What you see on the screen, big or little, is only part of the story. Rachel Abramowitz's new column, Hollywood Brief, gives the town's culture, personalities and power players the close-up they deserve -- but may not always want.
ARE YOU ready for "Desperate Housewives, the Movie"? "Grey's Anatomy: Bigger, Sappier" and filled with an array of new luscious boy toys (Brad Pitt as Dr. McCreamy)? How about "Sex and the City: Cougars Live" edition? Personally I'd see "America's Next Top Model" the cinematic version, as long as Tyra brings her riding crop and commands the wannabe models to look fierce as they bungee jump off the Eiffel Tower in thongs and tiaras.
I'm being facetious, but I bet ya some genius out in Burbank is dreaming up ideas just like this. That's because I and half of Hollywood is trying to parse the lessons of the resounding success (unexpected to some) of the "Sex and the City" movie, the event film for women.
A $57-million opening weekend? And $192 million worldwide within two weeks? Chicks en masse go to the film as a religious experience. Is there a stampede to knock off other hit TV shows, figuring that TV is to women what comic books are to men? A product with pre-established awareness and mythic potential? Or will "SATC's" hitdom be chalked off as a periodic anomaly, just like "First Wives Club," "Fatal Attraction" and, of course, the bestselling movie of all time, "Titanic," whose tidal wave of gross profit was driven by human beings lacking the Y-chromosome.
For some, there's cause for optimism.
"I hope ['Sex and the City'] will at least bring about more of a trend toward films made specifically for adult female women," says Donna Langley, Universal's president of production, who ran out opening weekend to catch the film, both as a consumer and a professional. "You would hope, given the success of 'Sex and the City,' people will remember there is a huge female audience out there, and, judging by these numbers, they're clearly starved, for the most part."
Yet for others, the mere fact that pundits and businessmen are looking for lessons is irritating. "Why does the fate of female audiences rest on one movie?" asks producer Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, who produced the upcoming film "Kit Kittredge: An American Girl," as well as such women-driven hits as "Maid in Manhattan." "There are many movies made for male audiences that work and don't work, but it doesn't seem that the fate of gender-based movies rested on them." Goldsmith-Thomas was Julia Roberts' agent in the '90s, when she was knocking out box-office hits one after another. "Julia Roberts broke the standards, but rather than say, 'There is a female audience,' what people said was 'It's only because of Julia. It's an exception.' That's the frustration."
Even now, Alan Horn, the president and chief operating officer of Warner Bros. Entertainment,who released "SATC," is loathe to stand up and declare like an evangelist, "I've seen the light."
"It's risky to draw lines or curves from a limited number of data points," says Horn. "We always believe around here, as Mr. Shakespeare said, 'The play's the thing.' " Horn points out that "Sex and the City" was a film that hit a bull's-eye into the zeitgeist, with its blend of relatable characters, incredible clothes and tons of brand awareness. Says Horn: "It seems pretty clear we ought to be talking about a sequel, though there's no immediate conclusion we draw regarding the women's audience. We at Warner Bros. do not wish to be set up as industry seers."
To insiders it's kind of ironic that Warner Bros. ended up with the biggest women's hit of the year. When the HBO-bred project went on the market inside the Time Warner empire, Big Warner wasn't the division holding its hand up and yelping, "Here, here, here!" That was its scrappier brother, New Line, which has always had a more renegade elan. Yet the independent label was folded into Big Warner back in February, giving the major studio Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte to market, which they've done effectively.
Then there was October's kerfuffle, when bloggers began circulating the rumor that Horn's protege, President of the Warner Bros. Pictures Group Jeff Robinov had declared a ban on female leads after the commercial fizzles of the would-be thrill fests "The Reaping," "The Invasion" and "The Brave One," which starred three Oscar winners, Hilary Swank, Nicole Kidman and Jodie Foster, respectively. It was one of the apocryphal stories that certainly seemed like it could be true, because many female industry players suspect that's what a chunk of male studio execs secretly think anyway.