Did the team behind 'First Man' bring on the film's disappointing debut?
The good news for “First Man?”
The Neil Armstrong biopic fell just 46 percent at the box office over the weekend.
The bad news? The film opened meekly a week prior, nabbing just $16 million despite oodles of hype. Director Damien Chazelle’s film wowed most critics save those who thought a white man making history sounded distasteful.
So far that critical enthusiasm isn’t translating to strong ticket sales. Predictions the film will be a player in the upcoming Oscar race may take a hit from the soft ticket sales.
Could the lackluster box office be a self-inflicted wound? Here are five reasons to suggest just that.
A Bungled Flag Fight
They say all publicity is good publicity. That’s not always the case. “First Man’s” marketing machine hit a pothole when we learned Armstrong’s iconic flag planting didn’t get its close up. Conservatives “pounced.” Liberals bared their teeth in response.
Why did it matter?
That moon walk represented a monumental U.S. victory. The moment gave the U.S. a decisive space race blow against the Soviets. Armstrong’s heroism completed President John F. Kennedy’s vow to reach the moon by decade’s end.
The flag mattered.
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Chazelle and co. dismissed the controversy with little sense of Red State diplomacy. Had the film been deemed “problematic” their response would have been starkly different.
Suddenly, some movie goers soured on the project, according to a crush of social media complaints. Did that hurt ticket sales? It’s impossible to calculate … and equally hard to dismiss.
No Flags Here, Either
Follow this link and see a gaggle of “First Man” posters created for the film’s marketing push. Notice something? No flags. Again. Ironically, the film itself acknowledges the moon landing’s patriotic nature.
Ryan Gosling Opens Mouth, Inserts Foot
The flag kerfuffle caught fire, in part, due to the star’s PC response. Oscar nominee Ryan Gosling, who plays Armstrong, said the flag planting represented a triumph for mankind, not just the U.S.
“I think this was widely regarded in the end as a human achievement [and] that’s how we chose to view it,” Gosling reportedly said. “I also think Neil was extremely humble, as were many of these astronauts, and time and time again he deferred the focus from himself to the 400,000 people who made the mission possible.”
It’s hard to fathom a more tone deaf comment, particularly for those old enough to recall the historic moment. Gosling, trapped in the film industry’s progressive bubble, couldn’t see how his response might backfire.
Where’s the Joy?
Film critic John Podhoretz hated “First Man.” His review touches on an element that isn’t getting enough attention. He called the movie a “joyless schlep.”
Forget The Right Stuff. This is The Neurotic Stuff. First Man drains the triumph, the exhilaration, the excitement, and the meaning from Neil Armstrong’s exemplary life in favor of a jittery, anxious, tragedy-soaked account deliberately designed to deny its audience any sense of transcendence.
You could argue by depicting Armstrong’s quiet presence “First Man” couldn’t evoke that sense of elation. That’s poppycock for two big reasons. The creative team could have used other characters to convey the passion behind the project.
Biopics routinely stray from the historical record for dramatic purposes. Chazelle didn’t have to stick to the absolute truth from start to finish. Dramatic license is a fine defense for any artist.
Beautiful Actress Gets Ugly, Fast
Co-star Claire Foy must have heard Gosling’s comments and quietly muttered, “Watch this!”
“The Crown” star isn’t a household name in America yet. So her high profile interview with The Hollywood Reporter introduced herself to more than a few ticket buyers.
Potential ticket buyers, to be more accurate.
Foy flashes her ugly side in the Q&A. She smiles while describing how she wanted to key someone’s car for defending Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Later, she crudely compares President Trump to “the penis of America.”
A fifth grader wouldn’t stoop so low.
Now, imagine a giant swath of the country already cranky over FlagGate hearing her petulant interview. Think that made people more or less eager to see “First Man?”
Liberal audiences might have snickered at Foy’s comments. Their amusement likely isn’t a match for the anger felt by right-leaning audiences.