There are times I love movies that most people classify as underwhelming. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that such movies often are lacking that “big moment” that is inserted as an easy play on audience emotions, something that does more to turn me off than anything else. If you need to resort to the inspirational strings as someone cries/lashes out/finally accepts death or whatever it kind of means you don’t respect either your actors or your audience.
I bring this up because I have the sense a good number of people are about to label Smart People as “underwhelming.” The movie is about a widowed college professor (played by Dennis Quaid) who receives an unexpected visit from his brother (Thomas Haden-Church) at the same time he begins a relationship with a doctor who’s treating him (Sarah Jessica Parker), all of which lead to a change in his relationship with his daughter (Ellen Page). But far from that I think the movie looks, based on the marketing campaign, like an enjoyable breath of fresh air.
So let’s take a look at that campaign.
It’s not the most original poster in the world – all four of the main characters are just standing there, with their body language conveying each one’s primary character trait – but it’s actually quite good. That’s largely because of the rest of the design. The Scrabble tiles used for the title convey the intelligence of the characters (at least most of them) in an easily understandable, if a tad obvious, way.
The poster also clearly labels the movie as coming from part of the creative team behind Sideways, which also starred Haden-Church. That branding is helped by the green floor the actors are standing on. Remember that the poster for Sideways was almost all green. It’s subtle (and I’ll admit I might be reading more into it than there is) but I think it’s meant to reinforce the previous brand in the audience’s mind.
The one trailer that was released does a very good job of setting up the basic relationships that drive the movie’s story, as well as making it abundantly clear that while it’s the story of Quaid’s professor character we’re following, it’s Haden-Church’s character that provides the forward momentum in the story.
The spot is well paced and is designed to appeal to the same sort of crowd that makes movies like Sideways hits that crossover from the limited-release to the mainstream crowd. It’s funny and charming and has a bunch of actors who are well known to fans of high-quality/low-distribution films. It lays out the story nicely and allows everyone in the cast to have their moments, though it’s kind of weighted against SJP, who is the least “indie” of the crew here.
The only really problem I have with the trailer is that is uses Paul Westerberg’s “Dyslexic Heart” at the end and it’s impossible for me to associate that song with any movie other than Singles. Sorry.
The official website seems at first a little sparse, but it’s about what one would expect for a small movie like this and is well laid out and brand consistent so it’s still quite good.
The overall look and feel of the site carries over the Scrabble board theme from the poster, but with an important copy point added. At the bottom of the page there’s a note making it clear that Scrabble is a trademark. Obviously Miramax does not want to find itself with another Scabbulous-esque situation on its hands.
As you load each of the sections described below you’re asked a brief, multiple-choice question, which is a cool little contextual thing to add to the experience. You can skip the question if you don’t feel like making yourself feel dumb today.
Diving into the actual content, first up we have the “About the Film” section that contains the usual Synopsis, Cast and Crew information and some brief Production Notes. “Downloads” has some Buddy Icons and Wallpapers for you to snag. There are nine stills in “Photos” and “Videos” is just the theatrical trailer.
Miramax also created a Facebook fan page for the movie that contained a neat little “Word of the Day” widget you could add to your own profile or snag for embedding elsewhere. It displayed just what it advertised, a word of the day, along with an audio file of that word so you could hear it if you weren’t familiar with it. As with most widgets it was also a little site unto itself, allowing you to view photos and the trailer.
I didn’t see a ton of advertising but there was a little bit, mostly online. When I saw ads for the movie they usually came in the form of banners or block ads that contained the trailer. That says to me the studio recognized the strongest way to sell the movie was just showing it off, especially the acting and the dialogue.
I like this campaign. It doesn’t make a big splash but it does present an attractive package to the audience most likely to embrace it. It’s a strong push that presents a consistent brand image to the audience, which is good. I’m not thinking it’s going to wind up being a monster hit but the campaign doesn’t over-extend itself so that’s fine. As long as it reaches that niche it should do fairly well and the campaign should be counted as a success.