There is a secret world of movies, beneath the one we know. Hidden among the superheroes, explosions and car chases are films that don't attract headlines or online buzz, yet quietly prosper. They are films made for a unique subculture of rarely spotted moviegoers. I call them Mum Movies.
While everyone was talking about Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers, a little film called The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel quietly made more than $130 million worldwide. Similarly to The Avengers, Marigold assembled a power cast of big hitters. The cast includes pretty much every prestigious older actor available - Bill Nighy, Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Celia Imrie, Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton. Here they are in one of the film's many blistering action scenes:
Similarly, a modest film about a married couple trying to rekindle their neglected relationship made $61 million worldwide this winter. Hope Springs stars Meryl Streep; this component is not essential for Mum Movies but it certainly helps.
Streep has competed with Batman in the multiplex before. A few years back, Dark Knight was storming its way to more than $1 billion in box office, but Streep's delightfully daffy Mamma Mia grossed more than $600 million worldwide. That's a lot of money for a film targeted solely at women and the gays. Although, to be honest, I am neither and could not have been more thrilled by its wonky charm.
This is what is known in the business as "counter programming", putting something on that will appeal to an audience neglected by the mass market of the moment. Kind of like screening a Fellini film during the Rugby World Cup.
I knew Exotic Marigold was going to be a hit when my own mother went to see it. Mum is the person responsible for my passion for movies, introducing me to frothy Fred Astaire movies on rainy afternoons. But, as far as I can remember, mum hasn't been to the pictures in quite a while. I think the last film I went to see with her was Apollo 13 in 1995.
But she went to Exotic Marigold and loved it. The next week she went to see Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. Now there's another Mum Movie if ever I saw one.
A break of about 17 years and she was fully back in business. In fact, she's going to an all-night George Romero zombie festival next week. Just kidding.
I think Mum Movies should be embraced. It's slightly disturbing to see the movie landscape homogenised with big, loud spectacles designed to thrill teenage boys. The more variety in our movie diet, the healthier we will be.
I reviewed Hope Springs for The Press and was charmed by its subtle, gentle pace and focus on performance. It was refreshing that for the entire 90 minutes nothing exploded and no one chased anyone.
So, all hail Mum Movies. Long may they live. And, for that matter, long live mum.
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