The third movie of 2016 to feature a giant holding a child in its hand, “A Monster Calls” has been screening in New York and L.A. in advance of fall festival play—it debuts September 10 as a Toronto Film Festival Gala. And it’s screening well; media is buzzing that Spanish Guillermo del Toro protégé J.A. Bayona’s follow-up to “The Impossible” is a strong potential awards candidate.
And I agree. Based on the 2011 British fantasy novel by Patrick Ness, the four-hankie movie stars “The Theory of Everything” Oscar nominee Felicity Jones as a single mother fighting cancer while trying to keep her bright 12-year-old son Conor (Lewis MacDougall) from falling apart. He’s being bullied at school, and doesn’t get along with her mother (Sigourney Weaver), who is a tough-as-nails control freak. He adores his father (Toby Kebbell), but he has moved to Los Angeles with his new family.
So Conor retreats into his imagination. Or does he? At any rate, a giant yew tree comes alive as a charismatic and ancient (CG) monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) who visits Conor at 12:07 AM every night (like a ghost from Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”) to help him deal with his conflicting emotions by telling him instructive (animated) stories.
So Focus Features is making a bold move. They are pushing back “A Monster Calls” from October 21 to a limited December 23 release. That’s at the height of the holiday season, when this family-friendly tearjerker—think a mix of Oscar-winner “Room” and “Pete’s Dragon” or “The BFG”—could have maximum awards impact, and then go wide on January 6.
And they’re not waiting to see how the movie plays in Toronto. The risk when you open in October is that you have to hang in theaters a lot longer, and at greater expense, waiting for the media attention that the award season brings.
“We’re quite bullish on the film given both tastemaker and press reactions at some of our early screenings,” distribution chief Jim Orr told me in an email. “A holiday launch gives us a rich box office runway and more time to galvanize word of mouth. Bayona has created something quite original that we’re confident audiences will find special and really embrace.”
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