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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: The Kids Are All Right

Now with your July 4 barbecue: Lisa Cholodenko's Sundance hit?

February 10, 2010 |  9:00 am

Ki One of the biggest movies out of Sundance, as followers of this blog may recall, was "The Kids Are All Right," Lisa Cholodenko's family comedy about a lesbian couple, their kids and the man who disruptively enters their lives. Now Focus Features, which bought the Annette Bening-Julianne Moore vehicle, will try to make it one of the biggest movies of the summer, too.

The company has officially dated the film as a July 7 limited release, according to studio-release calendars. That may seem like one more date amid a litany of dates. But it's telling for all sorts of reasons.

For one thing, the film was a possible awards play, at least to some who saw it. While a July release doesn't preclude that -- best-picture nominees "District 9," "Inglorious Basterds" and "Up" this were year were all released before the fall season -- it's a clear signal of whom you are and are not playing to when you choose to release a film outside the September-December period.

Instead, Focus seems to want to make this more of a summer counter-programmer, the kind of movie that can open once the noisier blockbusters finish clearing out. That's what "Little Miss Sunshine," another comedy-drama out of Sundance, did a few years ago, opening in July and playing steadily and nicely through the summer and into the fall (though that movie was a more poignant drama and funnier comedy, at least for our money, and became a $60 million-grossing phenomenon, a figure that it's hard to see this film approaching).

But even this comparison doesn't completely hold up. Most summer counter-progammers from the specialty divisions open later in the season -- "Sunshine" came out the last week of July, and Focus' own counter-programming "Taking Woodstock" premiered in late August. But July 7, even in limited release, pits "Kids" against broadly aimed pictures like "The Last Airbender" the week before and "Inception" the week following -- both movies that at least a chunk of the "Kids" audience might want to see.

Then again, Fox Searchlight, which released "Little Miss Sunshine," has staked out a mid-July date for its own low-key comedy this year, "Cyrus," the John C. Reilly-Jonah Hill offering from indie darlings the Duplass Bros. And the "Woodstock" date actually didn't work, as the film got swallowed up at the end of a long summer of movie-going. As the big action movies move earlier in the summer, more specialized comedies may continue to creep up, trying to bring Sundance in to July.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: "The Kids Are All Right." Credit: The Sundance Film Festival

Sundance 2010: Will the kids be all right?

January 28, 2010 |  1:22 pm


There's nothing that gets people offering opinions -- or "opinions" -- at a film festival faster than an imminent or a recently completed sale. It basically goes down like this: First, a well-received screening gets a sales agent spinning about a film's upside and sales interest. Then, when it does sell, the buyer that lands it touts its greatness -- while the studios that didn't get or want the film whisper how the movie isn't that good in the first place.

"The Kids Are All Right," Lisa Cholodenko's domestic dramedy about a lesbian couple, their two teenage kids and the drifter/sperm-donor who comes into their lives, has been on that kind of trip at Sundance all week.

The film's premiere screening on Monday at the Library Theater had the markings of a classic Sundance breakout, though some buyers complained that some of the enthusiasm of the entourage-heavy audience felt a little staged.  (It's a time-honored Sundance tradition for filmmakers and their representatives to paper the house with people whom they ask to/hope will laugh loudly to give buyers a more favorable impression. It was something that happened, very evidently, at the premiere screenings of "The Romantics" on Wednesday and, one can't help pointing out, at "Hamlet 2," the "Kids Are All Right"-esque blockbuster sale of two years ago. Screenings for all three films took place in the cheek-by-jowl confines of the Library Center Theater, where every laugh is magnified -- a "hot room," as festival director John Cooper calls it.

The magic carpet ride for "Kids" continued the next day as the sales negotiations became the buzz of the festival, even as some studios were labeling the film as a niche play that wasn't nearly as commercial as some of the early reports had it. The noise level then ratcheted up further when Focus Features anted up about $5 million for various rights to the movie, suggesting one of the largest specialty divisions around was betting big on the picture.

(On Thursday the company officially announced the deal, which was for U.S., U.K., German and Australian rights, and which prompted Focus CEO James Schamus, who called the movie "the best in American independent film making," to note in an interview that Cholodenko is a former student of his at Columbia University "but I didn't teach her one possible thing that could have led to this movie.")

But a new twist came with the second screening Wednesday night, where it played to a press-and-industry audience for the first time. The film was coming in high on a cloud of hype, which usually means that a room could be primed for over-the-top excitement -- or for disappointment. And while the screening certainly went over well enough, with laughter at the comedic moments and intent faces during the dramatic ones, the overall response from people in the room was more muted than what was reported from the premiere.

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Sundance 2010: 'Kids Are All Right' comes into Focus [Updated]

January 27, 2010 |  9:14 am

In a move that would mark the second significant acquisition of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, Focus Features appears to have closed a deal to acquire rights to Lisa Cholodenko's family dramedy "The Kids Are All Right," according to a person familiar with the negotiations. Focus paid about $5 million for the film's domestic rights, and also acquired some foreign territories, according to the person.

On Wednesday morning, Focus and the film's sales agent Cinetic Media were ironing out some of the deal's final terms, according to another person close to the film.

The movie, about a family headed by a lesbian couple (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore) and their complicated relationship with their sperm donor (Mark Ruffalo), premiered Monday night in Park City and sparked a spirited bidding war. Terms of the deal were not immediately available. [Updated at 10:40 a.m. Jan. 30: An earlier version of this post gave the wrong first name for actress Julianne Moore.]

Cinetic Media, which represented the filmmakers in the deal, spent much of the past 36 hours talking to interested distributors, including Summit Entertainment and Fox Searchlight, before finalizing terms of the deal on Wednesday morning. Representatives for Focus and Cinetic did not immediately return phone calls or e-mails seeking comment.

The sale would mark Focus Features' first acquisition out of the Sundance Film Festival since it purchased the farcical comedy "Hamlet 2" two years ago. That movie was a box-office disappointment, but a range of distribution executives at Sundance were optimistic that "The Kids Are All Right's" poignant moments, comedic scenes and rich dialogue would help it become both an art house as well as a broader success, though some buyers worried the film's candid sex scenes could limit its appeal outside major metropolitan areas.

Mia Wasikowska and Joshua Hutcherson star as the two children who meet their sperm-donor father, while all three adult actors have been earning raves that Focus will likely try to capitalize on come awards season.

-- John Horn and Steven Zeitchik

Sundance 2010: Buyers dance with 'Kids are All Right'

January 26, 2010 | 12:42 pm

The elaborate tango to acquire the Sundance breakout "The Kids are All Right" continued into this morning and stretched into the afternoon, as Focus Features and Summit Entertainment remained the two leading contenders to acquire the Lisa Cholodenko comedy, while specialty-division powerhouse Fox Searchlight waited in the wings contemplating an eleventh-hour move.

A deal between one of the companies and the filmmakers' representative, Cinetic Media, was likely by the end of the day, though acquisitions executives cautioned that a cooler sales climate ("Buried" has been the only big Sundance sale so far) meant buyers could take their time instead of jumping quickly into a deal while sitting in the sellers' condo, as has been the case in past years.

15285 One buyer remarked that the sales deal wouldn't be wrapped up in some lock-the-doors-until-dawn marathon negotiating session, as was the case when Fox Searchlight bought "LIttle Miss Sunshine" in Park City four years ago.

Negotiations could also be slowed today by the fact that a number of executives were in transit back to their Los Angeles offices as the pace of high-profile premieres at the festival begins to slow. There are only two must-see screenings set for today: Gurinder Chadha's serial killer comedy "It's a Wonderful Afterlife" and the 3-D environmental documentary "Cane Toads."

Both Focus and Summit -- two of the bigger non-studio entities in the film universe -- could bring marketing muscle and dollars to the release of "The Kids are All Right," and were carefully making their case, as well as their offers for the various available rights. As the specialty division with the best track record, a third interested contender, Fox Searchlight, could afford to hang back, confident that any seller would consider them before making a deal elsewhere.

 "The Kids Are All Right," which premiered to deafening laughter Monday night in Park City, involves a lesbian couple's two children (Joshua Hutcherson and Mia Wasikowska) who seek out their biological father (Mark Ruffalo), and the dramatic and comedic consequences that ensue when they meet. While potential buyers are still mapping their respective distribution plans, the movie would likely be released in 2010 with an awards-season run in mind.

Several distribution experts noted that the winning bidder could open the film as a counterprogramming choice in the summer, as Searchlight did with its Sundance coup "Little Miss Sunshine," or slot it into a more traditional fall awards slot.

While Cholodneko's film played to a hyper-enthusiastic audience Monday night, the morning after saw potential buyers debating an age-old Sundance question: Did this have the makings of a broad hit or was it, given the subject matter and some graphic sex scenes, more of an art house release that would struggle to gross more than $15 million?

Sundance hits don't often materialize into mainstream blockbusters, though the examples of those that do -- like the $45-million grossing "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire" and the $60-million grossing "Little Miss Sunshine" -- are enough to raise both hopes and prices.

--Steven Zeitchik and John Horn

Photo of "Kids are All Right" director Lisa Cholodenko and child courtesy of Sundance Film Festival.


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