You may not exactly remember The Wackness yet, but don't worry, we'll be mentioning it quite a few times over the year. The Wackness is a film that debuted at Sundance this year and not only won the Audience Award, but became this year's beloved gem for most online critics (read my review here). A small group of us, consisting of Neil from Film School Rejects and Peter from SlashFilm, protested Sony Pictures Classics' acquisition of the film quite passionately, arguing that SPC hasn't had a big film for years, which is what we were hoping The Wackness would become. Today Steve from Collider caught up with one of the film's stars, the charming Olivia Thirlby, who told him that they might be releasing The Wackness in early July this summer.
Olivia was in town promoting Snow Angels, another incredible indie movie that she starred in way back at Sundance in 2007. She told Collider that The Wackness would be coming to theaters on July 3rd, although I think she may have meant July 2nd, since the 3rd is a Thursday. Either way, that puts The Wackness in the premium mid-summer (and 4th of July weekend) slot, which is both good and bad. While I can't exactly predict the future, I could easily argue that this could turn into a huge hit by being released then, but at the same time, I'm still quite worried that this might be forgotten in the midst of the summer blockbusters.
First things first, if a release date has been set, and even Olivia knows the date, then why hasn't SPC made it public yet? There's no reason for this not to be announced, it's not like they're releasing an early version of a poster - it's a date! And the earlier it's out there, the better.
Both SlashFilm and Film School Rejects jumped on this story right away, claiming "it's not a good date to release an indie film." I'm not going to necessarily disagree, but I'm not as pessimistic as they are. I think if marketed correctly, The Wackness could feasibly turn out to be the sleeper summer hit. It will definitely be an uphill battle, but it could certainly be possible and I can see The Wackness pulling it off. But let me clarify, what I mean is that I can see the film itself pulling it off (based on its content), but I can't necessarily see Sony Pictures Classics pulling it off.
Let's take a closer look at this time frame of the summer. Just prior to July 2nd, two hard-hitting summer blockbusters make their way into theaters: Pixar's Wall-E and the sci-fi action flick Wanted. Following that, the big 4th of July weekend release is the Will Smith superhero comedy Hancock; no other big films arrive until July 11th, where Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D, and Meet Dave make their debut. The rest of July is filled out with films like The Dark Knight, Step Brothers, and The X-Files 2, all guaranteed enormous hits. You can see the entire release schedule here.
To get the big ones out of the way, I actually don't think Wall-E or Journey 3D are a direct "threat" to The Wackness. What do you think: a cute, cuddly robot vs a pot smoking therapist? We can't forget that SPC is probably planning a platform release, which means it will show only in New York and Los Angeles for the first few weeks until it later expands into more cities throughout July and even early August. This is where things get a bit sticky. Not only is Paramount Vantage planning to drop American Teen, the other Sundance favorite, on July 25th, but Fox Searchlight is releasing Chuck Palahniuk's Choke on August 1st. And we all know that Fox Searchlight is the best indie distributor on the planet (need I mention Juno?).
So why am I not as concerned as Peter and Neil? Well, as much as I believe that The Wackness could be as big of a hit as Juno, we can't forget that it's an R-rated marijuana-infused drug dealer comedy. It has a vastly different audience that most of those other mainstream blockbuster movies aren't even coming close to touching. However, movies like The Dark Knight, Step Brothers, and The X-Files 2 are direct threats that will be stealing focus from Wackness because they're such huge movies. I guarantee that anyone interested in seeing either sequels (Dark Knight or X-Files) aren't going to be thinking about anything else besides those two movies for the weeks leading up to them.
But if we look at the entire year and try to determine where the best place might be, why not launch The Wackness in the summer? Cinephiles in New York and Los Angeles won't be flustered by the big summer blockbusters and will see it anyway, especially because it has a very "summer feeling", and when we get to August, after Dark Knight and X-Files, it will start hitting more local theaters. Choke won't be a threat because it'll be starting its platform release in New York and Los Angeles in August while Wackness expands to local theaters then. And everyone will still be caught up in the summer season, which is where this fits perfectly.
I could easily go on for hours about the release date game, but in the end, it's not up to us. Sony Pictures Classics is going to put it where they want it no matter how much we complain. And unfortunately we're going to just have to accept what they do and in turn try to promote it anyway. None of us want The Wackness to get lost in the mix, whether it's during the summer or the fall. And I know for certain that we won't stop at anything to make sure this becomes a huge hit.