We know: “Hangover 2” and “Kung Fu Panda 2” inhaled more than 7,500 screens this weekend and created the biggest Memorial Day box office in history. That said, the indies have already seen some drama of their own with three movies that have exceeded our expectations (and not always in a good way). [For the full breakdown of our most-anticipated indie films this summer, click here.]
The Tree of Life (May 27; Fox Searchlight)
What We Said: “Terrence Malick’s latest – which has probably been on a half dozen indieWIRE previews before getting delayed over and over – is 99.9% actually coming out this May. Starring Brad Pitt, Sean Penn and having something to do with dinosaurs, the cosmos and the meaning of life (all against the backdrop of a 1950s family drama), the film is debuting in Cannes and then heading to theaters shortly thereafter.”
What We Saw: A beautiful and not occasionally baffling visual poem on the price of growing up. With dinosaurs. Says Eric Kohn: “’Tree of Life’ is not an enigma that begs to be solved. In fact, Malick defies the need for any explanations early on: In a passing conversation, Pitt tells his son the meaning of the word “subjectivity,” which may also constitute Malick’s address to the audience. It’s as though he were saying: Make of this what you will. Or don’t.” Cannes did make something of it, honoring the film with the Palme D’Or.
What the Box Office Saw: Given its opening weekend performance, it’s scored a direct hit on its target audience.The film has seen Fox Searchlight’s best-ever limited debut, better than even “Black Swan.” Now, if only they can take it across the same $100 million goal line.
Midnight in Paris (May 20; Sony Pictures Classics)
What We Said:“Woody Allen’s 41st annual feature film hits theaters shortly after it opened the Cannes Film Festival. With an all-star cast including Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Owen Wilson, Michael Sheen, Adrien Brody, Kathy Bates and French first lady Carla Bruni, Allen takes on Paris for the first time. Details on the plot are minimal, but we do know it involves ‘a young engaged couple forced to confront the illusion that a life different from their own is better.’ “
What We Saw: A sweet fantasy in which a struggling writer (Wilson) gets to fulfill his dream of living amongst his heroes. (That’s the good part; the not so good includes the shrill ugly american in-laws-to-be and an even shriller Rachel McAdams.) Says Eric Kohn: “Gil represents the proverbial Woody Allen character in quite literal and somewhat lazy fashion, as Allen described an imaginary encounter between himself, Hemingway and Stein years ago in his short story ‘A Twenties Memory.’ Although flimsily conceived, these scenes are sustained by the casual likability that Wilson brings to the lead role—no small feat for the challenge of embodying a prototypical Allen nebbish.”
What the Box Office Saw: A bona fide hit for Woody Allen. In its first 10 days of release, it’s already earned $3.5 million.
The Beaver (May 6; Summit Entertainment)
What We Said: “PR nightmare Mel Gibson made an attempt at career damage control in Jodie Foster’s long-awaited third directorial effort. Gibson stars as a clinically depressed toy company CEO who finds solace through a beaver hand puppet that he begins to use to communicate to his estranged wife (played by Foster). The screenplay – written by Kyle Killen – topped the 2008 “Blacklist,” which ranked among the year’s best unproduced screenplays.”
What We Saw: A very good, if not affecting, performance by Gibson in a movie that felt surprisingly wan. Says Eric Kohn: “ ‘The Beaver’ is a tame, leisurely drama that neither provides the beleaguered actor with decisive comeback material nor further muddies his tarnished image.”
What the Box Office Saw: Tumbleweeds. After nearly a month in release, the film has earned less than $800,000.