Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

His & Hers proves the value of word of mouth.

Much as we keyboard-thumpers like to think otherwise, strong reviews have only a modest effect on the performance of a motion picture. The figures show — if you are interested — that, whereas good notices have a pretty direct correlation …

Fri, Jul 16, 2010, 20:16

   

Much as we keyboard-thumpers like to think otherwise, strong reviews have only a modest effect on the performance of a motion picture. The figures show — if you are interested — that, whereas good notices have a pretty direct correlation with per-screen average, there is a fairly shaky connection between positive critical word and total takings. What this means is that reviews seem to boost interest in smaller films, but don’t really matter that much when it comes to blockbusters. The punter may pay attention to Maurice Snooty-Hack when choosing between Pierre Le Frou Frou’s Le Plume de Ma Tante and Moxie Woolyhat’s Stonewall Diary Redux. He or she does not, however, care too much about the critics’ view of Zebraman vs Mothra.

Go see His & Hers or we kill the kid’s hamster (not really).

The strong reviews go some way to explaining why Ken Wardrop’s His & Hers — a super documentary about being a mother in the midlands — managed to open relatively strongly a few weeks ago. But the fact that it has hung around so impressively must be attributed to a form of communication that Hollywood rarely considers these days: word of mouth. Just look at the top 10 in today’s soaraway Ticket. Nearly a month after it opened, His & Hers sits proudly at number five in the chart. Sex and the City 2 is currently eating its dust.

Last week, when  I was chatting to (name drops with clunk) M Night Shyamalan, he  reminisced about how the success of The Sixth Sense took them all by surprise. It opened to decent, but not ecstatic, reviews and respectable, but not spectacular, box-office returns. Word got around and — steadily, steadily, steadily — the film began building into a phenomenon. It seems odd that, in the time of the internet, the slow-burn so rarely defines cinematic success. You’d think that this would be the Age of Word of Mouth. But no. The studios continue to open their big films in a billion cinemas worldwide in the hope of raking in a fortune before everyone discovers how crummy they are. Indeed, current release practices seem calculated to reduce the effect of word of mouth.

At any rate, go to see His & Hers if you can.