The way everyone seems to be positively responding to the movie Eighth Grade mirrors the way they responded to Lady Bird. There is this pattern lately with coming-of-age films where a rising star in the industry develops a down-to-earth film that’s relatable to the masses. I think it shows a trend where, on one end of the spectrum we have these massive Marvel superhero films ruling the box offices and taking over the narratives of the film industry. On the complete other end of the spectrum is the quietly brilliant coming-of-age films that delve into the psyche. It’s understandable that different people positively respond to one of the two extremes, obviously people with different taste go to different movies, but what about the divide between the success of lower budget coming-of-age films verses the lesser success of their higher budget counterparts? One would think they would attract the same audience and thus have similar positive results. In the end it seems that money isn’t always what creates a good film, but that there are several other aspects to be considered.
Call Me By Your Name was an indie introspective feature with lesser known talent, but it blew up to a point where it became an Oscar winner. You compare that to Love, Simon, a film with a similar message, but one that received much less recognition, and you wonder the difference between the industry’s reactions. According to Box Office Mojo, Love, Simon had a budget of $14 million while Call Me By Your Name had a budget of merely $3.5 million. So what did Call Me By Your Name have going for it that Love, Simon didn’t? For this, it may have been time. The book, Love, Simon came out in 2015, so most likely the movie was made within 3 years, which is the norm for a teen feature. For reference, the book The D.U.F.F. was published in 2011 and the movie was released in 2015. Pretty standard. Call Me By Your Name was published at the beginning of 2007. The screenplay was optioned in 2007 and thus the film was in the works for almost 10 years before it was released. Armie Hammer was reported to have met with the film’s director, Luca Guadagnino, seven years before production started. If you read what went on during those 10 years, you’ll know that there was a lot of staff rearranging as well as script revision that went on until they had the proper co-directors, writers, and finally actors. This isn’t saying that Love, Simon didn’t have great people working on it, but if Call Me By Your Name was made in three years instead of 10, it most certainly would not have received that Oscar.
Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, had a budget of $10 million according to Box Office Mojo, while Paper Towns had a budget of $12 million. That’s a small difference, but Paper Towns was directed and written by the same two guys who saw huge success with The Fault in our Stars, and it already had support from the book author’s cult following so it was better setup for success. Even so, once again it was Lady Bird that went on to win two golden globe awards and be nominated for multiple Oscars while Paper Towns was left in the dust. These opposing fates were caused by the biggest difference between the two movies: clichés. If you’ve seen Lady Bird you know that there are scenes that could have easily dissolved into clichés. For example, the popular girl could have been mean and judgmental ala Regina George style, but when Lady Bird exposed that she wasn’t on the same economic level as her, the ‘mean girl’ said she only cared that Lady Bird lied to her. What a great sidestep to avoid a played-out cliché and instead make it more relatable. Meanwhile, the entirety of Paper Towns is a cliché. It’s about a teenage boy falling in love with a manic pixie dream girl he hasn’t talked to since childhood, only to find out at the end of the movie that she’s not everything he thought she was. Though this movie actually aimed to break the notion that you shouldn’t make people out to be more than they are, it still had the dorky friend group inexplicitly getting together with the popular girls to go on an epic adventure, I Love You, Beth Cooper style. Thus, on the way to breaking that one cliché, it fell into a million other unrealistic high school themes, which caused it to fade into the background of other teen movies instead of standing out among them, like Lady Bird did.
It could be that we’re having an ‘80s revival where the masses are craving teenage coming-of-age films, but the production time and clichés that worked for John Hughes back then aren’t translating to today’s audiences. Before, films with the biggest budgets usually won out, but now consumers are looking for more than the familiar, they want realistic and they want the film creators to care about what their making. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, producer Eli Bush said “You had 100 people on the set that would go to the ends of the Earth for Greta,” and that’s reflected in the work. It’s time for production companies to see that there is worth in putting in the time and the effort to create something different instead of churning out exhausted storylines and expecting them to do well because you threw money at them.