Each weekend, the Hollywood box-office tally hands every movie its own official report card: This one passed with flying colors! That one failed! This one squeaked by!
Along with that, there’s the demographic breakdown of who actually went to see what, which is sort of the report-card equivalent of how your teacher would characterize you (“Jason works well, but spends too much time in the back of the class fiddling with his PlayStation”). Almost inevitably, we’re informed that the audience for a sci-fi action blockbuster is dominated by “young males,” that women go to chick flicks (duh!), or that end-of-the-year prestige movies draw audiences made up primarily of people who are not teenagers. A lot of this conventional wisdom is true. But not all of it. There’s something about the way that it’s reported (i.e., with a broad brush, and none too scientifically) that pigeonholes films, reinforcing stereotypes as much as it actually reflects the disparate groups of people who may, in fact, end up going to see the same movie.
Take, for instance, Julie & Julia. It had a very solid opening weekend, and this morning, on the Variety website, I read the following “analysis” of who purchased those $20 million worth of tickets: “Older women bypassed G.I. Joe and flocked to Sony’s Meryl Streep-Amy Adams starrer Julie & Julia.”
Older women! All those blue-haired garden party and bridge club ladies! Man, I’m sure glad I didn’t get stuck in a theater with them!
I have no doubt that any number of “older women” (How old? Over 50? Over 40?) did indeed go to see Julie & Julia. But what percentage of the audience were they? And leaving aside the issue of age, is this really a movie that drew an audience of women…but not men?
The reason I ask is that the American food revolution of the last 20 years or so (the celebrity chefs, the mainstreaming of organic-food culture, the joyful juggernaut of appetite that is the Food Network) has hardly been an exclusionary female thing. Quite the contrary, the essence of it is that figures like Emeril Lagasse — who worships Julia Child — and Mario Batali have allowed men, as never before, to give in to their inner high-end gastronomic pleasure-seeker. It’s men, to a great degree, who sit around and watch happy-tastebud competition shows like Throwdown With Bobby Flay. So why wouldn’t they want to go see Julie & Julia?
Let’s conduct a little unscientific survey of our own. How many guys out there went to see Julie & Julia? Or now think that they want to see it? Is it really just a chick flick? Or does a description like that one sell the movie — and a lot of moviegoers — short?