In this 9.29 L.A. Times essay, critic Kenneth Turan seems to be writing about Once from a slightly different angle — i.e., how come it took so long for this exquisite little film to get picked up? — than the one I went with yesterday, which was basically “how come more Average Joes haven’t paid to see it?” But he gets around to saying the exact same thing at the conclusion.
“The Once experience worried me,” Turan writes, “because it underlined how much the risk-averse studio mindset of being indifferent to quality, of caring more about what can be sold than what will be cherished, is infecting an arena that has always prided itself on being impervious to those ways of thinking.
“Yet to be fair, it would be wrong to completely blame the specialty distributors for their lack of brio where acquiring Once was concerned. If they are timid, if they lack trust in the willingness of an audience to find and support something that lacks marketable elements, it’s because experience has shown them that they have reason to be afraid.
“Even now, in the face of the success and visibility of Once, I am constantly running into supporters of independent cinema who have not gone to see the film partly because, despite a terrific Fox Searchlight campaign, it lacks the kind of easy-to-remember hook having Keri Russell in a cute uniform has given Waitress.”
Turan’s kicker graph is well phrased, but it’s a stern lecture from a man who’s losing his patience with those who say theyr’e into offbeat cuisine but in fact are dilletantes looking for comfort food: “If you want distributors to acquire films as sophisticated and unusual as Once, ” Turan admonishes, “you must make the extra effort to seek them out and patronize them. If you don’t, don’t count on them to be around when you need them the most.”
The irony is that Once is about as comfort food-y as anyone could ask for. It just happens to be very Irish and low-budgety and lacking in big stars.