Did Hollywood miss out on the election and the tea party revolution?
For years we've been told that Americans are too bombarded with politics in other aspects of their lives to make room for it in their moviegoing. It was why a wave of political films that included "Rendition," "Lions for Lambs" and "In the Valley of Elah" didn't work back in 2007, and why studios pretty much stopped making those kinds of movies since. Even last year's best picture, "The Hurt Locker," was a minor player at the box office.
But this season demonstrated a far deeper appetite for politics among the American public than it has for a long time, at least judging by various Beckian and Stewart-ian rallies and the endless barrage of television ads and punditry. And yet even as the drama built, culminating in yesterday's results, studios mostly remained silent. There are a number of political films scheduled for this season, but their distributors chose to hold them until after the election.
The Joe Wilson-Valerie Plame, CIA-leak saga "Fair Game," with Sean Penn and Naomi Watts, opens in limited release three days after the election. Alex Gibney's Eliot Spitzer documentary "Client 9," opens in New York this week and Los Angeles next week.
Despite all the talk about the economy these past couple of months, Ben Affleck and Tommy Lee Jones' recession-themed "The Company Men" doesn't hit until Dec. 10. The Jack Abramoff biopic "Casino Jack" does it one better: it doesn't arrive in theaters until a week after that, seven weeks removed from the election.
It's a departure from the usual Michael Moore M.O., in which coming out in early fall and influencing the election is the name of the game. Doug Liman and Kevin Spacey are outspoken Democrats, but their movies opted not to speak until after the election.
(There was one film with political, or at least economic, themes to come out before the election, "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," which was pushed back from April to September. But even here Fox has been emphatic that this was a function of seasonal factors more than politics. As Fox distribution executive Chris Aronson told us a few weeks ago, "This is a perfect time of year for adult dramas, because adults are trained to look for quality movies in the fall.")
The calculus for all of these November and December political films, if there's one at all, seems to have been that it was better to steer clear of the election traffic than to try to navigate it. But while that might have made sense when politics was seen as pop-culture radiation, given the energy this season, Hollywood might have tapped into a growing interest by coming out earlier. It's always better to elbow your way into a crowded party than to waltz in when everyone's hung over, isn't it?
Then again, a look at this season's political films makes you wonder how much they could have benefited from, or had an effect on, the electoral season even if they tried. These aren't exactly movies that plunge into the deep end of the tea party pool, instead swimming in the not-exactly-au-courant waters of Bush administration-era intelligence and lobbying. And "Company Men," with its story about upper-middle class pocketbook angst, is not exactly a populist screed. The usual Hollywood lag that means we could see a tea party-themed movie...sometime in 2014.
One of the biggest hits of the fall could be argued to have had a sort-of accidental tea party vibe. "The Social Network" embraced an upstart entrepreneurship and sent the message that the establishment can't accomplish what dogged outsiders can (and also said, with some reservations, that those outsiders should be entitled to the benefits of what they do). Yes, this is what it's come to -- with so little big-screen politics before the election, we're left to draw tenuous connections between Aaron Sorkin and Rand Paul.
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: Tea party star Sharron Angle's bid for a Nevada Senate seat fell short. Credit: Isaac Brekken /Associated Press
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