A Good Weekend for Westchester Filmmakers

No, I don’t think anyone from our area made it to the Super Bowl this year. No locals got to dream about wearing a gigantic ring or shouting “I’m going to Disney World!” Still, that doesn’t mean that this weekend was a total loss for us.

In fact, if you managed to check out some buzzy, newsworthy items this weekend that weren’t Super Bowl-related, you might already know that this was a big weekend for two Westchester filmmakers.

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The first is Bedford director Lasse Hallström. Somehow, his little weepy romance, Dear John, was the David that beat the Goliath this week. Dear John was No. 1 at the box office, unseating Avatar, which, as you’ve probably heard, has been No. 1 for the past seven weeks, amassing an Uncle Scrooge-size money bin of ticket riches.

I’m not surprised that Avatar has slipped to No. 2. It’s getting to the point that everyone who wanted to see it has had plenty of time to actually get out there and see it already. But what’s surprising is that Dear John was the one to take its crown. (Really? Her?) Sure, it’s based on a Nicholas Sparks novel, and since The Notebook, Sparks adaptations have been very popular. But this one just seemed a bit more teen-targeted than something like The Notebook (which had James Garner and Gena Rowlands play the same couple as Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams, so the story extended beyond their teens). The reviews didn’t seem to help it much, but they obviously didn’t hurt, either. Nor did the fact that every Sparks love story is basically the same—it’s so consistent that whenever a new one comes out, my friends play a game called “Let’s Guess Who Dies.” (Dear John stumped all of us, but I’m pretty sure I’m betting on the right horse for The Last Song.)

Still, Dear John managed to not be hindered by its limited audience, the so-so reaction from critics, the Nicholas Sparks formula, or the fact that there are a million other romantic movies out now—from Leap Year to When in Rome to next weekend’s Valentine’s Day—to emerge as this week’s No. 1. That’s a big accomplishment for Hallström, even if the New York Times‘s A.O. Scott—in one of the movie’s most positive reviews—called him “a blue-chip hack with a sure touch,” then added, “even when he’s slumming for a paycheck, this story of interrupted passion takes on a ripe, summery glow.”

The second Westchester filmmaker to score this weekend achieved more of an unqualified win. Larchmont agent and producer Emily Gerson Saines spent the last ten years executive-producing Temple Grandin, an HBO film about the fascinating life of an autistic woman who achieved much success in the cattle industry. HBO premiered the film—which stars Claire Danes—over the weekend, and reviews were almost universally positive.

Much of that acclaim goes to Danes, who tries to shirk off her starlet good looks to give an accurate performance as Grandin. I’ll be shocked if Emmy time rolls around next year and Danes isn’t up for a slew of awards. The movie also got some recognition for being one of the few movies actually centered around the person with autism, rather than focusing on the coping strategies of the parents/teachers/friends, etc. Some other praise:

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“At first glance, it might appear that Claire Danes and HBO are a little behind the curve with Temple Grandin, a biopic about an early autistic advocate and educator. In the years since Rain Man, autism has created something of a stock character in television and film…But you can’t be behind the curve when there is no curve, and there is no longer any curve on autism movies because Danes and the makers of Temple Grandin have blown it out of the water.” — L.A. Times

“Like most HBO films, Temple has an exquisite sense of time and place; you can almost smell the cows and feel the heat. But unlike many, Temple is an incredibly joyous and often humorous film. There’s no reason to feel sorry for Temple; she succeeds on her own terms.” —USA Today

“The well-plotted script does what so many biographical movies fail to do: put us right inside the mind of its subject.” —Entertainment Weekly

“I was frankly skeptical and reluctant to dive into a docudrama about an autistic heroine, given the many years of overexposure to formulaic disease/challenge-of-the-week TV movies. Should have known better. HBO is not in the habit of making ordinary TV movies (a lost art for much of the rest of the medium, and we’re all the poorer for it). Needless to say, Temple Grandin—the movie and its subject—is anything but ordinary.” —T.V. Guide

I’m sure all of the positive notices feel especially sweet to Emily Gerson Saines, who is the mother of an autistic son and spends time doing autism advocacy. For more about her, you can read the profile of her I wrote for the February issue.

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A Bowl, no. But Super news for two Westchester film geeks, yes.

Photo Credit:
©2010 Dear John, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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