Greek Out

Distributors still don't honeymoon with small romantic comedies

You need not leave the house to know what's playing in movie theaters in coming weeks. You've already seen these films, with titles consisting of letters followed by numbers. There's no surprise in the dark, just the bumping into of familiar faces, legally blond or largely green, and furious franchises going full throttle till the next Movie Event of the Summer arrives to terminate another box-office record. As it turns out, the feel-good movie of these warm-weather months is a documentary, Capturing the Friedmans, about a would-be pedophile and his accused accomplice, his youngest son--feel-good, because you feel good it got made and wound up with distribution that allowed such a small movie to be found among so many computer-generated giants trouncing the monstroplex till August.

But do not tell Tony Shalhoub, Vanessa Middleton and Brooke Adams and sister Lynne Adams there's no room at the inn for their small romantic comedies, which slowly begin making the rounds this summer after lingering on shelves for more than a year without distribution. These filmmakers, including one well known as an award-winning actor (Shalhoub) and another who was a network-TV series producer in her 20s (Middleton, former writer for Cosby), are barging into the multiplexes without big-studio approval--party-crashers, tired of begging for an invitation.

They don't want to hear how there's no audience for their movies. Bullshit, they'll say. There are plenty of adults out there who want to see people on screen who look like them, talk like them, feel like them--people who aren't trying to save the world, just their own little worlds. They've seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding's box-office receipts. They've heard about how no one wanted the movie that became the highest-grossing independent film of all time (made for $5 million, made $350 million worldwide). Enough already. If a stranger will not show them love or give them money, they will manufacture their own good fortune--even if it breaks them or breaks them in half.

A family affair: Tony Shalhoub directs his wife, Brooke Adams, in Made-Up, which is opening without distribution.
A family affair: Tony Shalhoub directs his wife, Brooke Adams, in Made-Up, which is opening without distribution.

"Distribution companies are stupid," says Brooke Adams, the actress whose filmography includes such movies as David Cronenberg's The Dead Zone and Philip Kaufman's Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake.

"Oh, yeah--that'll ingratiate us to them," says Shalhoub, co-star of such films as Big Night, Galaxy Quest and The Siege and a leading-actor Golden Globe-winner for his starring role in TV's Monk. "Let's print that."

On a hot Sunday morning in June, Shalhoub sits in a Dallas hotel restaurant eating his omelette. To his left sits wife Brooke; to his right sits Brooke's sister Lynne, an award-winning playwright still best known to a certain audience for her portrayal of Leslie Bauer on Guiding Light. Lynne has been in Dallas for two weeks, preparing for the opening of a film she wrote and co-stars in, Made-Up, which also features Brooke and Shalhoub, who makes his directorial debut. Made-Up. Despite having no distributor, the film opened May 30 at the Angelika Film Center, its first booking outside the film-festival loop--all because Lynne Adams refuses to give up on the movie.

The warm, charming Made-Up, originally a one-woman play written by Lynne and directed by Brooke, tells the story of a former actress (Brooke) coping with fading good looks, a superficial daughter (Eva Amurri, daughter of Susan Sarandon) who wants to make over her mother so she can win back her ex-husband (Gary Sinise), a sister who wants to capture the transformation on film (played by Lynne) and a restaurant owner (Shalhoub) who falls for Brooke's character. It's been floating around the film-fest circuit for more than a year; the thing's been around so long it played South by Southwest in Austin this year and in 2002--when it won the festival's audience award. In fact, Made-Up has garnered several such prizes, enough to convince Lynne not to ditch the film even after accruing a small stack of rejection letters. Only last year, Entertainment Weekly deemed Brooke and Shalhoub the "It Family Affair" because of their pairing in the "festival-circuit fave."

"You can see how far that's gotten us," Shalhoub says.

"Brooke keeps saying, Why can't I just feel the success of it already?'" Lynne says. "Because people do love it, and it would be nice to be able to just take that in. But in a way, the fact audiences love it so much makes it harder to just let it go."

"I don't want you to let it go because you feel the success," Brooke corrects her sister. "I just want you to feel the success."

It has not been so easy. Not only have distributors passed, but Lynne says Lifetime also wanted nothing to do with Made-Up. So the sisters and Shalhoub decided to press on without assistance, hoping to book the film in a couple of major markets so they could make some money, pay for more prints and try to expand it slowly.

Eventually, George Mansour, a veteran theater booker, suggested they open their $230,000 film in Dallas at the Angelika, among the first theaters in the country to make a hit out of My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Lynne papered the town with posters; she also saw the first billboard advertisement the film has received, a gift from an old friend of Shalhoub's.

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