Monday, May 28, 2012

Dustin Lance Black's 
'Virginia' Bombs at the Box Office

To put it mildly, the New York Times' openly gay film critic Stephen Holden really didn't like the new movie "Virginia" written and directed by Dustin Lance Black. Holden wrote in his May 18 review:

Watching “Virginia” is like studying a goofy Rube Goldberg gizmo. There are so many moving parts spinning in so many directions that this movie’s purpose is inscrutable and the noise of its grinding parts distracting [...] it is nothing like “Milk,” the biography of the gay-rights activist and politician Harvey Milk, for which Mr. Black won an Academy Award in 2009 for best original screenplay. Overflowing with subplots and oddball characters, “Virginia” vaguely aspires to be something like Robert Altman’s “Nashville,” but set in and around Virginia Beach ...

[The film] has been re-edited and retitled (from “What’s Wrong With Virginia?”) since its disastrous reception at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival, is semiautobiographical, Mr. Black having grown up in a family with a history of schizophrenia [...] Schizophrenia may be an appropriate subject for a melodrama. But it is calamitous in “Virginia,” which keeps you off balance as its tone zigzags among farce, pathos and satire. Scenes that are meant to be funny are laugh-free. [...]

Long before the end of the film’s 111-minute running time, I was exhausted by a story that seemed to be chasing itself in circles in a futile attempt to decide what it is and what it wants to say.

It's never helpful when the Times pans a low-budget independent movie, and "Virginia" lasted only one-week in New York theaters before being pulled by the distributor or rejected by the theater chain showing it.

Box Office Mojo's report on "Virginia's" opening weekend showed it took in a woeful $6,900 from five theaters in New York and Los Angeles. At the same time, the new Russian film "Elena", with no art house names attached either in front of or behind the camera, playing at a single theater in New York brought in a robust $13,200 profit.

The Zap2it site was the only place I could find a listing for any theaters showing "Virginia" this weekend, and both are in Los Angeles, where there may be an audience for it. Never one to totally trust a single critic or lousy box office receipts, I'd like to see Black's film if the distributor eOne Films decides to take a chance and open it in San Francisco.

Black's got tons of talent and I'm sure there are worthwhile aspects to his new film, which if nothing else will surely provide him with a few learning lessons to apply in future films. 

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