Why didn't Seth Rogen's '50/50' perform better this weekend?
By most standards, the people who publicized and marketed the Seth Rogen-Joseph Gordon-Levitt dramatic comedy "50/50" seemed to have a well-thought-out strategy. They made sure the press, always crucial on a tweener film, got to see the movie early and often. And marketing materials concealed some of the more difficult illness elements that could turn off the Saturday-night date crowd.
Yet the movie was a disappointment this weekend, failing to take in even $9 million on nearly 2,500 screens.
Were there, in fact, things that studio Summit Entertainment should have done differently? Or was a comedy about cancer always headed to the land of the niche?
The answer may be a little bit of both.
The road was certainly sloped against the film. Comedies about serious subjects, from "Arthur" to "Larry Crowne," have bombed in recent months, and this one's about perhaps the most serious subject of all.
But Summit might also have embraced the tearjerker elements a bit more more than the buddy-comedy angles, since the audience that comes out to a Rogen movie was going to smell something different anyway. (And it's not that the audience was that large in the first place -- see under "The Green Hornet" and "Observe and Report.")
Instead, Summit changed the title to its generic, percentage-heavy "50/50" from its former moniker, "I'm With Cancer." Posters showed Gordon-Levitt shaving is head in a way that you never would have connected to chemotherapy if you didn't already know it.
The movie could have also gone (and indeed may yet go) a more prestige route, playing on how it's a beloved critical choice (93% on Rotten Tomatoes, well above an upscale play such as "The Ides of March"). Emphasizing the quality of the film above more topically relevant moments worked for a similarly heartfelt comedy, "Up in the Air," two years ago; there's little reason it couldn't work to at least a certain extent in this Anna Kendrick vehicle too.
In the spirit of the film's message, all hope isn't lost. It's already been a weird season, when movies gain a head of steam a week or more after they open; "Dolphin Tale" won the weekend despite coming in third on its opening weekend. And "50/50" is a movie that nearly everyone who sees likes, judging by the reaction of many of our journalist colleagues and the film's A- CinemaScore.
A cancer comedy was always going to be a word-of-mouth play. The question after this weekend will be whether there are enough mouths to spread that word.
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: Anna Kendrick and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in "50/50." Credit: Summit Entertainment