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Poor punnery aside, some may say that this weekend’s box office returns indicate that “Shame” has overcome the stigma of its NC-17 rating, but it feels far more likely that Fox Searchlight made the right decision by rolling into the wave rather than fighting it. The studio embraced the rating, using it as a distinguisher, something to pull the film out from the pack. Journalists have utilized it as a talking point in interviews and editorial pieces about the film and the structure of the ratings system. I raised a question about the validity of the NC-17 rating in a piece last month and spoke with actress Carey Mulligan about her take on the decision during our interview.
Despite indications that the rating may damage "Shame," NC-17 in all likelihood has worked as a spotlight on a film that otherwise may have needed to fight for the attention of a viewership inundated with the end-of-the-year rush of weightier, adult-themed films.
“Shame” opened on 10 screens in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and San Francisco this weekend, earning $361,181. Those certainly aren’t blockbuster numbers but they do represent one of the strongest openings for an NC-17 rated film. Fox is continuing to capitalize on the attention of any perceived controversy as well as “Shame”’s ability to surmount said controversy.
"In a dismal down weekend at the box office, ‘Shame’ delivered the highest per-screen average of any film in this post holiday period," said Fox Searchlight's executive vice president of distribution Sheila DeLoach in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. DeLoach’s language also makes it clear that the studio is (not surprisingly) pushing Fassbender rather than the film itself for awards contention. "More and more people will jump on the bandwagon of Fassbender's performance," she said.
With two grand scale films by acclaimed directors in the race, several that pull at the tender mercies of our collective heartstrings and two that appeal directly to the sensibilities of cinephiles, it is looking less likely (though not out of the realm of possibility) that a film about an emotionally remote sex addict by a relatively new director will secure the five percent of the vote needed in order to receive a nomination. But Fassbender’s increased notoriety and wins at the British Independent Film Awards and earlier at the Venice Film Festival are keeping his performance in the conversation.
The studio is clearly wise to keep the focus on the film’s star, and its secondary unintentional draw, its (potentially) restrictive rating. Of course “Shame” still has a road ahead of it in terms of building an audience outside of the larger cities, but an awards push may be one of the better marketing tools Fox has at its disposal at this time.
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