Jonathan Levine’s The Wackness was hands down my favorite film of the 2008 Sundance Film Festival (read my review here), and it took home the audience award when all was said and done, which I think speaks highly of the movie’s commercial viability. The movie’s set in 1994 and it’s about a high school weed dealer who is trading pot for therapy sessions, and who has fallen in love with his shrink’s daughter. That synopsis doesn’t do The Wackness justice, though – the movie is a lot more than that, and it’s often quite wonderful.
Some people in the internet community, like Peter at Slashfilm and Alex at First Showing, started getting upset when the film was picked up by Sony Picture Classics; they quite rightly pegged the film as a complete Fox Searchlight special, and they also rightly point to SPC’s sort of dismal track record over the last few years when it comes to actually making some money with their movies. I thought that maybe these guys were overreacting a little bit – sure SPC isn’t the ideal home for The Wackness, but maybe the marketing folks there are looking to take a page from the Fox Searchlight book (hello Juno, the biggest earning ‘indie’ movie since My Big Fat Greek Wedding).
Turns out I was wrong. SPC is making the truly baffling decision to release the movie on the 4th of July weekend, star Olivia Thirlby tells Collider. I’m not sure what they’re thinking – this is a movie aimed at people in their teens through their 30s, and I guarantee you that demographic will have no shortage of movie options that weekend. Releasing The Wackness at the end of the summer makes a whole lot more sense, but July 4 feels like a graveyard for the film.
Obviously this isn’t as bad as how Fox murdered Idiocracy or the way that Warner Bros is sharpening the knives for Where the Wild Things Are, but it’s no less frustrating. Unless SPC is taking an unprecedentedly long view of this release – ‘Hey, let’s play it in six theaters for 40 days before even considering going wider!’ – they’re burying a very good movie that could be sold to the target audience with ease (also unless Thirlby is just plain wrong about the date). SPC, please reconsider this; I believe that The Wackness will eventually find an audience, even on DVD, but I’d rather skip all of the ‘Hey, I finally saw this movie you pimped last year and I loved it!’ emails and get right to the eventual backlash because the film’s too popular.