It made $30 million dollars in its opening weekend. It was hailed as another comedy classic from the man who made Iron Curtain bigotry box office gold. Messageboards were touting the film’s near 70% Rotten Tomato rating, adding that in their mind, making seven out of ten of the world’s cynical critics laugh must mean something. Yet something unexpected happened this past Friday afternoon when the first tallies of the weekend were counted. Brüno, which many felt would be one of the bigger hits this otherwise lackluster Summer season, was almost 80% off from the previous week. And while many thought that number couldn’t possible hold, two more miserable days at the ticket takers rewarded the latest from Sacha Baron Cohen with an unhealthy 72% fall. Ouch!
Of course, for anyone who felt the film was a one note bit of obnoxiousness that overstayed its welcome early and often, this was no big surprise. Even some in the industry predicted that even without another smash weekend, Brüno would still have enough staying power to barely make it to $100 million. But it seems like the proposed sensation has stalled, given over to a general vibe of being a success, but not a “success”. As the various pundits try to figure out what went wrong, we here at SE&L have our own impressions. True, some have come from reading the thoughts of others and taking the temperature of the whole Twitter/Facebook demo, but the truth remains that what was once considered a given has suddenly become a commercial question mark.
Broken down into five recognizable trends, here are some reasons why Brüno won’t be Borat, or even Paul Blart: Mall Cop for that matter. Let’s being with:
The Right Movie - The Wrong Movie Season
As tentpoles go, Brüno is clearly not the kind of film you build an entire summer around. It’s niche, perhaps in the most niche-iest way possible. It’s trading on the previous success of a similarly styled film and it’s dealing with subject matter that may or may not alienate its intended audience. And yet what does Universal do? It centers it in between a trio of highly anticipated titles (Public Enemies, Ice Age 3, and Harry Potter 6) and expects it to hold its own. Perhaps if they had positioned it toward the end of August, when the Summer is winding down and the other studios are selling off their also-rans to an already overdosing public, this oddball effort could have stayed the course. Instead, it looks to shine semi-brightly for another few days and then become the source of much industry speculation.
“Gay Don’t Play”
Another cited reason for Brüno‘s lack of “legs” is the film’s main subject matter - homosexuality. And not just the inference of same, mind you, but the quasi-censored hardcore pornographic illustrations of the orientation. Now, Joe Sixpack and many in the equally narrow-minded Red State citizenry really don’t care for alternative lifestyles (a gross overgeneralization, granted), so imagine their surprise when a proposed mainstream comedy gives them upfront examples of Queer Nation Gone Wild! While one would hope that the rest of the country is as supposedly unprejudiced as the always complained about ‘Coasts’, here’s betting the Brüno stirred up a lot of negative watercooler conversation around the various borderline Bible belt factions of these often fractured United States.
It’s All the Midnight Screenings Fault
One of the more unusual theories about Brüno‘s 72% drop off center around math - specifically, the concept that Midnight screenings, held the Thursday before the movie “officially” opened skewed the follow-up percentage higher. In essence, what these obsessive-compulsive bean counters are arguing is that if Brüno hadn’t given into the new 12:00am trend, it would have earned LESS its opening weekend, and thus the difference between then and now would be statistically smaller. OK - that’s true. But we also have to remember that this film arrived on more screens that Borat, had less competition over its initial three days (I Love You Beth Cooper? Please!), and was building on an already established “star” in Sacha Baron Cohen. Midnight or not, any major drop indicates trouble in ambush comedy paradise.
The Humor Didn’t Match the Hype
Far be it from us to blame the film itself (it’s such a classic, right? RIGHT?) but it seems clear that, unlike its racist Eastern European cousin, Brüno just didn’t deliver the promised goods. Jokes fell flat, much of the scripted material was not as “inspired” as previous incarnations of the character, and audiences clearly expected more of the man on the street material and less of the lead’s lecherous bedroom activities. By the time the narrative shifted from sex to celebrity, many had made their mind up. Even the inspired bits with the African baby and the religious “convertor” were met with less than enthusiastic responses. Again, you can blame an ad campaign that literally gave away most of the gags in the trailer. But you can also blame a comedian who tried to fool most of the people twice, and as the famous maxim says, that ain’t happening, girlfriend!
Relax - It’s Just Part of the Nu-Blockbuster Model
Perhaps the most rational statement made in regards to Brüno‘s record fall-off is also the most telling in general. Apparently, we live in an age of instant access and equally direct responses. A film like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen earns massive money its first weekend because everyone wants to see it. Those who don’t like to fight such audiences wait until a week or two later. Word of mouth also operates to put butts in/keep butts out of first run seats, as does the occasional critic. Still, Hollywood understands that even the biggest hit is going to see its financial fortunes reduced by 55% to 60% in its second weekend. That almost always because another popcorn player is walking into the arena, ready to do box office battle. Again, Brüno had to put up with Harry Potter. Not a very fair fight, really.
In truth, the key concept here is word of mouth. In today’s multimedia overload dominium, the less than enthusiastic reactions from a couple of ‘bros’ means that something you might take the chance on theatrically becomes the most recent add to your Netflix queue. Get enough of those responses - and Brüno clearly wasn’t walking on a cloud of consensual unanimity - and a near 3/4’s drop doesn’t seem so far-fetched. Some will chalk it up to the viewing public finally wising up while others will shrug it off as standard cinematic operating procedure. Whatever the case, it looks like this film will follow the course taken by many of the movies this Summer - gangbusters out of the box, commercially underwhelming from there on.