Sony Banks On Meryl Streep As 'Hope' Springs Into Theatres & 2012 Awards Race

Today Sony Pictures is doing the unthinkable. It is breaking, on a wide release of 2500+ screens, a dialogueHope Springs-driven adult comedy/drama about the sex life (or lack of it) of a long-married couple both in their 60’s. And in the middle of August no less!

Sure it stars Meryl Streep, a bona fide box office draw even at her age, but  it’s highly unusual and somewhat risky business to go this wide with a movie that is clearly aimed at the much older audience who is slow to show up no matter what the attraction. The studio is opening on a Wednesday in order to build some good word of mouth and reviews for its first weekend where it must face more typical summer flicks like Universal’s The Bourne Legacy  and Warner Bros. The Campaign. Currently it stands at a decent 77% fresh for reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, a good sign for a movie that would seem like it would be more indie-oriented fodder than summertime major studio fare.

With the August release though Sony is also getting a jump on awards season as this cast  includes such Oscar favorites as 17- time nominee and 3- time winner Streep (most recently in February for The Iron Lady) as well as Supporting Actor winner Tommy Lee Jones (The Fugitive), along with a deadpan Steve Carell as their couples therapist who counsels them at a week-long retreat on how to put the sexual spark back into their marriage. Of course Streep tends to get Oscar noms for just showing up on the set, while Jones was last nominated for Best Actor for 2007’s In The Valley Of Elah, a bit of a surprise then since his film was a boxoffice non-starter that had largely been written off at that point indicating the Academy likes him, they really like him. Both stars are getting strong reviews so far. Whether the strategy works at the boxoffice for this very Academy-friendly fare (official Los Angeles Academy member screening is Sunday night at the Goldwyn) remains to be seen but producers Todd Black and Guymon Casady told me they are just hoping the audience turns out, and happy they decided to go the studio route even though that wasn’t initially the plan.

“It wasn’t always at a studio,”  says Casady, a founding partner of Mangagement 360 whose credits include The Expendables and its upcoming sequel and is Co-Executive Producer of HBO’s Game Of Thrones. He first discovered the script by Vanessa Taylor who  later became one of his clients and now works on Thrones. “Sony has been incredibly supportive of the movie but it had a journey before it came to Sony. With Mandate’s help – they backed an offer to Meryl early in the process – it really was the catalyst for the project coming together”.   He explained his  wife had stumbled on to a copy of  the script, read it, and insisted he read it too that same night before going to bed. He did and knew immediately he had to produce the movie. At that point he found a producing partner in Black (Antwone Fisher, The Taking Of Pelham 123, The Pursuit Of Happyness).

“Someone in my company had read it and said ‘you love good writing and this is really good writing. I read it immediately , put it down and was knocked out. Then I re-read it again which I never do. It was one of the best scripts I have seen in years”,  said Black of the screenplay that actually was on Hollywood’s famous “blacklist” of the hottest unproduced scripts before being rescued by this pair. “I knew  they were talking to other producers but I said if you allow me to, I will get Meryl Streep and get this movie made the way Guyman and Vanessa wanted it to be made”.

At one point another financier/ producer was involved  but it would have been made earlier for $4 million with different, more indie-centric actors. Casady and Black believed it could be a bigger project  with superstar actors despite the unconventional subject matter.

“It’s hard material  and we knew if we didn’t get Meryl it would have a lot of trouble getting made, even with a very good actress in her age range – and there are a number of them -but to make it a mainstream movie for bigger audiences Meryl is the biggest draw around for actresses today and we knew a studio like Sony, which happens to be my home studio, would really respond to that and see it as a bigger movie vs. trying to do it independently”, said Black. He said they had to wait a year for Streep until she was finished with her committment to It’s Complicated.  But she sparked to the script and eventually her agent called and said she was in. Once that happened it came together quickly since Streep was a lightning rod for other actors and even suggested Jones as the perfect co-star (at one time Jeff Bridges was discussed and Mike Nichols was mentioned as director until Streep’s final choice of her Devil Wears Prada director David Frankel came on board).

As for the subject matter which is clearly targeted at an older audience Black says he thinks it is for anybody. “You don’t have to be married. You don’t have to be a senior to understand yourself and the person you’re with. We all know that’s complicated and it has highs and lows at any age. It affects you physically and mentally and for me that’s as relatable as it gets, ” he says.

Casady agrees saying “It’s about intimacy and whether you have been married  for two weeks or 30 years the same thing applies. Obviously we hope it is a piece of entertainment. We hope people enjoy the movie but if what comes out of it is that people leave the theatre and talk about their relationships and  it becomes a catalyst for people talking about  the institution  of marriage in a broader way, great,” he said.

So why not release this in Fall when these kind of adult-skewing, Oscar bait movies are generally found in theatres? “There was a lot of debate  and conversation about the date,”  said Casady. “There was talk about December until the smart guys in marketing at Sony decided to move it up to the middle of August,”  and as the producers like to  point out  adult-skewing titles like The Help, Julie And Julia and Eat Pray Love were all released to good results around the same spot on the calendar. “The thinking behind that was kind of August- going- into- Fall the comic book and kid movies are over and adults can enjoy themselves as we head towards Fall. That’s the thinking and hopefully they are right”,  adds Black.

The trailer has emphasized the comedic, lighter aspects of the film on purpose but TV spots are now broadening the scope of the film which veers from comedy to drama, sometimes in the same scene. The producers hope the  TV spots, combined with the trailer and reading reviews (since older audiences actually still read them) will help take the onus off the fact that the trailer was funny while the movie is more than that.  “Hopefully people don’t  feel mislead but feel it exceeded expectations”, says Casady.

“We really went for comedy and drama. I think the movie can live in that”,  Black says. But whether it can live in the heat of summer – and beyond into the heart of Oscar season – is a question that is about to be answered.

  1. This is getting great reviews. Would not be surprised if it’s this year’s The Help (in terms of success — if the reviews are to be believed, this looks like an actually decent movie).

    Nice to see producers actually making a movie for people who go to movies and not just to impress whatever MBA dimwit studio exec is sitting two tables down from them at their favorite restaurant.

  2. I agree that this should be a fall/winter release or perhaps better as a winter/spring release when you go from the dull of ice cold snow to a new spring rabbit of their libido.

    I can’t help thinking that a direct to video might be better with all the old age people who won’t leave their easy chairs.

  3. Im not sure why the wide opening is a surprise — Meryl Streep has had some huge100 million+ hits including August entry Julie and julia, it’s complicated and mamma Mia.

    1. It’s Complicated was released in December and Mamma Mia was released at the end of June. Only one that was close to August was Julie and Julia which came out at the very end of July.

  4. On Charlie Rose’s show this week, Streep said the August release was her idea, because women – the film’s target audience, she said – are too busy in the awards season months of November and December.

  5. “Unthinkable”? Obviously it wasn’t. The industry needs more thinking out side the box. The current, old belief system is a self fulfilling profecy.

  6. “Sure it stars Meryl Streep, a bona fide box office draw even at her age,”

    LOL loving that age trumps talent.

  7. I would rather see this than any of that inane, idiotic crap aimed at teens and twentysomethings who can’t stand to be away from Facebook for two seconds. Meryl and Tom are great, always have been, their age is totally irrelevant – and I like the idea of a film about people in their 60’s who are interested in sex! An adult comedy is sorely needed these days.

  8. It’s great that the film has Meryl Streep but I saw the prewiews a number of times and the film left a bad impression: Steve Carrell. I’ll pass on this picture.

  9. While I look forward to watching this on our home system when it becomes available, I’m not sure I’d pay $$ to watch a couple of 60+ bodies getting frisky when I can see it chez moi, preferably in dim light and sans spectacles (kinda like putting vaseline on the lens). Plus, the very large screen it will be shown on in a movie theater kind of scares me off.

  10. This movie was fun! Nice to see a film with grown ups on screen and in the audience. Although it did make me blush more than Magic Mike.

  11. Hope Floats is aimed at the American generation with the most money of all.
    Dual income, child free, and close to retirement age citizens.
    Isn’t it a wonder, Hollywood has sold themselves on the concept the least affluent age group might give them a big pay-off. Shouldn’t Hollywood be trying to market their films to the much more affluent age group?
    It’s films like Hope Floats, Midnight in Paris and others which, if well marketed, could outsell Dark Knight any day.

  12. I saw this film last night at The Grove. I am a huge Meryl Streep fan…but this film was terrible! There were so many scenes that took place in a Psychologist’s Office that I felt like I was undergoing a painful evaluation at a Psychiatric Ward.

  13. The release of the film should have been pushed back a week so it avoids competition from the Olympics.

    Still, I think I know why this film is getting a mega-blockbuster-like wide release in August: Meryl Streep, Tommy-Lee Jones and Steve Carrell are all name stars and will probably be responsible for most of the box-o0ffice business this film will do.

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