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Arthouse Audit: Sundance Hits ‘Austenland,’ ‘Ain’t Them Bodies Saints’ and ‘Cutie & the Boxer’ Open Soft

Arthouse Audit: Sundance Hits 'Austenland,' 'Ain't Them Bodies Saints' and 'Cutie & the Boxer' Open Soft

The ongoing success of several late-summer hits plus serious competition from “The Butler” this weekend contributed to disappointing results for three new entries. Over July and August, four Sundance 2013 releases opened strongly with two breakouts: “The Way, Way Back” and “Fruitvale Station.” But this weekend’s three acclaimed Sundance hits stumbled at the August box office. The combined grosses of “Austenland,” “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” and doc “Cutie and the Boxer” didn’t even add up to the opening of “The Spectacular Now,” and grossed only slightly better than last week’s “In a World.” This year the mid-August period isn’t ready to join an expanded prime summer calendar. 

Blue Jasmine” continues to impress and joins “The Way, Way Back” and “Fruitvale Station” as movies that will belong in the $20 million-plus grossers club.  


“Austenland” (Sony Pictures Classics) – Criticwire: C+; Metacritic: 47; Festivals include: Sundance 2013, Nantucket 2013, Traverse City 2013

$42,600 in 4 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $10,650

This was a rare comedy entry at Sundance’s American Narrative competition, where it was a crowd favorite and ended up as a worldwide acquisition for Sony Pictures for a reported $4 million, one of the bigger buys of the year. With SPC handling the U.S. release, grabbing the best theaters available in New York and Los Angeles and backing it with a creative and larger-than-usual marketing campaign aimed at young women, this looked headed for potential success. Critics weighed in with a consensus brutal response that looks like it undid much of the good will this contemporary Jane Austen-inspired romantic fantasy seemed to have going for it.

The reviews weren’t gender-driven. Per the top critics surveyed by Metacritic, reviews from women critics came in below those from males (out of 16 so far, they are split evenly, eight men, eight women). And while SPC normally attracts prominent coverage from top critics, neither of the top two New York Times critics reviewed it, and the Los Angeles Times ran a mixed review written by Chicago Tribune critic Michael Phillips (unusual since the film hasn’t even opened in Chicago yet). Negative reviews plus a rather unconventional escapist fantasy vacation in which women pay to role play with actors inhabiting Austen era characters seems to have made this a tougher than expected sell.

Directed by Jerusha Hess, the wife of “Napoleon Dynamite” director Jared Hess (she co-wrote that film), with “Twilight” novelist Stephanie Meyer as one of the producers, this romantic comedy stars Keri Russell (a hit in FX Russian spy series “The Americans”), who has been underused in films since her breakout performance in “Waitress” in 2005. “Dynamite,” which Fox Searchlight drove to an amazing $44 million gross in 2004, started out better with a $19,000 PSA in six theaters. That was one of the best ever multiples ever for a non-Oscar driven wider release of a limited film, so these initial grosses may not be the final word. This movie still could end up reaching a more appreciative audience, and the word of mouth from these initial dates could lead to a better sustained performance. But as of now, this ranks as a real disappointment.

What comes next: “Austenland” adds a handful of new limited runs next week, with more by Labor Day weekend, in line with SPC’s usual slow rollout strategy.

“Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” (IFC) – Criticwire: B+; Metacritic: 75; Festivals include: Sundance 2013, Cannes 2013, Seattle 2013, Los Angeles 2013

$28,800 in 3 theaters; PSA: $9,600

With strong reviews, good buzz out of Sundance (it was another Narrative competitor) and decent theater placement in New York and Los Angeles, along with an above-average cast with acclaimed younger actors Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara and Ben Foster, this could only muster up a modest gross in its initial dates. With an intriguing if unclear title for this contemporary Western-set crime drama (focusing more on family impact than actual crimes), IFC decided, like many other distributors this year, to open the film after already significant fest exposure without a Toronto-relaunch. The results are mixed, but the astute distributor has already set the film for Video on Demand release this Friday.

Director David Lowery’s earlier “St. Nick” had major festival play in 2009 before its minor theatrical release, and also co-edited Shane Carruth’s “Upstream Color” (another strong Sundance film). Irrespective of the performance for this, he looks to have a strong future, with a remake of Disney’s 1970s “Pete’s Dragon” a somewhat surprising project on his agenda.

What comes next: Along with the VOD (which will be elevated by the strong reviews), this is also set to open in 10 more cities on Friday.

“Cutie and the Boxer” (Radius/Weinstein) – Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 86; Festivals include: Sundance 2013, Tribeca 2013, San Francisco 2013

$21,093 in 3 theaters; PSA: $7,031

Winner of Best Director award for Documentary at Sundance 2013, this followed through as the best reviewed new film of the week (and one of the top of the year overall). This is another doc focusing on an artist, in this case, two Japanese-American Ushio Shinohara and his wife Noriko, with the latter surprisingly becoming the focus of the narrative. Not all of these have become major hits, but there has been a market in specialized theaters for these over the last couple years. This opening — at three solid or better New York and Los Angeles venues — isn’t particularly strong (expectations and marketing both were more limited than its two fellow Sundance openers this week), but if the normal pattern follows this should have a fairly wide playoff across the country to likely consistent results that could still make this a modest success. And down the line it could end up as an awards contender.

What comes next: Like another recent (and much bigger) Radius release, this is going solely theatrical, unlike most Radius VOD-tied in playoffs as they usually have.

“You’ll Will Be My Son” (Cohen) – Metacritic score: 65; Festivals include: Paris Cinema 2011

$15,500 in 1 theater; PSA: $15,500

Busy Cohen Media has been focusing primarily on French films — this is their fifth this year all told at a time when showcased foreign language films are becoming rarer — and this opening at New York’s ideal Paris Theater shows again that they have a knack for finding the right films for today’s small but intense audience. With not much festival presence and a lesser-known director (Gilles Legrand), this story about generational shift in a family vineyard, starring increasingly familiar veteran actor Niels Arestrup, had the best PSA of any opening this weekend (in only one theater!).

What comes next: As usual, Cohen will get this into as wide a national release as a French film can hope for these days.

Also opening:

Four other films reported sub-$5,000 PSAs this weekend. “Spark: A Burning Man Story” (Paladin/Film Buff), also on VOD, followed its South by Southwest documentary win with $9,100 in two New York/Los Angeles theaters. Sony Pictures Classics’ “The Patient Stone,” last year’s Oscar submission from Afghanistan, took in $7,400 in its two New York/Los Angeles dates. “Tiny Times 2” (China Lion), a massive hit in its native country, grossed $22,000 in six theaters. EOne’s “Inch’Allah” managed only $3,000 at one New York theater.


Once again, Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine” (Sony Pictures Classics) was the standout performer. Doubling its theater count (229, +110), it grossed $2,359,000, with its PSA still an impressive $10,301. The total gross – with some of the stronger theaters now having played multiple weeks, and newer ones not quite performing at the same level as the earlier openers — only increased slightly, but the total gross, while still not having had any sort of major national break or TV campaign, is already up to $9.5 million.

Two very different successful openers last week added to their totals. Roadside Attractions’ “In a World” jumped quickly to 37 theaters (+34) for $231,000 (PSA $6,243) and a total early on of $334,000. This looks like it has a decent future ahead as a specialized release. UTV’s “Chennai Express,” which last week had the best performance ever for an Indian release in the US for a weekend, grossed another $842,000 in 190 theaters to reach just under $4 million.

A24’s “The Spectacular Now” in its third weekend jumped to 55 theaters (+36), still finding reasonable interest with another $419,000 (PSA: $7,618) getting the total so far early on $1,081,000. Unlike their earlier releases, A24 seems committed to being patient with this before going wider in the hopes of laying the ground work of word of mouth among younger audiences as they head back to school.

Three longer plays successes — like a majority of the films listed this week, all from this year’s Sundance — continued to add to their impressive totals. Fox Searchlight’s “The Way, Way Back” added $680,000 despite losing 323 theaters (now at 457) to reach $17.8 million so far. Weinstein’s “Fruitvale Station” took in another $513,000 in 477 (-351) to pass $14.6 million. And Radius/Weinstein’s impressive musical documentary “20 Feet from Stardom” grossed $116,000 in 95 (-17) to pass $4 million in its tenth week.

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