Whether you’re a classic art-house moviegoer of a certain age or a younger film lover looking for adventure beyond action yarns, there are options amid the costumed superheroes and wannabe blockbusters that make up the stereotypical movie releases of summer.
And specialized distributors are competing for your attention.
Newer companies such as A24, Neon, Gunpowder and Sky, Broad Green Pictures and The Orchard — not to mention theatrical releases backed by the streaming platforms Netflix and Amazon — are challenging established players such as Sony Pictures Classics, Roadside Attractions, Fox Searchlight Pictures, Focus Features and Magnolia Pictures for younger and older art-house moviegoers.
Sofia Coppola’s “The Beguiled” from Focus Features and Bong Joon-ho’s “Okja” from Netflix and Plan B will be released not long after premiering at the Cannes Film Festival. Other specialized releases over the summer months include Michael Showalter’s “The Big Sick,” Jeff Baena’s “The Little Hours,” Gillian Robespierre’s “Landline,” David Lowery’s “A Ghost Story,” and Amber Tamblyn’s “Paint It Black.”
All of these movies will be competing for audience attention not only with the studio’s summer blockbusters eating up thousands of screens, but with television, streaming services, online content, video games and good weather.
“The art-house audience is an older audience,” says Tom Bernard, co-president of Sony Pictures Classics. “There’s a younger audience, but they’re very selective and you’ve really got to create an urgency for them to see it in the theater, as opposed to when they can pick it up online or God forbid, pick it up for free somewhere.”
This summer, Bernard’s Sony Pictures Classics is chasing after multiple audience ages by releasing the eccentric “Brigsby Bear,” which stars “Saturday Night Live’s” Kyle Mooney, as well as the Diane Lane and Alec Baldwin film “Paris Can Wait,” whose director, Eleanor Coppola, making her fiction feature debut on the cusp of turning 81, is unafraid to appeal to mature audiences.
“I wanted to make a movie that was the kind of movie that I used to go and see,” says Coppola, who is known for her documentaries. “And I know there are a lot of other people in that 50-plus category. I know they’re there, because I talk to them all the time.”
Certainly, she’s been around a few film sets in her lifetime, whether for husband Francis Ford Coppola, her children Sofia and Roman, or granddaughter Gia.
“Paris Can Wait’s” story is an embellished version of an incident that actually happened, when Eleanor decided she wanted to stay in France instead of accompanying Francis to Eastern Europe. She ended up on a car trip from Cannes to Paris that should have taken a few hours but wound up taking more than two days. In the film, Lane, who plays the wife of a film producer played by Baldwin, finds herself being driven to Paris by an associate of her husband, played by Arnaud Viard.
Eleanor was inspired to try her hand at screenwriting after telling the story of her car trip to a friend, who besides making her realize how entertaining it was, also ignited in her a need she wasn’t entirely aware she had.
“There’s a place for everything but the kind of film I wanted to make,” she says of the current movie scene, “which I guess is just an enjoyable film. It’s not superficial and silly, it’s the kind of film I wanted to see.”
Neon, meanwhile, has high hopes for “Ingrid Goes West,” directed by Matt Spicer, who picked up the screenplay prize with David Branson Smith when the film premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival. Aubrey Plaza plays a troubled young woman named Ingrid, who moves to Los Angeles inspired by an Instagram style influencer (Elizabeth Olsen) she promptly begins to stalk and then befriend. Also co-starring O’Shea Jackson Jr. and Wyatt Russell, the film is a savage satire on the desperation for validation that is such a part of social-media culture, before turning toward plea for acceptance and authenticity.
Some of the jokes in the film feel extremely specific to Los Angeles, but Spicer has already seen the film play well to those who may not recognize the city’s shops, restaurants or local customs.
“People definitely laugh at different things, there are some jokes that L.A. people relate to a lot more, but you’d be surprised how much the avocado toast jokes travel,” Spicer says. “The people who live in L.A. are laughing because they see themselves in it and I think the people outside of L.A. are laughing because that’s so L.A., the stereotypes of L.A.”
“The Hero,” distributed by the Orchard and directed by Brett Haley from a screenplay by Haley and Marc Basch, stars Sam Elliott as an aging actor who once achieved fame in westerns but has recently been struggling to hold onto his career.
Haley, though only in his early 30s, has now made two films sensitively chronicling the challenges of aging gracefully. His previous feature, “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” was a romantic drama starring Blythe Danner with a supporting turn by Elliott. But Haley didn’t set out to become a youthful chronicler of modern aging. With a supporting cast that includes Nick Offerman, Laura Prepon and Krysten Ritter, “The Hero” looks to have an even broader appeal.
“I think what people of that age are responding to in my work is I don’t play into cliché, I don’t think, ‘This is an old person movie,’ which I think a lot of movies play into,” says Haley. “In my films I try very much to just say this just happens to be a character who is of a certain age and I’m going to treat them like I'll treat any other character in the film. The films I’m interested in making treat every character equally and as a real person, not some stock version of an old grumpy guy or whatever.”
Whether aimed at moviegoers young or old, what all of this summer’s potential counterprogramming shares is a desire to connect with audiences of any age.
As Eleanor Coppola puts it, “I’d like it of course to cross over and be something that people of all generations and persuasions would be able to find enjoyment in.”
And in all seasons. In the relentless contemporary entertainment environment, rather than cramming specialized movies into the traditional fall and winter awards-season months, it serves distributors and filmmakers to look for audiences all year round, even in the blockbuster days of summer.
“I think it’s good for the business to spread it out and have it not be so concentrated,” Spicer says. “You’re fighting for people’s dollars and they can only see so many movies.”