It’s no surprise that Couples Retreat was… not good. And we now know (thanks to this week’s Reject Report) that it won the weekend box office with $35 mil. So, what gives? Perhaps it was treating the press to an all-expenses paid trip to a tropical paradise for the media junket? Perhaps critics don’t know squat about movies that John Q Public deem worth their money? Perhaps it was the only thing opening this weekend? Perhaps Kristin Davis’s fanbase is larger and more rabid than you’d think? Perhaps we’re missing something here?
I’ve been wracking my brain, and I can’t figure it out. In a perfect world, this movie succeeded because it’s a good movie. It’s not, and the world sucks. So, that’s out. My next idea was that, in some respects, it has a pretty strong cast. Or, at least, a cast of people with some hard-core fans. So if Vince Vaughn die-hards and Jason Bateman die-hards and guys with hard-ons for Kristen Bell and Sex and the City die-hards were all 1) attending the movie this weekend, and 2) distinct groups of people with little-to-no overlap — would that equal $35 million in profits? No. Not even if they each took a date — which, let’s face it, most of those groups don’t have. So, that option is out.
Next comes the marrieds. The marrieds are an interesting subset of the population that, as a sex columnist, I obviously know very little about. These are married folks of all ages (mostly 28 – 45) that go see movies simply because they’re for “couples”. Cute, romantic comedies (like the breakaway summer rom-com The Proposal) — which is what Couples Retreat was supposed to be — fit well into this demo. This would make sense, and the math would work out. And, next week, when Couples Retreat makes zero dollars, it’ll probably because seemingly every boring couple ever went to this movie last weekend. The marrieds. Maybe that’s it.
But I came across an interesting article in the LA Times that detailed the “glitzy” media junket that accompanied this film. And in this month of FTC regulations and an endless clog of Twitter chatter about junkets, sponsored reviews, and so-called blogger ethics (whatever that means) — I’m starting to think that perhaps it’s the positive spin and buzz created by some newly-tanned journalists. In the interest of full disclosure, I don’t know anyone (very well) who went on this junket (at least I don’t think I do), and I’m not claiming to be right. I’m just turning over these facts:
1. According to the LA Times article, a source “close to the film” claimed that Universal spent twice its normal junket budget on the junket for Couples Retreat.
2. To induce some PR for the film, Universal brought dozens of journalists to friggin’ Bora Bora. (Media junkets are usually for screening the movie and cast interviews, and I’d bet real money that most of those journalists live closer to the stars’ homes than they do to Bora Bora.)
3. In this post on MSN, author James Rocchi details the trip: feeding sting-rays, swimming with sharks, staying in beautiful resort villas. He also details his own dilemma: staying in such a place on the company’s dime, interviewing famous people, and knowing that he’s going to give a mixed review.
This is where it gets hairy for me. Mixed review? It sounds like he wants to give it a C-, tell you why it’s just okay, but not really worth your hard-earned (and hard to come by) recession money. But he’s not going to do that. Or, not so much. Instead, he couches his wordy review in history of Bora Bora (it’s twice as far away as Hawaii and is actually French Polynesia), cool factoids about his sting-ray feedings, and leads off with the things that the movie does right. It’s as if he’s apologizing for doing what he goes ahead and does anyway.
But Rocchi himself writes that “the great film critic Pauline Kael said there are two kinds of writing about movies: a good, honest review; and everything else, which is just publicity”. And is there a message in his mix? The LA Times says it right out: “one of the keys to the strong $35.3 million opening of Couples Retreat was that oldest of Hollywood marketing ploys: the glitzy media junket.” And I think, in this case, I agree.
But what do you think? Do you care if your journalists get sent interesting places to do interesting things, and then — perhaps because of, or influenced by that fact — they make recommendations and judgments about the quality of your entertainment? Do you think press should go on these trips? Shouldn’t? Where is the ethical line? Do you believe that the way that a film is introduced to a critic shapes the way she/he views the film? Or are we above this? I’m highly curious. You go here.