"An 'E.T.' kind of hit it's not, but then nothing ever is," says John Waters of the commercial fate of "Serial Mom."
The movie, which opened nationally April 15, is performing solidly, though it has dropped out of the top 10 list as recorded by most national publications.
But, says Waters, "You can have the No. 1 picture in the country, and be a flop. The key figures aren't how much you make in a single week but what your per-screen average is and whether or not you lose theaters. Our per-screen is solid and we're still in the same number of theaters as when we opened."
The movie has earned $5.3 million since its release and it's holding in 500 theaters. (Foreign rights have also been sold for $8 million, plus video rights.)
"I'm glad that Savoy [the studio] has put it in 500 theaters and is letting it develop its own following. That's much better than what happened with 'Cry-Baby,' where Universal put it in 2,000 theaters and gave it a week, and then began to pull it," Waters said.
"Savoy has been very savvy in its release pattern," says Tom Kiefaber, owner of the Senator Theatre, where the movie has been doing good business since the opening. "They didn't fall into the trap of thinking it was a mainstream mall movie, just because it had some movie stars in it. It's a John Waters movie with movie stars, not a movie star movie by John Waters."
Kiefaber says that at the Senator he's amazed how evenly distributed the age of the crowds has been.
"It seems to be drawing from all age groups. Even some of the older people, who will complain if there's a curse word in an Anthony Hopkins film, seem to accept the fact that it's an over-the-top R-rated comedy and that it will have some offensive language. They can just get with it."
Kiefaber said that the movie does much better in his auditorium on the weekends.
"It's not the kind of movie like 'Remains of the Day,' where you go on Thursday to avoid the crowds. Instead, people seem to come in big groups of seven or eight on the weekends. They've put the workweek behind them and they want to kick back and relax. The 7:45 p.m. Saturday show has been a sellout both weekends. There's a kind of electricity in the air when the movie begins."
Waters reports the movie is doing best "exactly where you think it would."
"It's doing very well in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. It's doing great in Boston, where the critics loved it.
"It's been helped by great national reviews, in Time and Rolling Stone. But it's not doing well in Chicago."
"I wanted to put 'Two Enthusiastic Thumbs-Downs' in the ads, along with all the glowing reviews," said Waters gleefully. "But they wouldn't let me."
The film is also doing less well in suburban malls or suburban-driven regions.
For example, outside Baltimore the film did best at Loews Valley Center in Baltimore County, but in other theaters it "performed about average," says Loews' spokesman Ben Ryland. "But then April is traditionally a very tough movie month.
But Waters is enthusiastic, at least. There's a whole new ad campaign about to kick in.
"Why not?" he says with a cackle. "This weekend, it's Mother's Day."