"LOL" was supposed to represent a big step for Miley Cyrus' movie career as she tries to mature beyond her saccharine image as Disney's Hannah Montana.
Instead, it has turned into a tough lesson about how quickly a Hollywood studio can fall out of love with a movie.
An English-language adaptation of the hit 2008 French film of the same name, "LOL" is about teen romance in the age of texting and social media. The picture's sophisticated tone is set in one of its first scenes when Cyrus takes a shower while her mother, played by Demi Moore, takes a bath in the same room. The two have a frank talk about sexuality after Moore's character notices that her naked daughter has had a Brazilian wax.
"I really thought this movie could be universal," filmmaker Lisa Azuelos, who wrote and directed the American and French versions of the films, said in a telephone interview from Morocco. "Usually teen movies are tender or scary or have vampires in them, but they're never realistic. This story isn't too dirty and not too stupid."
The Cyrus movie was made in 2010 and produced by Mandate Pictures for about $11 million, with money raised primarily from sales to foreign distributors. Lionsgate, Mandate's parent company, acquired domestic distribution rights for several million dollars. In a statement released at the time, Lionsgate's then-production president, Alli Shearmur, described it as "the kind of smart, fresh and accessible comedy that … is a great fit for Lionsgate's release slate."
But executives at the studio soon lost their enthusiasm for the picture, according to people with knowledge of the situation who were not authorized to speak publicly about it. With Lionsgate focused on several higher-profile projects, including last year's "Abduction" and "Conan the Barbarian" and March's megahit "The Hunger Games," "LOL" never got a spot on the release calendar.
Lionsgate executives were not confident that they could successfully sell the picture, which centers on Cyrus' character, named Lola, but features a series of interwoven tales involving teenagers.
In fact, "LOL" would likely have gone directly to DVD, the knowledgeable people said, but Mandate's contracts with foreign distributors contained a provision that the movie must be shown domestically in at least 100 theaters. As a result, the studio has very quietly decided to release "LOL" in seven cities on May 4, the same day as the sure-to-be-blockbuster "Avengers," which is expected to open to more than $100 million.
Lionsgate set the May 4 date recently without making any formal announcement and apparently plans to do no publicity.
In a sign of how low a priority "LOL" is at Lionsgate, its marketing is being handled by the studio's home entertainment division, not its theatrical marketing team, which typically oversees any release going to theaters.
"LOL" marks the first PG-13 film for Cyrus, 19, who has previously found some success in more kid-friendly fare. A documentary following the pop star on her Hannah Montana concert tour grossed a solid $65.3 million in 2008, and "Hannah Montana: The Movie" performed even better the next year, collecting $79.6 million. The 2010 tear-jerker "The Last Song," based on a Nicholas Sparks novel, generated a respectable $63 million.