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Arthouse Audit: ‘Frances Ha’ Debuts Strong With Sold Out Shows in NY and LA

Arthouse Audit: 'Frances Ha' Debuts Strong With Sold Out Shows in NY and LA

After a weak spring dominated by three indie hits that went wide quickly, “Frances Ha” stands out a potential arthouse success. This film could stay in limited release for a while, unlike quick-breaking multiplex players “The Place Beyond the Pines,” “Mud” and “Spring Breakers,” which will all likely pass the $15-million mark. Coming on the heels of decent starts for “Stories We Tell” last week in New York, and “What Maisie Knew,” and ahead of the anticipated big performance for “Before Midnight” opening next Friday, specialized numbers look to improve to decent levels–even if so far nothing has risen to the levels of last May’s major successes “Moonrise Kingdom” and “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.”

Three films for significant distributors failed to report numbers, including Weinstein (its VOD offshoot Radius opened “Erased” with Aaron Eckhart), LD’s 2012 Sundance genre entry “Black Rock” (also VOD), and most significantly Music Box’s “Augustine,” which received both favorable reviews and significant theater placement in New York and Los Angeles, suggesting it didn’t perform up to expectations, particularly after showings in the Rendezvous With French Cinema and City of Angels/City of Lights festivals in those cities.


“Frances Ha” (IFC) – Criticwire grade: B+; Metacritic score: 81; Festivals include: Telluride 2012, Toronto 2012, New York 2012

$134,000 in 4 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $33,500

This is the best limited opening since the star-power enhanced and much higher-budgeted “Place Beyond the Pines” in late March. The opening positions “Frances Ha” as a significant specialized film going into the summer. Noah Baumbach’s black-and-white comedy/drama co-written with and starring Greta Gerwig benefited from strong reviews (including all-out raves from the New York and Los Angeles Times) and in-person appearances by its director and stars (who split the coasts) to achieve a much better gross than most youth-oriented comedies of late.

Gerwig herself starred in two of them last summer — “Lola Versus” and “Damsels in Distress” — both of which had PSAs of half or less than this. “Ruby Sparks” was also much weaker, while “Celeste and Jesse Forever” is the closest recent example of the genre (ending up at $3 million). All of these tried to duplicate the big crossover success of “(500) Days of Summer” which Fox Searchlight turned into a $32 million hit in 2009. Similar to HBO’s hit series “Girls” in its New York City setting and the age of its heroine (as well as the star’s involvement in the writing), if “Frances Ha” ignites similar audience enthusiasm as it enjoyed at festival screenings, it could turn into a strong core arthouse film with broader potential, despite its black-and-white format.

Curiously, this opening (in PSA) is slightly below Baumbach’s last three openings (“Greenberg,” “Margot at the Wedding,” and “The Squid and the Whale”), the last of which reached the highest total gross ($7 million). Those films were helped by either late-year awards expectations and/or bigger leads to make them initially stronger. But this comes at a time when specialized limited films have been opening at lower levels recently, so in context this remains a positive initial result.

What comes next: IFC frequently pushes video on demand for its films, but not in this case as they pursue a normal theatrical run. Twenty new markets will open next weekend, showing confidence that this should show quick immediate success elsewhere. With the acclaim so far for the film, if this indeed achieves traction over the summer, awards consideration for both Gerwig’s performance and the script are real possibilities.

“Becoming Traviata” (Distrib) – Criticwire grade: B+; Metacritic score: 70; Festivals include: New York 2013

$5,040 in 1 theaters; PSA: $5,040

Opening at New York’s Film Forum, home for many of the top-grossing documentaries, this is a modest showing for this niche audience (opera lovers) as it shows a production of Verdi’s classic being staged in France with renowned soprano Natalie Dessay . This opened on Wednesday, pushing its gross to around $6,300.

What comes next: Opera fans, often with fewer options to choose from, abound around the country, which means this should find plenty of bookings elsewhere, starting with the Los Angeles area next Friday and expanding elsewhere over the next few weeks.

“The English Teacher” (Cinedigm) – Criticwire grade: C+; Metacritic score: 40; Festivals include: Tribeca 2013; also available on Video on Demand

$6,000 in 2 theaters; PSA: $3,000

Julianne Moore has been one of the most reliable indie world actresses for many years (as well as some wider studio film success as well). So it is disconcerting to see her be the lead in a film (supported by Greg Kinnear and Nathan Lane) that goes straight to VOD after its festival premiere, and open only in two Los Angelese theaters (New York is scheduled for next Friday) to this level of gross. In any event this had scant success and looks to have little theatrical life after getting little critical support elsewhere, unlike Moore’s other recent release “What Maisie Knew.”

What comes next: Its exposure will be primarily VOD.

“Pieta” (Drafthouse) – Criticwire grade: B; Metacritic score: 73; Festivals include: Venice 2012, Toronto 2012, Portland 2013; also available on Video on Demand

$6,228 in 12 theaters; PSA: $519

Kim Ki-duk has been one of the most successful South Korean directors in the U.S. art market, with his “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring” taking in over $2 million a decade back. “Pieta” was regarded as his comeback after a series of lesser films, but this Seoul-based story about a petty gangster with an insurance/money lending scam disrupted when his long-lost mother shows up isn’t a return to form with weak initial theatrical grosses parallel to home availability.

What comes next: Little further theatrical play.


“Stories We Tell” (Roadside Attractions) – Week 2

$137,000 in 23 theaters (+21); PSA: $5,957; Cumulative: $180,000

New openings (including Los Angeles this week) and equally good reviews (the already high Metacritic score grew a notch to 93) propelled Sarah Polley’s very personal documentary to a higher PSA (which is good overall, not great) than that of the initial expansion of the not dissimilar doc hit “Searching for Sugar Man” last year at fewer theaters. It is a third better than what “Sugar Man” achieved its fourth weekend (at 27 theaters, roughly the same), which went on to a strong $3.7 million gross.

Roadside decided to move this out more quickly than did Sony Classics with their film, which had a slower start. But with “Frances Ha” moving out quickly and “Before Midnight” next week, and with a film that likely gets strong audience reaction, pushing this out so enough people see it early on is likely the right approach, even if the individual theater grosses aren’t at the high end initially. This is a film that should grow over time, and this is likely only the start of a successful run.

What comes next: This should be a slow-play, core theater concentrated film for the time being (as opposed to Roadside’s initial wider rollout of the successful “Mud,” which was centered by a big star), but it does have potential to reach the level “Sugar Man” did as the summer develops.

“What Maisie Knew” (Millennium) – Week 3

$34,000 in 4 theaters; PSA: $8,500; Cumulative: $104,000

Another film that had an atypically late Los Angeles opening, but it repeated (as an exclusive at the Landmark) the initially good response that New York had two weeks ago, backed again by strong local reviews.

What comes next: The jury is still out for this until more cities open, but at this point it appears to be a viable player for at least modest returns in the usual theaters.

Among other third week films, Sony Pictures Classics’ “Love Is All You Need” jumped to 22 theaters (+10) for a modest $3,300 PSA (about 60% as good as “Stories We Tell” in a similar playoff). Weinstein’s “Kon-Tiki” is rapidly expanding, now at 61 theaters for an also modest $2,500 PSA, total of $415,000 so far. Millennium’s “The Iceman” is adding most quickly, grossing $452,000 in 165 theaters, now at $752,000 total.

Among longer run films, Cohen Media’s “In the House” (from Francois Ozon, whose “Young and Beautiful” is competing at Cannes) has passed the $300,000 mark, currently though already at 36 theaters. Goldwyn’s much more successful “Renoir” is now just short of $2 million, similar to Weinstein’s “The Sapphires” (which has played longer and somewhat wider and with much more advertising support.)

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