In case you have not heard, the biggest cinematic flop so far in 2019 has already been found.
The Diane Keaton-led comedy “Poms” has “earned” that dubious distinction. Opening in May, on 2,700 screens throughout the US and Canada, the film took in at the box office a dismal $5.4 million on its debut weekend and was ranked sixth among that weekend’s top grossers. By its second week in theaters, it took in only $2.1 million and finished ninth. (For the sake of compassion, “Annabelle Come Home,” the sequel to that other sequel, pulled in over $20 million in its recent debut weekend.)
While “Poms” may not go down in film history as an example of great and timeless cinema—though surely it is every bit as good in its way as “Annabelle” is in hers—the failure of the film in North American grosses is nothing to cheer about.
“Poms’s” lackluster box office follows the slightly better but still far-from-spectacular box office performances of a handful of other female-driven, and assumedly female-friendly, films including “The Hustle,” “Isn’t It Romantic” (both featuring Rebel Wilson) and the just-released “Late Night” starring Mindy Kaling and Emma Thompson.
Granted, the final financial report on “Poms” and these other just-mentioned films, has yet to be written. Not all have emerged on DVD and Blu-Ray yet, nor have they migrated to cable, Netflix and other platforms. Popularity—and financial salvation—might still be in the cards for these movies.
Still, it’s hard to get by their lack of success at brick-and-mortar theaters. And, certainly, the Hollywood powers-that-be will jump to that conclusion and the future of films with such a strong female slant (and, especially, those geared towards women “of a certain age”) will be far from attractive in terms of getting future green-lights for the big screen.
And, sadly, we can’t hardly blame them. While movie-making might be an art, it is still a business and, like every other commodity, from cars to candles to widgets, if it doesn’t sell, it isn’t going to be made or make its ways into theaters.
This would be all fine and good except for the ample amount of lip service given every year (especially around so-called “awards season”) which bemoans the lack of films by women, for women and about women as well as the (supposed) dearth of good roles for film actresses, especially, again, film actresses age 40 and over.
The box office is odd these days. It is dominated by sequels, super heroes and various sundry horrors. It is proving not only difficult for any other type of films (when was the last time a human-led comedy hit, suspense thriller or—gads!—a drama) to break out or break through, it’s also playing havoc with the careers of many very talented female film stars. Reese Witherspoon, Meryl Streep, Jennifer Aniston, Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman have all found their latest successes, not on the big screen, but via cable and Netflix.
Additionally, the current climate of actual film-going isn’t must better for various male stars either. Actors like Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, and whoever is playing the latest Spider-man might all be household names and faces (and good grist for the gossip columns) but, outside of their super hero costumes and big weekend crime-fighting sequels, each has yet to actually have another movie “hit” that they can truly call their own.
Which is not to say that there is anything wrong with the big, fun summer blockbuster, the super hero hit or the well-made horror film. But, like a daily diet of nothing but ice cream and chocolate (or popcorn and Jujubes, as the case may be), such a one-sided regime of pure escapism negates the power and artform of motion pictures.
Often, at Oscar time, I think the victory and point of the whole celebration is not so much for the individual quality of various “Best Picture” nominees but for the fact that they got made at all. For surely, from the second they are conceived to the time they are (hopefully) released, their producers and studios know that that, with rare exception, films like “Dunkirk,” “Darkest Hour,” “Roma,” or “Vice” are not going to make anywhere near the money that “Avengers: Endgame” is going to. But, still, they press ahead.
Meanwhile, from that stage, and in cocktail parties throughout the nation, the conversation will be the general lack of quality and substance of all the movies today. But problem isn’t Hollywood…it’s the movie-going public and, in terms of “Poms,” et.al,” it’s the female movie-going public. The way to see better quality films—including those by women, with women, for women--being made is to go and see the ones that do get made.
So, ladies, it’s up to you. It’s time to bypass book club and go to the movies. And when your significant other wants to see the latest “Fast/Furious,” tell him you are headed elsewhere in the Cineplex. If your local theater isn’t showing the latest with Rebel or Emma or Kate, call them and tell them you want to see it. So, then, when it comes to box office success, let “Poms” be the exception and not the rule.