You’d think that a film with Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston and Laurence Fishburne – from writer/director Richard Linklater – would be either a box office hit, an overwhelming critical darling, an awards contender, or a combination of the three. But “Last Flag Flying” hasn’t flown high… or really at all. And it’s honestly a mystery as to why.
On Oct. 13, I attended an advance screening of the film at the Woodstock Film Festival in Rosendale, NY. Because it had not been shown at too many festivals, and because it wasn’t scheduled to open for a few more weeks, Amazon Studios security was on hand. “LFF” also screened at the FilmColumbia Festival in Chatham, NY on Oct. 24.
The dramedy – a semi-sequel to “The Last Detail” – opened in 4 theaters on Nov. 3 and earned $41,000. It did face some tough competition that weekend, with “Lady Bird” grossing $364,000 in 4 theaters. But “LFF” could always bounce back. The reviews, including mine, were generally positive, citing the sharp dialogue, tricky balance of laugh-out-loud comedy and serious drama, and they highlighted the ensemble performances.
Many reviews praised Carell for his understated, deep work. While I did like him, he’s hardly a presence in the film compared to Cranston, who’s simply electrifying. Ironically, Cranston was put in the Supporting Actor category for awards consideration and Carell in the Lead Actor category, likely for strategic purposes.
But Carell has now earned Critics Choice, SAG and Golden Globe nominations for his showier 2017 performance – as Bobby Riggs in “Battle of the Sexes”.
Cranston deserved to be on the Best Supporting Actor ballot. But while Broadcast Film Critics Association members received screener copies of “LFF” in time for nomination voting, the film failed to receive any nominations – not even in the Best Comedy categories. And yet, the BFCA awarded Linklater Best Picture and Best Director for “Boyhood” just three years ago. And again, most of the “LFF” reviews were positive.
Was it because there was too much comedy competition? (“Lady Bird”, “The Disaster Artist”, “The Big Sick”, “Girls Trip”, “Battle of the Sexes”, “I, Tonya” – and in the case of the Globes, “Get Out”) Or maybe it’s because, following opening weekend, Amazon didn’t expand the movie much at all – and therefore didn’t have much effort in campaigning for it. It went from 4 theaters to 32, then 59. And for Thanksgiving weekend, Amazon advertised on TV and online that “Last Flag Flying” would be expanding nationwide on Nov. 22 (heck, it still says it on the film’s Twitter bio).
Apparently the definition of “nationwide” means 98 theaters, because that’s the number of places “LFF” was in on Thanksgiving weekend. It added just 12 more the following weekend to bring its total to 110, but just decreased 25 last weekend, and another 67 this weekend, so it’s now only in 18 theaters. Its box office total: less than $1 million.
There have been some recent troubles within Amazon Studios, but “The Big Sick” (which they distributed) is up for top honors at the Critics Choice and SAG Awards. And their latest film, Woody Allen’s panned “Wonder Wheel”, seems to be getting a regular-grade theater expansion over the next few weeks. It’s playing my area (the Albany, NY market) this weekend.
“Last Flag Flying” has still not been released anywhere in or around Albany, even though I had been seeing trailers for the film in Upstate NY theaters for months. I bet some local moviegoers are simply wondering where the movie went. What happened?
Just a few days ago, the “Last Flag Flying” DVD release date was confirmed for January 30. So I don’t expect Amazon is going to make a big theatrical expansion between now and then, nor any surprise Oscar nominations, which is a shame, particularly for Cranston.