Tough themes downplayed by ‘The Hours’ marketers

Studio taking life-affirming approach

Paramount is grappling with some pretty tough subject matter in marketing “The Hours.” Suicide and depression can be challenging themes to sell to audiences and voters.

At Monday’s screening of “The Hours” followed by a Q&A with Nicole Kidman at Hollywood’s Egyptian Theater, the actress agreed the subject matter is heavy stuff indeed. The film weaves together the stories of three women grappling with depression and suicide, which is enough to scare off viewers looking for a feel-good movie.

“If you had said, ‘They’re all over 30, they’re depressed, they’re women and they want to kill themselves’ — it would have been impossible to get made,” said Kidman, explaining that it was the combination of producer Scott Rudin and a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Michael Cunningham that made the project viable. “I think it’s extraordinary it got made. We were all astounded at the way it’s been embraced,” she added.

Paramount declined to discuss its marketing and awards campaign strategy, but is clearly aiming to focus attention on the acclaimed performances in the literary adaptation. The studio is taking a life-affirming approach, with radio spots proclaiming, “A celebration of life as it was meant to be lived!” Or not to be lived, perhaps. L.A. Times critic Kenneth Turan’s review blurb in newspaper ads says, “A movie about choosing life over death,” when at least two characters choose death.

To meet the challenge of realistically portraying the famously unstable author Virginia Woolf, Kidman devoured Woolf’s letters and biographies. She also met with a psychiatrist to discuss how a character in the throes of depression might feel, and embraced the character so much that “I was a bit strange,” she admitted.

“The book is about suicide and so primarily is the screen adaptation,” screenwriter David Hare said Saturday at a Writers Guild Q&A. He said he tried to avoid turning the picture into a downer by avoiding voiceovers and flashbacks in favor of scenes that illustrate what the women were thinking. The result is compelling, he said, because of the unique structure — three interrelated stories whose ties become clear only toward the end of the film, making it a satisfying experience for the viewer.

The unusual structure meant Kidman didn’t work with Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore at all during the film’s shoot — her segments were filmed separately. “I never met the other actresses — until we were on the Oprah show, where we bonded,” said Kidman.

(Pete Hammond contributed to this report.)

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