Publicity Stunt 101: Harvey Weinstein butters up Michele Bachmann
In Hollywood, if you have a lemon, you make lemonade. That's surely what Harvey Weinstein is doing with "Butter," a new Weinstein Co.-produced political satire that has been getting very mixed reviews on the film festival circuit. To drum up controversy about the film, Weinstein had Olivia Wilde, who co-stars in the film with Jennifer Garner, read a statement from him before the film's Toronto premiere inviting Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann to co-host an official premiere of the film in Iowa later this year.
The statement proposed that Bachmann spend a day with Weinstein, taking math classes "to help balance the budget" and discussing gay rights and women's rights. The statement ended by saying: "I look forward to hearing from Michele and I'm particularly looking forward to those classes on the Constitution."
My colleague Nicole Sperling, who was on hand at the screening, noted that the statement elicited laughter as well as puzzlement -- as in a host of wondering by wonderers about why Weinstein didn't just let the movie speak for itself. I think I can figure that part out, especially after hearing from insiders that the film had already had some poor test screenings, leading to it being recut even before it debuted at the Telluride Film Festival early this month.
The Weinstein plan all along has been to gauge response to the film at festivals, with an eye on whether it played well enough to be a viable Golden Globe candidate -- which would lead to a qualifying run later this year.
As critics have noted, the attempt to draw Bachmann into the film's PR nexus isn't just a wild shot in the dark. In his review in the Hollywood Reporter, Todd McCarthy described the film thusly: "This satire on self-righteous, homily-spewing Red Staters and the cutthroat world of butter carving trades almost entirely on making jokes at the expense of others, most of all an obsessed, venal woman who could pass as a kissin' cousin to either of the two most prominent female Republican figures of the moment."
I doubt that Bachmann, who has her eyes squarely on the GOP presidential prize, will give Weinstein the satisfaction of a reply. But conservative commentators have already taken the bait, starting with John Nolte, Andrew Breitbart's top gun at the conservative Big Hollywood website.
Referring to Weinstein's past support for filmmaker Roman Polanski, Nolte fired off an acerbic response to the statement, especially to its offer to take a joint class on the Constitution, saying, "With his favorite child-raping fugitive out of jail, Weinstein can now turn his brave self to taking shots at the softest target in Filmdom. I’m especially interested in that part of the Constitution that says it’s OK to drug, rape and sodomize a 13-year-old girl and flee from justice if a guy named Harvey really dug 'Chinatown.'"
This is like manna from heaven for Weinstein, who thrives on generating controversy for his films, especially ones that aren't exactly getting money reviews from the critics. But for now I think the odds of getting Bachmann to talk up "Butter" are about as good as getting her to see the wonderful upcoming Weinstein production of "Piranha 3DD." Meaning: slim and none.
-- Patrick Goldstein
Photo: Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) greets guests at the Black Hawk County GOP Lincoln Day dinner last month in Waterloo, Iowa. Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images