September 2, 2008

What the Success or Failure of the Women Might Mean for Women

First things first, this piece is not about the actual content of the film The Women. I haven't seen it yet (will see it tonight) but I have been trying to see it and get information about it for months. I've been very patient through my stonewalling, but it's never a good sign when there is only one all media screening here in NY that occurs the day after Labor Day (and the invite is sent out in the dead of August) when most film people are on their way to Toronto and everyone else is trying to get back on track after summer.

But it could just be that it took a long time to edit (as I was told this summer) and it wasn't ready to be seen. Now, I'm not stupid or naive, and I hope that the dodging by Picturehouse (the studio) is unwarranted. That being said, I don't hear great things (there, I've said it) from people I trust, so I'm nervous.

Why am I nervous about a movie? It's just a movie, right? Yes and no. Of course, it's just a movie and there are so many other important things to worry about like recovering from a hurricane and getting Barack Obama elected, but this is the next big movie targeted at women and its success or failure has an impact on the next film targeted at women.

I wish that I didn't have to make that statement. No single film should be burdened with this, especially not a small budgeted, long-gestating film by a first time director based on a beloved classic.

But we all know that women and women's films are held to a higher standard. I didn't create this dynamic, I just call it like it is.

We had a great summer for women at the box office with the successes of Sex and the City and Mamma Mia!. These films soared beyond expectations. Both films are in the top 20 grossers of the year. As of last week, Sex has made $152 million in the US and $236 million overseas. Mamma Mia has made $126 million in the US and $250 million overseas. I guess that blows up the argument that people (i.e. men) won't go to see women onscreen outside the US.

Warner Brothers which subsumed Picturehouse last spring was smart to rethink its release pattern for The Women after the success of Sex and the City. Everyone (who works in the business) knows that there is no way that The Women box office will measure up to Sex and the City or Mamma Mia! and that's ok and TO BE EXPECTED. The film had a much lower budget ($16 million) and will open on less screens, and summer is over.

So, keeping things in perspective, when the media inevitably starts talking again about how maybe Sex and the City and Mamma Mia! were flukes and that women aren't a market because we don't rush out and see The Women in the same numbers that we saw the earlier films, we need to push back hard.

Honestly, I think the folks in Hollywood would be happy to write off this summer of success as another fluke just like it has done each and every year before. Because think about it, if Hollywood actually has to think about making movies for women then they actually might have to work much harder, hire more women writers and directors and create stories to appeal to this market.

So no matter how good or how bad The Women is (I'll let you know after I see it), we need to not let Hollywood use this film to push back on an incredibly successful summer for women at the box office.

Check out Missy Schwartz's piece on The Women in the current issue of EW.