David Fincher’s “Gone Girl,” the murder-mystery about a missing wife that doubles (for some) as a bleakly funny portrait of modern marriage at its worst, packed the 1,012-seat Samuel Goldwyn Theater on Saturday night as motion picture academy members jumped at the chance to see the film everyone has been discussing the past week.
The near-overflow turnout mirrored "Gone Girl's" robust commercial debut this weekend (box office analysts predicted a take of $37 million to $42 million), while the muted response from Oscar voters and their plus-ones in the room fell squarely in line with the middling B grade moviegoers gave it, per market research firm Cinemascore.
For those who have just roused themselves from a long nap: “Gone Girl” tells the story of a husband, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), who becomes a murder suspect after his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), disappears. We see the Dunnes’ marriage in flashbacks, sometimes with voice-over from Amy as she reads from her diary, recalling happier times and irreconcilable differences. Writer Gillian Flynn adapted her best-selling book, which, with its shifting point of view, left readers to wonder who was telling the truth.
Academy members we spoke to were fairly equally divided between devotees of the novel and those who came to the movie without any existing knowledge of the story -- as much as that is possible given the scrutiny the film has received since premiering at the New York Film Festival last week.
"I didn’t want to know anything about the movie before I saw it, but I kept hearing people talking about Ben Affleck’s penis," one academy member, a screenwriter, said. "Now I know why. It’s a more fully realized character here than the one Pike plays."
That complaint was echoed by multiple academy members who had read the book and came away dissatisfied with the character balance in the adaptation.
"It probably couldn't be helped," one voter said, "because of the way the book alternates between her story and his. The movie, it's mostly Affleck. You don't hear enough of her voice, and it throws the whole thing off."
"Gone Girl" screened for New York-based academy members Tuesday, with star Rosamund Pike interviewed afterward. There was no Q&A following Saturday's screening at the Goldwyn. The audience clapped when the closing credits began to roll, but there was no applause when they finished. Contrasted to most movies that go on to win a best picture nomination, it was a rather subdued reaction, particularly given the buzz that was in the room when the film began.
Fincher’s technical prowess – the precise camera work, the immaculately composed shots, the razor-sharp editing – remained unimpeachable for some. “This is first-class filmmaking,” one academy member said. But … “But, like a lot of his other movies, you admire it more than you enjoy it.”
In short, when it comes to the academy, “Gone Girl” could have some issues. Many critics love it. The Internet is obsessed with it, dissecting its gender politics, its ending, its fidelity to the book. But, perhaps owing to the hype, not to mention the aforementioned gender politics and that wackadoodle ending, audiences might be divided between ardent believers, the unimpressed and the nonplussed.
“What did I just see?” one Oscar-nominated producer asked, walking along Wilshire Boulevard to his car. "That's it? Really? I've seen better social commentary in a good episode of 'Bob's Burgers.'"