It’s hard to recall a season when Hollywood has been so harshly at odds with so much of its potential audience. On Wednesday, Robert Redford became the latest in a growing string of celebrities to pepper the summer/fall film promotions with reprimands and recrimination.
“We’ve lost our moral foundation,” the Oscar winner told Esquire, speaking of the year-ago presidential election in an interview keyed to the upcoming Netflix release of Our Souls at Night, in which the small-minded gossips of small-town Colorado cluck at his senior moment with Jane Fonda. “We’re the ones who let that happen. We should be looking at ourselves,” said Redford, who was referring to the election, not to his screen relationship with Fonda.
Two days earlier at the Toronto International Film Festival — on September 11 — Guillermo del Toro introduced The Shape of Water, set for release in December by Fox Searchlight Pictures, by comparing America’s current state to a hideous disease. “It’s like a cancer. We have a tumor now,” he told those at a press conference for the film.
“That doesn’t mean the cancer started with that tumor. It was gestating for so long,” he added. His movie, about the similarly troubled Cold War era, purportedly is part of the cure.
Jennifer Lawrence, promoting Mother!, due out Friday from Paramount, might or might not have intended to link the “wrath” of recent hurricanes with American political behavior. But, in an interview with British television, she was clear about her view of the climate back home. “I’ve heard things and I’ve seen things on TV in my own country that devastate me and make me sick,” she said, before walking the remarks back with an “out of context” Facebook disclaimer that is about as likely to fly in the storm-battered heartland as George Clooney’s obscene assault on Steve Bannon, somehow in support of his new movie Suburbicon, due in October from Paramount.
So the awards season is off to an angry start, and that can’t help the movies. Right, wrong or just plain confused, about half the American electorate — and half the potential moviegoing audience — last year moved in a direction of which Redford, del Toro, Lawrence, Clooney and more than a few stars and filmmakers yet to be heard from don’t approve.
But lectures and cancer metaphors won’t bring the masses back — not at the voting booth and certainly not in the theaters. Only last month, the audience delivered a sharp, hard slap at Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit. The film, about the 1967 Detroit riot, was framed as a rebuke. “Even though this story takes place 50 years ago, it feels, sadly, very much like today and therefore tomorrow,” Bigelow told the BBC.
Viewers, for the most part, simply stayed away. And that could happen to Suburbicon, Mother! and a long string of worthy films in the seasonal queue — perhaps clearing the way for an inspirational Best Picture winner from abroad, like, say, Dunkirk, if Hollywood’s sulk doesn’t soon lift.