With their film opening in early November — at the start of a particularly long run of acclaimed adult dramas — the backers of “Trumbo” have been waiting for their moment. And now they think it may be at hand.
With a strong showing this week in the SAG and Golden Globe nominations — a total of five nods in the two contests — Team “Trumbo” now hopes audiences and future award (read “Oscar”) influentials will re-focus on the film.
“We are in 500-plus screens right now. The challenge is to build on this and get broader audiences outside the standard art-house crowd,” said Michael London of Groundswell Productions, one of the producers of the historic drama. “This is the moment to try to cross over.”
After initial strong buzz leading up to its Nov. 6 release, the tale of blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo drew so-so reviews (with a Metacritic score of 60) and then was overwhelmed by a string of acclaimed grown-up pictures, including “Spotlight,” “Carol,” “Room,” “Brooklyn” and “Bridge of Spies.”
The competition for the comicbook-averse crowd has been so strong this fall that Harvey Weinstein wrote an essay decrying the “cannibalization” that occurs when too many high quality adult films are packed into a short awards season. “It has made it almost impossible for quality films to reach their full potential,” Weinstein wrote, “unless they dare release at another time of year, where they are quickly forgotten come awards season.”
“Trumbo” avoided the latter fate with its powerful showing this week, first with the SAG nominations, where the film’s cast was nominated for best ensemble, along with a best actor nod for Bryan Cranston, as Trumbo, and a supporting actress nom for Helen Mirren as gossip columnist Hedda Hopper. A day later, Cranston and Mirren copped Globe nominations from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.
The conventional wisdom is that Hollywood loves the self-referential, as evidenced by the wave of support for last year’s “Birdman,” a psychological fable about a tormented over-the-hill actor, played by Michael Keaton, and the triumph of 2011’s “The Artist,” the best picture Oscar winner that centered on a silent film star. “Trumbo” wallows in Hollywood history, with prominent roles for characters, including Kirk Douglas and John Wayne. And its screenwriter hero is a model of high morality –maintaining his beliefs, along with his livelihood.
The film also features a cast of perennial Hollywood favorites, including John Goodman, Diane Lane and Louis C.K., led by Cranston, who has received truckloads of honors for his small screen work on “Breaking Bad,” but not for film performances.
“Trumbo” supporters are counting on Cranston’s appeal and the film’s tone — relatively light-hearted for a recounting of a dark chapter in American history — to expand both its awards and audience appeal. The film’s touch was light enough that the makers had suggested it could be considered in the Globes’ comedy/musical (rather than drama) category. It ended up on the drama side of the contest.
“The subject is serious, but there is a lot of entertainment value there, kind of like the character of Dalton himself,” said Andrew Karpen, CEO of Bleecker Street, the upstart distributor releasing “Trumbo.” Added producer London: “Its great virtue is it has really serious themes, but also plays its hand lightly and with an entertaining point of view.”
If that mix isn’t enough, the filmmakers believe that the presence of Cranston will provide a final incentive to lure audiences. “There is no way you can overstate how much it means to have Bryan and this masterful performance,” said London. “He is such a beloved actor, who audiences want to root for and enjoy. That is everything for us right now.”
“Trumbo” needs the lift. After a limited release in early November, it went wide on Thanksgiving weekend. Still, more than two months after its release, the film, which cost less than $20 million to make, has managed only $4.5 million at the box office.
“These nominations are definitely gratifying,” said London. “There are an extraordinary number of original and innovative movies this fall and there is a limited number of adult movie goers to compete for. “It’s not just about reviews and the pundits, but does the movie itself do the work. You hope it gains steam, as more people see it.”