Unrated ‘Mama’ rates with auds

Spanish-lingo pic makes indie scene splash

A funny thing happened recently on the way to the box office.

Moviegoers have turned a Spanish-lingo drama distribbed largely in Hispanic neighborhoods into one of the weekend’s hottest tickets.

IFC Films, a fledgling specialty distrib, unspooled the racy and satiric “Y Tu Mama Tambien” in 37 theaters in L.A. and another three in Gotham on March 15. The result: a solid $408,091 weekend haul and, even more impressively, a per-venue average gross of $10,202.

A film with a unique wrap of piquant, anti-establishment barbs and spicy sexual hijinks, distrib chose to market “Y Tu Mama Tambien” (rough translation: “And So’s Your Mother”) as an unrated release.

That’s a smart way to go with racy-but-intelligent fare, which otherwise might be branded as mere soft porn by an NC-17 rating. (Artisan released Ellen Burstyn starrer “Requiem for a Dream” unrated last year after rejecting an NC-17 rating.)

“I decided that as much as they try to make NC-17 not equate to the old X rating it still has that stigma,” IFC senior VP f marketing and distribution Bob Berney says. ” ‘E Tu Mama Tambien’ is a very sweet film, though admittedly it involves some racy teenagers.”

“Mama” follows two teenage Mexican boys on a road trip that’s part right-of-passage and part sexual adventure.

Helmer Alfonso Cuaron acknowledges it’s a more flippant sort of work than usually associated with Mexican filmmakers. But assuming it would be something more predictable is largely due to “racist” stereotyping, he says.

“Mama” was a mother of a B.O. success in Mexico, repping one of the highest-grossing Mexican films ever. So, the heavy-L.A. tilt to film’s limited bicoastal bow reflected distrib’s pre-release assumption — now proven accurate — that Mexican-Americans would also get a rise out of the pic.

“I really wanted to market the film both to the arthouse audiences and to the mostly Hispanic — and in L.A., Mexican — audience,” Berney notes.

“Mama” unspools in at least additional 20 markets April 5.

“We may add even a few more because we’re getting calls from exhibitors everywhere,” says Berney, who notes overwhelmingly supportive crix have helped create a groundswell of interest.

For IFC, wholly owned by cable-TV programmer Bravo Networks, “Mama” reps a breakthrough release. Gotham-based distrib acquired the pic at Cannes last year for just under $1 million.

IFC’s next release is laffer “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” whose producers include Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson. “Greek Wedding” bows April 5 in eight markets, with IFC hoping it can again build a successful platformed rollout upon solid word-of-mouth.

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