Without much fanfare, a handful of small-budget films have been steadily drawing audiences, some for a few months now. The box office numbers may not be high – think $3 million, not $300 million – but the numbers have been quietly climbing all summer. Before the onslaught of fall films, you can catch up with these sleepers, either in theaters or on streaming services.
Southside With You
Richard Tanne’s low-key film follows a charming first date. It just happens to be one involving the future president and first lady of the United States. Opening in August, the distributor Roadside Attractions put the movie on more than 800 screens in its first weekend, an unusually high number for an indie release, and earned $2.8 million with a larger per-theater average than “Suicide Squad” at the time, according to Box Office Mojo. It’s still in theaters now.
“Southside With You” has received mostly positive notices, although in her review, The New York Times’s Manohla Dargis said the characters were a little more admirable than the film itself: “Every so often, you catch a glimpse of two people seeing each other as if for the first time; mostly, though, the movie just sets a course for the White House.”
Set in 1951, this adaptation of a Philip Roth novel stars Logan Lerman as a defiant young Jew from New Jersey who attends a conservative Midwestern college where chapel service is mandatory and an alluring blond student (Sarah Gadon) is struggling with her own demons. The movie (directed by James Schamus) had a strong opening weekend in July, grossing $93,000 from just four theaters and, after expanding to a few hundred more, has reached $2.8 million. It’s still in theaters.
Stephen Holden praised the movie in his Times review, writing: “It is so precisely rendered that it gets deeply under your skin. There are a lot of words, and every one counts. You feel the social pressures bearing down on characters who, in accordance with the reticence of the times, tend to withhold their emotions and suffer in silence.”
Woody Allen has a modest hit with his latest film, a period piece set in the 1930s and starring Jesse Eisenberg as a New Yorker who heads to Hollywood seeking his fortune with his talent-agent uncle, played by Steve Carell. After a very strong opening in July on five screens, it remains in theaters and has grossed $9.9 million to date.
In his review, A. O. Scott had a mixed reaction, writing: “It is, overall, an amusing little picture, with some inspired moments and some sour notes, a handful of interesting performances and the hint, now and then, of an idea.”
Viggo Mortensen stars in this offbeat film about an eccentric father who raises his children off the grid. Opening in July, the movie was a bit of a surprise hit in limited release its first weekend, with a $93,000 start on four screens. It’s still in theaters and has collected a respectable $5 million.
Matt Ross, who may be better known for acting on series like “Silicon Valley,” wrote and directed, and in her review, Manohla Dargis praised his work as well as that of his star. She wrote: Mr. Mortensen is “the most obvious reason to see it, although Mr. Ross’s insistence on taking your intelligence for granted is itself a great turn on. His characters don’t need smartphones to do their thinking for them; he assumes the same holds true of his audience.”
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
In this offbeat comedy from New Zealand, a rebellious boy in foster care (Julian Dennison) and a widower (Sam Neill) go on the lam. Written and directed by Taika Waititi (he’s behind the camera for the next “Thor” film), the movie opened in June and hasn’t left theaters since. It has made $4.3 million so far.
In her review, Manohla Dargis called attention to Mr. Dennison, writing: “Much of the humor comes from the child, who’s at once a pip and a gloriously expressive ambassador for the director Taika Waititi’s cleareyedtake on human nature and movies. Mr. Waititi knows that we love to cry at sad and bad times, but he also knows that people in pain need to get on with their lives.”
This dark, deadpan comedy imagines a society where singlehood is criminalized. Those without partners face a deadline: find one or be turned into the animal of your choice (like the title crustacean). It doesn’t sound like the makings of a hit, but this English-language feature from the Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos has grossed $8.6 million since opening in May. It is in theaters and is also available to stream on various platforms.
A.O. Scott praised the film’s strange tone in his review, writing: “‘The Lobster’ is often startlingly funny in the way it proposes its surreal conceits, and then upsettingly grim in the way it follows through on them. It’s not quite that suicide, mutilation and murder are treated as jokes, but more that the boundary between the serious and the silly has been almost entirely erased.”
Love & Friendship
Whit Stillman adapts Jane Austen in a period comedy with bite. Kate Beckinsale is a fortune-hunting widow on the prowl for suitable husbands for herself and her daughter. The movie opened in May and played remarkably well throughout the summer. It has made $13.9 million to date and is now available for streaming.
“Love & Friendship” received overwhelmingly positive reviews, and has a 99 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. A.O. Scott was among the admirers, writing: “‘Love & Friendship’ is a reminder that Austen was not only a brilliant architect of screen-friendly plots but also a very funny writer. Mr. Stillman’s script accordingly abounds in rapid-fire sallies of verbal wit that require and reward maximum alertness.”
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