There is no doubt that mother! will go down in cinema history as one of the most divisive films ever.
The new film from Paramount got an ‘F’ rating from CinemaScore. It’s one of only 12 films since 2004 to receive that rating and definitely the most high-profile one. You can read about what that rating means here.
The film has been met with both critical acclaim and accusations that it’s a ‘mess’. Overall, the critics’ approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes is just 68%. That might not sound terrible but it’s hardly glowing praise either. Previous films helmed by director Darren Aronofsky such as Jackie, Black Swan, The Fighter, and The Wrestler all got over 87% with the latter achieving a 98% approval rating.
Elsewhere, film fans have clearly not been impressed either. The film has a 42% approval rating with audiences putting it on par with The Emoji Movie (41%), Minions (49%), and the infinitely-terrible cult classic The Room (46%).
Not even the favourable reviews could do much for mother! at the box office either. So far, it has recouped less than half of its $30 million budget.
However, despite the drubbing from both critics and audiences, Paramount are standing by their movie.
Paramount fires back after mother! gets bad reviews:
Megan Colligan, worldwide president of marketing and distribution for Paramount, released a very odd statement in favour of the film. She told audiences they should give it a chance. However, her line of reasoning is a bit… odd:
“This movie is very audacious and brave. You are talking about a director at the top of his game, and an actress at the top her game. They made a movie that was intended to be bold. Everyone wants original filmmaking, and everyone celebrates Netflix when they tell a story no one else wants to tell. This is our version. We don’t want all movies to be safe. And it’s okay if some people don’t like it.”
Colligan’s argument here is ‘Netflix is allowed to do wacky, why aren’t we?’
And, to be fair, she makes a reasonable point about not wanting ‘all movies to be safe’. In an age of superheroes and sequels, that’s the kind of thinking we need.
Why she felt the need to bring Netflix into this spectacle is anyone’s guess, but her argument is also fundamentally flawed.
A flawed comparison:
Paramount doesn’t commit to ‘bold’ stories like Netflix does:
For a start, Netflix has made a serious investment into telling stories that aren’t safe. In our exploration of just its original TV series, we found that around half of Netflix’s content is was fronted by minorities. Of the 105 films released by Paramount Pictures since 2010, only 15 (14.28%) had female leads. Even fewer had ethnic minority leading characters. In addition, GLAAD gave Paramount Pictures a ‘Poor’ rating for LGBT diversity in its films. All of this is to say that if Paramount wants to go with the ‘we make risky films’ line, they should probably start by being daring enough to do a few more films with non-white, non-straight, non-male leads, like Netflix does.
The fact is that Paramount aren’t telling stories ‘no one else wants to tell’. They’re a studio which consistently banks on big name stars, sequels, and very risk-free movies. Sure, the rest of Hollywood is also doing that, but the rest of Hollywood aren’t comparing themselves to a content creator which seems genuinely invested in giving voice to non-traditional stories and stars.
Netflix is a different financial proposition:
On a different note, let’s think about finance. A month’s subscription to Netflix starts at $7.99 /£5.99. For that money you get access to literally thousands of hours of content which you can enjoy at your leisure whenever you choose. One ticket to see mother! at the cinema costs around $12/£10 upwards. For that you get two hours of content which you can watch once. Films have to be a more ‘safe’ experience because who wants to throw away that much money on some pretentious crap that goes no where.
mother! had bad marketing:
Which brings us nicely onto the final point: Paramount marketed mother! dishonestly. The film is meta-physical, spiritual, and cerebral. But you’d never know that from the trailers. It looked like audiences were going to get a ‘safe’ horror film.
You can’t manipulate people into paying to see something they didn’t sign up for then expect them to be happy about it. At least if Netflix ever did that (to my knowledge, they haven’t) you could turn over and find something else to watch that suited you better.
If Paramount really wants to commit to stories ‘no one else wants to tell’ like Netflix, they have much to learn. Bold stories need a bold studio to stand beside them and sell them for what they are, not disguise them as standard films.