When In Doubt, Trust the Trailer

I don’t know about you, but I am rarely influenced by a review for a film that I’ve already decided that I want to see.

How then do I make the decision in the first place, if not by reading the opinions of so-called experts whose opinions I value and trust? First, I take into account the alchemy of cast, director and screenwriter, their track records, news surrounding production, and of course, the plot, especially if it’s based on a book I’ve read and loved.  The coup de grâce is the trailer.

If I enjoy a movie’s trailer, the probability is high that I’ll give the actual film a chance, even if any of the above elements are weak.

Does this formula ever backfire? Pffft. Certainly. How many times have we seen a movie where all of the best jokes or action scenes were in the trailer? I’ve also paid good money to see films that ticked all of the boxes and still turned out to be real turkeys. The Unbearable Lightness of Being (or The Unbearable Length of This Movie, as a friend and I refer to it) comes to mind.  Great book – check. Great cast, including Daniel Day Lewis, Juliette Binoche and Lena Olin – check. Great director (Philip Kaufman) – check.

Great trailer – check:

Add all of that together and what do you get? Nearly three hours of utter boredom that I will never get back. (You may disagree. Roger Ebert gave it four stars back in 1988.)

You want a more recent example? There are plenty, but how about Dreamcatcher? It was directed by Lawrence Kasdan from a novel by Stephen King with a screenplay by William Goldman, starring Damian Lewis, Jason Lee, Timothy Olyphant and Morgan Freeman.

The trailer:

Seriously, doesn’t the Castle Rock logo combined with all the rest give you certain expectations, cause goosebumps or at last instill a bit of curiosity?  Dreamcatcher wasn’t based on King’s best work, I’ll grant you, but astoundingly, this confluence of talent managed to make from it something totally suck-tacular.

At any rate, when thinking about a movie’s trailer, the opposite is also true.  It is said that a film is truly created by the editor. After everyone else has done their jobs, it falls to the editor to arrange the pieces of the puzzle to tell the story and deliver the finished product.  The trailers for these products are designed to sell them. The editors of the trailers have to then parse out that finished product into small digestible bits to feed to whatever audience the distributors of the product want to reach.

If, after the first viewing, usually in a theater in front of a movie I have already paid to see, which leads these marketing wizards to assume that I will want to see this new one, I turn to my companions and shrug “meh”, those wizards have almost certainly already lost me.

If the trailer for a film fails to elicit the intended response, whether that be to laugh at a comedy, feel the beating heart of a love story or the least little bit of dread or curiosity for what comes next in a thriller, I’m probably going to pass, unless word of mouth manages to change my mind.  But, no amount of good press or even the urging of friends I trust can get me to see a movie after the trailer has made me cringe in embarrassment for the participants and/or left me with the desire to never have to see it again. (Which pretty much ensures that I will have to see it every time I turn on the television, but I digress.)

All of this brings me to one of this weekend’s new releases, Snatched. It’s nominally a mother-daughter buddy comedy let loose just in time for Mother’s Day. It stars Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn, both gifted comediennes, although they couldn’t be more different in style or tone.

I love Amy Schumer’s comedy. She’s original and fearless and her standup is hilarious.  Goldie Hawn is an icon. Read  her name and you know with 99% certainty what you’re going to get and that’s okay. She carved out that niche and she owns it. Sure, there have been some misfires during the span of a forty plus year career, but when she was on top of her game like she was in Foul Play or Private Benjamin, Goldie Hawn was a joy to behold and so were the movies. So what the hell happened?

Here’s the trailer:

Destined to make a pile of cash big enough to be seen from space, it’s safe to say that none of my dollars will be included. I wouldn’t see this movie on pain of death.  This movie looks more like a trainwreck than Trainwreck (which was actually pretty good. Another exception that proves the rule, but the trailer didn’t get a cringe, only a “meh”, and I saw it on cable.) I had numerous opportunities to see advance screenings of Snatched free-of-charge, and was never even tempted.

Reviews for Snatched are beginning to emerge online and most seem to confirm my assessment. My favorite comes from Variety’s Owen Gleiberman. For whatever it’s worth, I don’t always agree with him, in fact I usually refer to him as a curmudgeon who seems to be getting crankier with age.

Excerpt from his review:

“The movie is a jungle-set chase comedy that has many antecedents, from “Romancing the Stone” to “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason,” but really, “Snatched” is the generic version of a latter-day Paul Feig comedy — which is to say, it’s an attempt to shoehorn Amy Schumer into the action-meets-yocks-meets-sisterhood formula of movies like “The Heat” and “Spy.” …“Snatched” is a flashy piece of product. It doesn’t quite try to turn Amy Schumer into the new Melissa McCarthy, but it reduces her all the same.

… The movie also looks about 10 times better than it needs to; Florian Ballhaus’ cinematography might have served an elegant Amazon Forest thriller. You could say that there’s no harm in Amy Schumer doing a picture like this one, and maybe there isn’t, but she’s one of those actresses who has the potential to bring a rare full-bodied comic voice to movies. That’s a quality that shouldn’t get thrown overboard.”

You can read the whole thing here, but to summarize, it would seem to bear out the theory that even with a good pedigree, the finished product can ultimately be less than the sum of its parts.  We have a lot of entertainment choices these days. If we’re going to leave the comfort of our homes and fork over the money for a first-run movie, we need to be able to make informed decisions.  By all means, take into account reviews, however they are delivered, by people whose opinions you trust, but ultimately, go with your gut. Trust the trailer.

By the way, that last line of Gleiberman’s review was a dig at the film Overboard, in which Goldie Hawn does what she does best, and while it’s not great, it is one of my favorite guilty-pleasures. It’s one of those movies that I own on dvd and still stop to watch at least a bit of if I happen to run across it on tv. I originally saw it at the theater. Why? Because the trailer made me laugh. Out loud.