed to shine on new worlds, new voices, new approaches and, yes, new content.
What do you think?