Eighty-six year-old actress Lois Smith will receive an awards push for her portrayal in Marjorie Prime, which opens this weekend via FilmRise, the distributor that picked up the Sundance fest title last spring. Marjorie Prime, which also stars Jon Hamm, Geena Davis and Tim Robbins, is among a fairly crowded slate of Specialty newcomers this weekend, heading into late summer. Brett Gelman, Judy Greer and Michael Cera star in Lemon from Magnolia Pictures, a dark comedy that also debuted at Sundance. The festival was also the launch pad for Fox Searchlight’s Patti Cake$, opening in over a half-dozen cities today before moving to several hundred in the coming weeks. And Abramorama is opening its latest music doc, Sidemen: Long Road to Glory, in New York this week followed by two dozen runs by Labor Day weekend.
Also opening in limited release is Gravitas Ventures’ California Typewriter at the Metrograph in New York ahead of L.A. next week. Samuel Goldwyn Films will bow Sundance 2017 drama Gook, while Vertical Entertainment will head out with 6 Days.
Director-writer: Michael Almereyda
Writer: Jordan Harrison (play)
Cast: Lois Smith, Jon Hamm, Geena Davis, Tim Robbins, Hannah Gross, Stephanie Andujar
Set in the near-ish future, Michael Almereyda’s sci-fi pic Marjorie Prime is based on Jordan Harrison’s Pulitzer-nominated play exploring memory, identity, love and loss. The film, which won the Sundance Film Festival’s Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Feature Film Prize, will bring an Awards push for the title star, the 86-year-old Lois Smith, who starred in Elia Kazan’s East of Eden opposite James Dean in 1955.
In this film, Smith plays Marjorie, who spends her final, ailing days with a computerized version of her deceased husband. With the intent to recount their life together, Marjorie’s “Prime” relies on the information from her and her kin to develop a more complex understanding of his history. As their interactions deepen, the family begins to develop ever diverging accounts of their lives, drawn into reconstructing the often painful past.
Uri Singer produced Michael Almereyda’s 2015 film Experimenter. While screening the title at the Beijing Film Festival, Almereyda told Singer he had seen the play Marjorie Prime.
“Michael wrote the script adaptation over three months,” said Singer. “Michael allowed everyone to read it, [including] Jordan Harrison who gave his approval. Michael also made a ‘look book,’ which showed his vision. That sealed the deal for me. I also saw how thoroughly he worked during Experimenter.”
Smith had played Marjorie in Los Angeles and was in rehearsals for the stage version in New York as shooting began, juggling her schedule between the movie locations in Long Island and New York City. Jon Hamm took to the script, joining the project, while Geena Davis and Tim Robbins also boarded all within a two-week period.
“The pieces were coming together, but we had one challenge,” explained Singer. “The initial script called for a location in a glass house in upstate New York, but then Ex Machina came out and it had the same kind of setting, so in order to separate [our film] from that, we looked for a place on the beach.” The film shot over 21 days in late 2015.
The production found a house in the Hamptons as the primary location. The crew had to juggle their schedule to accommodate Smith’s obligations with the theater rehearsals for Marjorie Prime. Though the schedule was a heavy one, Singer said Smith rose to the occasion. “Lois did not behave her age,” he said. “Though she was 86, she was up before everyone, knew her lines and was as young as anyone can expect. At one point, she had to swim in the pool, but the heater wasn’t working. But she did it.”
FilmRise picked up the title in March. The distributor will open Marjorie Prime in one theater each in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco this weekend, followed by a national roll-out.
Director-writer: Janicza Bravo
Writer: Brett Gelman
Cast: Brett Gelman, Judy Greer, Michael Cera, Gillian Jacobs, Jeff Garlin, Inger Tudor, Kayla Harrity, Shiri Abbleby
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
Lemon producers Paul Bernon and Sam Slater previously worked with Magnolia Pictures on Joe Swanberg’s Drinking Buddies (2013) and Andrew Bujalski’s Results (2015) through their Burn Later Productions label. Their head of production first introduced the two to filmmaker Janicza Bravo, who co-wrote Lemon with spouse Brett Gelman.
“We were drawn to her as a filmmaker,” said Bernon. “What drew us to the script is that it’s unorthodox storytelling.”
The dark comedy chronicles the singularly strange travails of neurotic failed actor Isaac (Brett Gelman). When his blind girlfriend (Judy Greer) walks out on him, Isaac’s life goes into free-fall as he directs an unhinged staging of Chekhov’s The Seagull, attends the Passover Seder from hell — culminating in a weirdly catchy sing-along about matzo balls — and attempts to woo a new flame (Nia Long).
By the time Bernon and Slater saw the script, it had gone through various iterations over a three to four year period. Burn Later Productions fully financed the project, which shot in Los Angeles last summer.
“We benefitted from it having been out there while it had time to [gestate],” said Slater. “They had a couple people already attached and then we worked with them to [assemble] the rest of the cast. The script is unique and special. Their writing style and her [approach] to directing was why we were able to get this cast. They’re a great comedic group.”
Lemon shot in L.A. over twenty-plus days. The team went back in for some re-shoots which, Bernon and Slater said, was a positive for the ultimate outcome of the title.
“We felt it was necessary [after the initial shoot] to go back and give attention to some things,” added Slater. “It wouldn’t have been what it is today had we not been flexible with it.”
Lemon debuted at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival and screened at SXSW, Seattle, Provincetown, BAMcinemaFest and other fests ahead of its release this weekend in a day and date roll-out. Theatrically, Magnolia is opening the title at the Roxie in San Francisco as well as the Nuart in L.A. The film will then head to nine additional cities the following week including the Quad in New York. It will continue to expand around the country heading into September.
Director-writer: Geremy Jasper
Cast: Danielle Macdonald, Bridget Everett, Cathy Moriarty, Siddarth Dhananjay, Mamoudou Athie
Distributor: Fox Searchlight
Fox Searchlight picked up Geremy Jasper’s Patti Cake$ out of the Sundance Film Festival for what Deadline reported at the time was a deal of around $10.5M, about ten times the film’s budget.
Patti Cake$ is a coming-of-age story straight out of Jersey. An unlikely rapper finds her voice as a one-of-a-kind hip-hop legend in the making. Set in a gritty strip mall in suburbia, the feature chronicles an underdog’s quest for fame and glory.
Following its premiere at Sundance, Searchlight took Patti Cake$ on a five-city PA tour in addition to screenings at New Directors/New Films, SXSW, Cannes Directors Fortnight, San Francisco and other festivals.
“Marketing efforts have been in full swing for several months with multiple tastemakers and publicity activities,” a Searchlight spokesperson noted. “The media elements are all in place and trailers along with one-sheets and other in-theater tools are in place.”
Star Danielle MacDonald has appeared in The New York Times, People, and Elle among others, and the cast appeared on Good Morning America this week to support the opening. The new song/video “Patti Season” premiered exclusively on World Star Hip Hop on August 15. The soundtrack will be released on August 18 by Republic Records. The album features 16 original new tracks from the movie written by director Jasper and Jason Binnick. Additionally a new song/video, “Patti Season” – premiered exclusively on World Star Hip Hop on August 15.
Patti Cake$ will bow at the Arclight Hollywood and Landmark in L.A. as well as Lincoln Square, Union Square and AMC Garden State Paramus in the New York area as well as locations in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and Chicago. The following week, the title will head to more cities including San Francisco, Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Toronto, Detroit, Seattle, Phoenix and San Diego followed by a national release in four to five hundred theaters in 70 – 80 markets in its third week.
Sidemen: Long Road to Glory
Director-writer: Scott D. Rosenbaum
Writer: Jasin Cadic
Subjects: Pinetop Perkins, Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith, Marc Maron, Hubert Sumlin, Gregg Allman, Eric Clapton, Elvin Bishop, Sugar Blue
In the summer of 2008, a group of bluesmen including the last surviving members of the Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters bands were brought together by director Scott Rosenbaum for a cameo appearance in his film The Perfect Age of Rock ’n’ Roll. During production, Pinetop Perkins, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith and Hubert Sumlin entertained Rosenbaum with their tales. Those conversations lead to a new project and Rosenbaum followed the blues legends, shooting live performances, a Grammy win and dozens of intimate interviews, behind the scenes moments and documenting their lives on the road.
Members of The Doors, The Allman Brothers, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Aerosmith, The Dave Matthews Band, as well as artists like Bonnie Raitt, Johnny Winter, Bobby Rush and Shemekia Copeland share their personal and professional recollections of the artists and the impact that they’ve had on their own careers. The documentary captures the personal triumphs, tragedies and perseverance of three of the last original Delta and Chicago bluesmen while preserving a critical legacy.
Abramorama head Richard Abramowitz worked with a Sidemen producer on Lynyrd Skynyrd documentary Free Bird twenty years ago. “I’ve been talking to him about this,” said Abramowitz. “They were able to put the money together for this and they received a lot of support from the music industry.”
Sidemen is one in a long list of music-oriented documentaries Abramorama has released including The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years, which grossed over $2.9M, as well as the most recent Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk, which opened in late July. Abramowitz said the company will be announcing three more music-centered docs in the coming weeks.
“There are some blues festivals that take place in August that will be supporting [the film] with their blasts through social media,” said Abramotiz. “It seemed like a good time to put a smart thoughtful film in theaters now. There was also an opportunity to get the right theaters now.”
Sidemen: Long Road to Glory will open at the Sunshine in New York this weekend, followed by the Laemmle Hollywood next weekend. The title will be in 25 markets by Labor Day weekend.