This week's indie-film box office report from indieWIRE and Rentrak Theatrical has been slow in arriving, but as all observers of the biz already know, the big story is that Jason Reitman's "Juno" -- originally perceived as a seasonal sleeper hit -- has soared far beyond "Napoleon Sunshine" territory into an economic realm heretofore unvisited by independent films. Just as a point of comparison, Paul Haggis' "Crash," a multiple Oscar-winner and epitome of Indiewood-crossover success, had a total domestic gross of $54.6 million. In seven weeks of release, "Juno" has now passed $100 million, with the Oscars still four weekends away.
It's impossible to avoid mixed feelings about this frankly stunning development. As S.T. Van Airsdale discusses in a Vanity Fair Daily post, an anti-"Juno" backlash is fairly far advanced among the film-intelligentsia set, who apparently fear that "There Will Be Blood" and "No Country for Old Men" will split the "smart" Oscar vote (the what?), leaving Reitman, "Juno" scribe Diablo Cody and their producers to sweep up the statuettes.
But let's strive to be adults here, with a sweeping, trans-historical vision. Or let's at least interpret the 51-percent empty glass as 49-percent full. My accentuate-the-positive spin is as follows: A) Who cares who wins the Oscar? Less-than-great films win almost every year, or hadn't you noticed? B) Damn! This whole buying-tickets, movie-theater business isn't quite dead after all, is it? C) The amazing success of "Juno" may shock some Hollywood suits into realizing, or re-realizing, that movies aimed at grown-ups can actually make money. D) By grown-ups, I actually mean adult women, the main drivers in movie-ticket buying and the only demographic other than teenage boys that the media conglomerates ever notice. In broad and general terms, the entertainment cycles when Hollywood is chasing adult women are preferable to those when it's pursuing gonadally impaired young fellas.
So, yeah, we're going to see a whole host of quippy, saucy, allegedly intelligent comedies with faintly risqué themes. A lot of them will be painful. And the bar for what constitutes indie crossover success has now been raised to a level that throws the whole enterprise into question: A month ago "No Country for Old Men" looked like the year's big hit. Now it's starting to lose its head of steam, at roughly $50 million, and that outstanding figure is no longer newsworthy or impressive. Still, I see "No Country" and "There Will Be Blood" as likely to split the Oscars. The latter has now reached a relatively modest $14.7 million on a relatively modest 885 screens -- that's about one-third the size of "Juno's" release -- but Paramount Vantage seems confident about spreading it out wider in February.
Way down at the other end of the economic spectrum, Cristian Mungiu's terrific "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" pretty much sold out its opening weekend on two New York screens, despite its challenging subject matter (and no foreign-language Oscar nomination). IFC will reportedly broaden its release to the top 15 markets in the next few weeks, and the film can also be seen on-demand through IFC In Theaters, the company's cable outlet. Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud's "Persepolis" (Oscar-nominated as an animated film, but not a foreign-language film) has expanded to 58 screens and a cumulative $1.3 million. That's perfectly respectable when you consider that the film is a cartoon, in French, mostly set in Iran. But given the universally strong reviews, Sony Pictures Classics was no doubt hoping for something more, you know, "Juno"-like.