Saturday, May 31, 2008

Sex and the City: when TV is more than TV

The Sex and the City movie is already making gobs of money, which makes me quite happy. I was one of the hardcore fans who saw it at midnight on Thursday night, and I thought the film was touching and funny and lots of fun - but a bit long and too cutesy at times. In a way, though, the quality of the film is not the talking point here. I'm thrilled that first Juno and now SATC are proving that female protagonists CAN drive a box office hit. SATC is a whole different breed, though, and in a funny way it affirms one of the things I love about TV: a beloved, long-running TV show is more than just a show. It becomes ingrained in our culture. Women everywhere have befriended these four women, related to their boy problems, taken Which-Character-Are-You? quizzes on facebook. And it crosses generations; though Samantha celebrates her 50th birthday in the movie, plenty of moviegoers are 17 and 18 year-olds who were only 7 or 8 years old when the TV series debuted. The show has reached new audiences through DVD sales and syndication on TBS, and will likely live on for many years to come. It's funny, it's poignant, it's universal.

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Dave Ale said...

I don't know if you can count Sex as a female-driven movie that opened well.

The question should be -- if it hadn't been on TV, would it have still opened? I doubt it.

Juno's a good example, I'd throw in Mean Girls too.

It's doable, but it's harder.

Guys and girls go to movies for a different experience. Girls go to be transported into a different world and experience the emotions those characters have.

Guys go to see cool shit happen.

Guess which one you can pay for?

Sex, Mean Girls, Juno -- all had huge word of mouth, all of them succeeded.

Bad Boys, Sin City, Superbad -- all had really good trailers. It helps that they were good, that's what gave them a long run.

The main difference between a guy's film and a girl's film is that a guy's film can suck and still have a huge opening weekend. A girl's film usually doesn't have a huge opening weekend and relies on word of mouth, which means that it actually has to be good. Case and point: Wild Wild West made more money on opening weekend than Mean Girls, in spite of Mean Girls having far better reviews.

A girl's film lives and dies on word of mouth, a guy's film lives and dies on the trailer.

Allison said...

And the "but it doesn't really count" rationalizations begin! (This refers to both the above comment and the "exception" reference in the Variety article you linked.)

Anyway, I agree - the degree to which you can become attached to the characters is one of the reasons I love TV.

Amanda said...

Shep - I think you have some decent points, and I think you're right about men trusting trailers and women trusting the advice of their friends, but I think you're missing what I think the deeper issue, and a huge part of the disconnect between male-driven movies and female-driven movies. I didn't really want to get into this, but I feel I need to say it. Women see male-driven movies in much larger numbers than men see female-driven movies. It's been ingrained in us since childhood. Think about what you read in high school. We've been brought up to believe that the stories of men are somehow universal, yet stories about women are somehow only pertinent to women. Nobody really talks about this, we just accept it...and I think it's bullshit.

Dan Williams said...

I really think SATC is an exceptional series that really tries to be honest and becomes endearing for the great characters and the warm humour and the great setting.

I don't think I'm relating to it as a girl-movie or a guy-movie, but just a movie. In every great movie there are great female characters. So I feel used to seeing great female characters.

GONE WITH THE WIND had two great female characters, Scarlett and Melanie, who drove the plot. Its one of the most successful movies of all time. If women want to see more girl-driven movies, just write some great scripts and it will happen, I would argue.

Dave Ale said...

Allison -- I would count it as much as I would count a sequel to a successful movie. Face it -- Sex could've been a bad movie, it still would've opened well. Same with Indy 4, Transformers, and any number of other sequels. If it was a one-off, ie the series wasn't there before the movie, it wouldn't have opened as well. That's not an opinion, it's a fact. Same with all the other movies I mentioned. If Transformers didn't exist in all of its other forms before the movie, it wouldn't have opened as well either.

Amanda -- agree completely. I'd compare Sex to Entourage -- Entourage is essentially the male version of Sex. That's how I describe it anyway. Girls will watch Entourage, guys won't watch Sex.

In a group of mixed teens -- they're going to go see the movie the guys want to see, not the movie the girls want to see.

Dan -- I think that's how movies should be looked at, but unfortunately when people are deciding on marketing, they're going to skew it one way or the other. It's hard to go into a movie with a completely open mind when you've seen the trailer a thousand times.

Allison said...

@Shep: Exactly. Those movies are "counted" as proving that male-driven movies will open well. Sex should count too.

@Dan: Saying that if women want female-driven movies, they should write them and it will magically happen is...really naive. Amanda has written a lot about the importance of getting your script in the right hands - and that's just for a spec that won't get produced. An actually produced movie needs to go through so many other stages, in an industry where women are still a minority and, as discussed right here, female-driven movies are seen as not big money makers.

Dan Williams said...

Allison -- You are talking about how you see Hollywood while I am only talking about how I, personally, judge movies. When Angelina Jolie came out with TOMB RAIDER, a female was driving the plot and it was a success. Same with Reese Witherspoon and LEGALLY BLOND. If the script is good, then, in my opinion, a great movie can come out of, whether or not a male or a female has the lead. Write a great script with a great female lead and actresses will be fighting over it, and it will have its success, I would argue.

Shep -- I see the marketing points you are making and they seem reasonable to me. It did take me a while to get into SATC, but it was so well done it won me over. But now I am willing to judge a movie as a movie and to give female-driven movies a chance. If this is happening in the market place to any significant degree, I don't know. But wasn't Hilary Swank great in MILLION DOLLAR BABY? She's one actress I'd see in a movie with her as the lead.

adam ___________________ said...

A lot of good points have been made in these comments, so I'm not going to throw in my two cents on the issue of whether SATC could have opened as well if it wasn't based on a series, etc.

But I can't resist responding to the issue Shep is talking about in regards to what men and women are interested in and will see.

Personally, I think it's bullshit.

We're not talking about what men and women are interested in -- we're talking about what they've been programmed to be interested in and what our culture and advertising execs are good at selling.

To think that every man and/or woman can be perfectly pocketed in a certain set of interests or modes of fulfillment is reductive as all get-out.

Saying that men and women will do this and that is as ridiculous as the Hollywood need to break records -- I'm sick of classification, that Such-And-Such a movie had the biggest box office for a three-word-title movie on a Wednesday in September....

If ALL men are only interested in movies where "cool stuff happens," then we're pooling a lot gullible men. Or men that are incredibly susceptible to cultural programming. Or, shockingly, these kinds of men are the men that create those numbers to begin with.

I'm a guy. I like "cool things." But I went to see SATC, I want to be transported into a different world and experience the emotions of the characters in them. And where in the world is there a credible story where this ISN'T an important factor? Exploding cars or not -- that's just a good story you're describing.

And I know some women who wouldn't touch SATC because it didn't have a high enough body count. Some of the numbers for "male-driven" movies are there because there are women who also want the "cool shit."

And I'd probably go to see some of the male-driven movies if they didn't suck complete ass.

So while the SATC movie is definitely involved in the industry argument about representation of women -- there's another issue here as well.

It's a smart, successful movie that fulfilled its promises. The fundamental purpose of a movie or TV show is to satisfy it's audience.

So in terms of basic entertainment, SATC isn't only an example of a female-driven movie that can open, it's also just doing a better job than its male counterparts.

Sequels or not, look at the market: Indy IV failed on almost every count and made mountains of money. SATC succeeded on almost every count and made a good amount of money.

I don't know if that says much other than men -- apparently -- wouldn't know a good story if it bit them in the ass.

But I can't believe that's actually true either. I saw a fair number of guys in the audience when I saw SATC. And they looked like they were having a good time to me.

Dan In LA said...

Off topic: I just got an email from ABC (I sent it mooooonths ago)
about their Fellowship:

"Please continue to check our website. The new application the writing program and deadline will go up in 2 weeks. The application deadline is July 31, and the program is slated to start Feb 2009."

ND said...

My boyfriend has never been so happy as when I told him he didn't have to go see Sex and the City with me. I also said he's allowed to go to the strip club while I'm at the movies.

Of course, I haven't gone to see it yet, which is making him unhappy again.

Dave Ale said...

@ Allison -- personally I DON'T count those movies as original movies that open well. You and I seem to be in agreement, it's just an issue of semantics.

When I talk about original movies that open well, I'm talking about things like Juno, Mean Girls, Disturbia, etc -- movies that had no prior public knowledge. Sex, to me, is not an original movie -- it's the extension of a franchise, ergo it should be compared against things like Spider-man, Indy, and other franchises, and on that level it's doing exceptionally well when (and I'm guessing) Sex's budget was nowhere near the same level as Indy's or Spider-man's.

@ Adam -- yes, I made several generalizations, and I'll stand by them.

Put two movies in a theatre -- Transformers and Sex and the City. Take 1000 guys and 1000 girls, independent of one another, and ask them which movie they're going to pick.

Obviously not all 1000 guys are going to pick Transformers, but I bet over 600 are. Same with girls and Sex. Ergo -- guys are more attracted to movies like Transformers and girls are more attracted to movies like Sex.

Like it or not, right or wrong, this is how marketing people think -- figure out what type of person is likely to see this movie, and then market it towards them.

If anything, the story on Sex isn't that a movie driven by female characters opened (as that's been done over and over), but on how a movie driven by female characters and marketed towards women still opened well -- because that is done far less often.

I'm all for a good story -- I really don't care whether it's female driven or male driven -- one of my favorite movies is Ginger Snaps, which is entirely female driven, has a female writer, and deals with decidedly more female themes.

I think it's going to be interesting to see if Sex holds up in the second frame.

This movie was a wild-card, it was attempting to do something that'd never been done before (an R rated comedy marketed towards women), and it succeeded.

The next big advancement along the same line will be to see if an R rated comedy marketed towards women can succeed -- without prior franchise establishment.

What Sex could be doing is along the lines of what Jaws did in the '70's -- essentially open up an entirely new genre.

Which is good for everybody, because I'm sure we're all getting tired of remakes.

adam ___________________ said...

I couldn't agree more in terms of remakes. I just wish the following two miracles could happen:

1. The business will acknowledge the market that's out there for movies driven by and for women. I personally think they just haven't gone after it aggressively enough. It's just not good business sense to continue to disregard it.

2. That a movie driven by and for men can be made with the same regard for character arcs, emotional development, and the ability for story to rest on par with special effects. (Transformers is a perfect example of a eye-popping movie that's more shallow than Paris Hilton.)

Other than that, I'm not saying you're wrong, I'm just saying I'm think the actual market place out there is much more complex. The business has just been very successful at manipulating it.

Allison said...

@Shep: If you're saying "I don't know if you can count Sex as a female-driven movie that opened well against male-driven movies that opened well that aren't a franchise" then sure, that's a valid thing to say, but 1, you didn't actually say that last part in italics and 2, no one had compared it to non-franchise male movies before you started disagreeing. I can only respond to what's said.

@Dan: You were talking about personal stuff for most of your comment - the part I didn't respond to. The part I did respond to said, "If women want to see more girl-driven movies, just write some great scripts and it will happen, I would argue," which is about what you think women should do about what they want - not your personal feelings toward films. And so I stand by my comment if you want to address it.

By the way, this kind of "blindness" to whether someone is in a group that has little and/or bad representation is definitely a kind of privilege for you (as a man, in this case); of course you can afford to see the characters as "just characters" when you don't have to worry about seeing a good representation of yourself on screen.