A couple of weeks ago, I wondered why it was taking so long for Jeff Nichols’ “Mud” — an audience-pleasing, star-powered coming-of-age story with genre trappings — to find a US distributor, after being so warmly received at the tail-end of the Cannes Film Festival. I closed by speculating that indie outfit Roadside Attractions was the sort of company that might be willing to take on the film, and steer it through an awards season where it could turn into a popular property.
Lo and behold, the news broke yesterday that Roadside, together with parent company Lionsgate, are all set to acquire US rights to the film — but that they’re only planning to release it in 2013. There’s no word yet on when in the new year “Mud” is set to hit, but if they share my belief in its awards potential — at the very least, it represents a decent Best Actor play for the currently resurgent Matthew McConaughey — the wait could be rather a long one. Meanwhile, it still hasn’t shown up in the Toronto Film Festival lineup.
Variety quotes Roadside Attractions co-president Howard Cohen:
”Mud’ is a riveting mystery thriller set in American river country with a stellar cast by one of our greatest new cinematic voices, Jeff Nichols, and top specialty film producers Everest Entertainment… We see it very much in keeping with films like ‘Margin Call’ and the upcoming ‘Arbitrage,’ which are quality, commercial, performance-driven films that benefit from the unique partnership of Lionsgate and Roadside, where we can each shine in our respective media.”
As semi-arthouse items go, I would say “Mud” is more broadly accessible, and several shades more commercial, than a “Margin Call” — which makes me curious as to what kind of release and publicity strategy they have in mind for it. Selling it squarely on the marquee appeal of McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon — neither of whom is the true lead of the film — would probably backfire, but assuming it conjures the same level of endorsement from US critics that it did in Cannes, it’s warm and entertaining enough to become a modest word-of-mouth hit.
Indeed, it would arguably perform better as summer counter-programming than in the thick of awards season this year: Lionsgate and Roadside are probably wise to allow themselves time to build a profile for this one. Still, with “Mud” now out of the way, that leaves Lionsgate and Roadside — who, between them, have reaped considerable Oscar success in recent years for such films as “Crash,” “Precious,” “Winter’s Bone,” “Biutiful,” “Albert Nobbs” and “Margin Call” — with very little to play with in the upcoming awards season.
Kris wrote recently about how Richard Gere’s performance in “Arbitrage” could net him some awards attention, but beyond that, it’s hard to see them figuring into things much this year — bar a concerted push for “The Hunger Games,” and for Jennifer Lawrence in particular. (Don’t laugh — there’s lots of room for maneuver in that category.) “Mud” is a more serious prospect than either, and it could have allowed McConaughey (who’s very much in the Best Supporting Actor frame for “Magic Mike”) a nice two-pronged campaign, but I guess the timing just wasn’t right.
Whether this year or next, however, this is the right film for the right company. Keep an eye on it.