“Drive”: Attempting to Understand the Critic and Audience Disconnect

When I see a film I like I generally try to recommend it to as many people as possible.  I see a lot of movies, so a number of co-workers often come to me when they’re trying to decide which movie to see over the weekend.  After seeing Nicolas Winding Refn‘s Drive and absolutely falling in love with it, I made sure to inform everyone I knew of its existence, and when asked, would recommend people choose it as their weekend movie.  I’m not so sure I’m going to do that anymore.

A stylized action film universally loved by critics starring Ryan Gosling and Carrey Mulligan, sounds like an easy sell right?  Wrong.  Not only did I have the people I urged to go see this film come back to me all red faced demanding to know why I made them spend money on such a horrible movie (I may be slightly exaggerating), but people who I barely speak to that are aware of my love for movies and heard that I enjoyed the film came to me to complain as well.  Even more troubling is the fact that the rest of the world seems to agree with these people, Drive sits at one of the lowest CinemaScores of the year, and you can go to literally no non-cinephile discussion of the film without the overwhelming majority of the posters disliking it.  Why?

Well, for a couple of reasons.  Drive is a film truly made for people who love movies.  One of the reason there’s so much contention between general audiences and film geeks regarding this film is because, well, most people don’t like movies like Drive.  When you’re sitting there watching Gosling’s stoic and silently seething performance as the Driver you’re thinking “man this is really nuanced and awesome take on Eastwood’s the Man With No Name”, all the while the rest of the theater is thinking “I find the lack of dialogue in this movie disconcerting, why hasn’t Ryan Gosling taken his shirt off yet?”  Mainstream audiences just don’t get movies like Drive, which is completely fine and normally wouldn’t be an issue.  But because of the film’s second, and largest problem, it is.

Even though Drive may end up being one of the best film’s of the year, it will forever remain the worst marketed. The marketing for this film was abysmal.  One of the largest sources of revenue for art-house films like Drive is word of mouth.  You release your film in a relatively small number of theaters, mostly focusing on the more film savvy cities, and then eventually when word spreads that your movie is awesome, you expand.  Now that model may not be entirely applicable to Drive as it does have quite a larger budget than most art-house films, but it would be ten times more effective than the method through which they decided to market the movie.

When word of mouth is your film’s largest source of revenue, and you know for a fact that it’s the kind of movie that general audiences won’t be able to appreciate, why in the world would you market it to them?  Instead of cinephiles telling their non-cinephile friends how awesome the art-house action film they just saw was, Drive‘s marketing campaign made it so that the vocal majority was people who never stood a chance at liking the movie in the first place.  The girl who’s just there to see Ryan Gosling take his shirt off isn’t going to appreciate it when he enacts some of the most brutal violence put on-screen this year on his foes, just the same as her boyfriend sat next to her isn’t going to appreciate it when what he initially thought was going to be a high-octane action film turns out to be a moody, quiet piece of art.  But because the Drive marketing campaign promised just that, they’ll make sure to tell all of their friends not to see it.

It’s frustrating that the majority of the people who dislike the film do so only because it failed to live up to the completely incorrect picture that the marketing material painted for them.  I’m not quite sure why I care about this so much.  I guess Drive is just one of those rare movies that evokes, at least in me, the need for my opinion of it to be universal.  I want everyone to like the movie as much as I do, and in a perfect world they would.  I suppose it’s just odd that in a film where the director made virtually no poor choices, there would be such a massive oversight with something as simple as the marketing campaign.

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Categories: Editorials

Author:Ryan Crockett

Super-geek and cinephile, artist and writer, Ryan Crockett knows way too much about the French Revolution.

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6 Comments on ““Drive”: Attempting to Understand the Critic and Audience Disconnect”

  1. September 26, 2011 at 9:15 pm #

    I feel a little bit guilty saying that Drive needed more driving. When the action comes it is tense and artfully done without shying away from the extreme violence, but that all starts to go away as soon as the characters start talking, or sighing and looking at each other. Nice review. Check out my site when you can!

  2. September 27, 2011 at 10:14 pm #

    You pretty much nailed it.

    Hell, I LOVED the movie, and even I thought it was mismarketed. I went in expecting Bullitt and wound up getting Resevoir Dogs. No biggie to me, but I can see why people are pissed.

    Plus, this film is just flat out too intellectual for a lot of people. Having to read between the lines is NOT what they want to do. Hell, they dont even want to read ON the lines, they want it read for them.

    Nice Piece, Ryan. I like it.

    • September 27, 2011 at 10:34 pm #

      Haha yea, I remember leaving the theater there were these two teenage girls, couldn’t have been older than like 16-17, and one of them said “That was the worst movie I’ve ever seen, we should have gone to see Abduction instead”.

      People just don’t like good things.

  3. Anonymous
    October 2, 2011 at 9:11 pm #

    so so true

  4. October 5, 2011 at 8:57 pm #

    Give the Hollywood marketing machine a mainstream movie and it does its job extremely well. Give it a movie outside its comfort zone and more often than not it fails miserably. It seems like there’s a movie or two a year that makes me feel the way you’ve described (“Drive” is on this year’s list). The first time I felt it acutely when I saw a movie crash and burn because of mismarketing was “Ravenous”, which the machine tried to sell as a black comedy. It’s not logical but when I love a movie I feel proprietary towards it; I want the people who will appreciate it to see it. Mismarketing discourages the “right” audience from buying tickets in favor of selling tickets to people who will walk out disappointed because they’ve been sold a false bill of goods. It’s a lose-lose situation.

    • October 6, 2011 at 9:58 am #

      I almost want to say that with films like Drive studios would honestly be better off not mass-marketting them at all. We’re in the age of the internet, and when the primary audience for your film is movie nerds — the people most likely to hear about your movie regardless of how much you spend advertising it — whats the point of spending any money at all?

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