Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Expand the Menu

We currently have the trifecta of three-quels playing at our local movie theater: “Spider-Man,” “Shrek” and “Pirates of the Caribbean.” This isn’t a particularly astounding feat—I’m sure it’s occurring, as I type, at multiplexes all across the country. Except that my local movie theater is not exactly a multiplex and is best characterized as shabby on a good day and rundown and populated by homeless people on a bad one. It’s the cinema that stadium seating forgot.

Which, of course, is why I love it. That and the fact that at least one of its four screens is usually devoted to “art house” fare. And by “art house” I mean that it shows movies that weren’t solely conceived, written, directed, cast and marketed to appeal to 17-year-old boys. By “art house” I mean that I expected “Waitress” to be playing there. Instead, I got an ogre, a pirate and a spider. Oh my!

“Waitress,” if you haven’t heard, is sort of this year’s “Little Miss Sunshine,” a black-ish comedy with a dollop of heartfelt emotion on the side. If you thought a dead grandpa being carted around in the back of a VW bus was entertaining, well you’ll just love this story about a pregnant waitress/pie-making genius who’s having an affair with her gynecologist. (I’m simplifying, but not much.)

I did manage to catch a showing at a theater downtown (so tack $3.50 in CTA train fares onto the already exorbitant $9 ticket price). And I can testify that “Waitress” is as charming as advertised and reviewed—well-written, well-acted, a little on the quirky side but in a good way. Naturally, it being a movie, the plot had its completely implausible moments. Which, of course, is why I loved it.

It reminded me of the movie “Big Night,” another film in which food featured prominently. This time, instead of hankering for anything resembling Italian cooking, I had a taste for pie. I didn’t get any, because pie diners, in my experience, only exist in the movies. But I did bake some chocolate chip cookies.

And it also reminded me of the movie “In America,” in that the theater was nearly sold out. (We wound up sitting in the third row, which, for future reference, kind of induces vertigo.) I usually take this to mean we have a huge hit on our hands. Except that, as “In America” taught me, we actually don’t.

According to Entertainment Weekly, for the weekend of May 18-20, “Waitress” had a higher per-site box office average—at $9,319—than any other movie except “Shrek the Third.” The catch: The movie’s total haul was $1.1 million, about 100 times less than that of the green giant. “Shrek” played at more than 4,000 sites, “Waitress” at a paltry 116. For comparison, something called “Delta Farce” was taking up nearly 2,000 screens.

So while I’d love to tell you to go see “Waitress,” I’m guessing that unless you live in one of a handful of major metropolitan areas, you’re going to have to wait for the DVD.

In that same issue of Entertainment Weekly, columnist Mark Harris takes a pointed stab at the people who decide what movies get made and who gets to see them:

“The sentence ‘We’re just giving the people what they want,’ when uttered by a studio executive, is always, always untrue,” Harris writes. “There’s no such thing as ‘the people.’ Not anymore.”

His point, and mine, is that not everyone has the same taste. While plenty of people want to see “Shrek,” plenty of others—witness the $9,000 per site average—also want to see “Waitress.” Shouldn’t the latter group have a fighting chance?

That’s why I’m so disappointed in my skanky local theater, which usually does a much better job of pleasing its various audiences. (I know, they’re in business to make money, but on May 20, they would have made more cash off “Waitress” than “Spidey.”) Fine, give some of the people “Shrek,” but give the rest of us a few expanded menu options.

Like a serving of “Waitress,” preferably with a slice of pie on the side.


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