The question buzzing around Hollywood today is: How could a little comedy that's been out for a while beat out the most anticipated sequel of the year? The surprise hit comedy "Meet the Parents" managed to hold "Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2" at bay and hold on to the No. 1 spot at the box office for the fourth week in a row. It also passed the $100 million mark at the box office. Could it be "Parents'" star power? It does, after all, star film veteran Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller, who had a big comedic hit with "There's Something About Mary."
Highly unlikely say, some industry analysts. Word of mouth seems to be the culprit in this case.
"'Meet the Parents'" hit audiences in a good way," says Daily Variety film critic Todd McCarthy. "They think it's the funniest film they've seen in a long time, and I think word got out about that."
Such was the case this morning on Los Angeles alternative radio station KROQ/106.7-FM. Several listeners called in to rave about the film and how the story reminded them of the first time they met their in-laws.
In the film, Stiller plays Greg Focker, a young man who asks his girlfriend's overprotective father (De Niro) for her hand in marriage and is then put through the wringer with exhausting interrogation.
But word of mouth isn't always good for a film, especially if the film is a stinker, as some have said of "Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2."
"It's a horrible film, and I think the word got out on that," McCarthy says. "I'm amazed that they screened it in advance it's so bad. I thought they would have at least played on people's curiosity until the last possible minute."
Banking on the popularity and media hype of last year's "The Blair Witch Project," the studio quickly went to work on its sequel, but the same formula doesn't always work twice, says Brian Fuson, box office analyst for The Hollywood Reporter.
"I think the anticipation of the second 'Blair Witch' film was due to the success of the first one. The marketing approach with the Internet really captured people's imagination before it came out. But you can't use the same approach twice. It wouldn't work," he says.
"I think 'Meet the Parents'" has been going very strong because it's had a great word of mouth. It only dropped 6 percent in attendance after its first week. That speaks to its strong word of mouth," Fuson says. "Word of mouth is what makes or breaks the film, especially after its first week."
Film critics seem to have all the fun, dishing out catchy blurbs and influencing the fate of the latest Hollywood offerings with a tilt of the thumb, while powerless actors, directors and producers have no recourse but to curse them from afar. But today, Hollywood has the last word.
Daily Variety surveyed four dozen filmmakers for their opinions on the nations' top movie reviewers and -- surprise! -- they're pretty darn critical of the critics. So critical, in fact, that almost nobody was willing to let their names be published in the trade newspaper's article, lest they incur the printed wrath of any pundit they decided to diss.
Variety didn't rank the critics from best to worst, nor did it give marks to individual critics for their (perceived) strengths and weaknesses. But the catty comments of those unidentified Hollywood types who took part in the survey revealed that: (a) critics from the print medium (newspapers, magazines) were regarded fairly positively, while (b) blurbmeisters working on TV are, well, not.
According to the survey, the Hollywood players consider Anthony Lane of the New Yorker magazine the doyen of movie writers, thanks to his "film literacy, reliability, verisimilitude and quality of writing." Roger Ebert and Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times were also well respected as being passionate and informed, even if some consider them pompous.
David Denby of the New Yorker and David Ansen of Newsweek also seemed to be generally well regarded; Kevin Thomas, a longtime critic for the Los Angeles Times, meanwhile, "took a drubbing from filmmakers of all ages and disciplines," according to Variety.
But what's really interesting is how much dirt the filmmakers dished about the broadcast critics, ranging from the guys on local newscasts to the network morning news programs to entertainment news shows.
An unidentified Oscar-nominated actor said, "I cannot abide David Sheehan. Gene Shalit's not a dope, but he goes for the gag. And I cannot abide Joel Siegel. I can develop a real hatred for critics as I talk about these people!"
Sheehan is the perennial, I-like-everything critic for KCBS-TV in Los Angeles; Shalit, of course, is a resident of NBC's "Today" show. (Vocabulary lesson for today: "Abide" is synonymous with "tolerate.")
Another missive was fired by a director (also unnamed, natch), who called TV critics "the people who absolutely aggravate me. One guy who's very uneven and goes into ecstasy over mediocre pictures is Joel Siegel (of ABC's "Good Morning America" fame)."
But how reliable is Variety's survey, if no quantitative methodology, at least none that is apparent, was used? Is four dozen people enough of a survey to gauge prevailing Hollywood opinions? How thorough can it be, when it mentions that that Hollywood insiders consider Variety's own chief film critic, Todd McCarthy, to be "the only one contributing something worth listening to" but (tellingly) no mention is made of The Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt?