“Free Guy” is this summer’s rare film that will become an exclusive hit in the cinema. Do you think other movies are jealous? (Column)

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“Free Guy,” starring Ryan Reynolds as a minor character in a video game coming out of his drone existence, is one of the most sparkling movies you’ll ever see with a real brain. At first it may remind you of a lot of other movies – it’s like “The Truman Show” crossed with “Ralph Breaks the Internet”, sprinkled with “The Lego Movie” and “Groundhog Day”. But it turns into an exhilarating and candy head trip. It’s like a Christopher Nolan movie that actually just wants to entertain you.

What’s contagious is that it’s such a smart kinetic comedy about what’s real and what’s not. Reynolds’ character named Guy (and known as Blue Shirt Guy) lives a life of utter hypnotized unreality; he thinks that having his coffee in the morning and going to work in a bank, where he says things like “Don’t have a good day, have a good day!” Is the raison d’être of happiness. But when he puts on techno sunglasses and starts seeing what video game heroes see, he wakes up right away. Its encoded synapses begin to fire independently. He comes to life with a will of his own. He touches reality on the other side of the game (and the people who designed the game are starting to see the reality they created reflected in him).

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Directed with revolutionary levels of finesse by Shawn Levy, “Free Guy” is a wacky digital fairy tale about the perception of the virtual in the real and vice versa. It’s a hallucination for our time. And given that this is a film about a character’s crusade to connect with the real, there is something about it that seems almost poetic: “Free Guy”, only released in theaters. (it’s the rare movie this summer that doesn’t stream), exists in a pure “real” area of ​​old fashioned, buzz-driven escape. This is one of the most original movies of the summer, you have to go to the movies to see it, and what it all gives is the feeling that “Free Guy” has reached a minor event mystique. . It’s this classic trick: a movie! The one who will not come to you. And if you search for it, like the public do, you might be surprised at what effect it gives you. I saw him to catch up with him, but when it was over I felt like he had taken me somewhere. Outside the house, and beyond my expectations. It’s a film ! It doesn’t just pass the time, it upsets your body chemistry.

“Free Guy” had a solid opening weekend, grossing $ 28 million, but in the quaint analog era before Netflix’s paradigm shift, it was often said that the second weekend was the one that told the story. history, and with “Free Guy” it really is. This weekend, the film grossed $ 18.8 million, down just 34%, and that doesn’t just mean it has a chance to make the money now. It means the public is excited about it. They want to get out of the house and see it! What video game are we suddenly living in?

A place where the old rules still apply. Despite the unprecedented entanglement of factors at play at the box office this summer – the slow fall of the pandemic followed by the rise of the delta variant; the sudden presence of half a dozen major streaming services in the studio – I read (not in Variety! But in the posts I won’t name) a fair amount of box office analysis that tries to read the success or failure of a given film into the aesthetic of the film. Why did “The Suicide Squad” underperform? Because it was too dark and violent and there was no Will Smith! (But if the movie had scored, we’d all be talking about why it was just dark and violent enough, and why he didn’t need Will Smith.)

Look, in ordinary times, it’s fair to make connections between aesthetics and the box office; I do it constantly. But these are not ordinary times. And when I look at what is working this summer and what is not, one trend is so obvious it might just be enough to repeat it, over and over again, until the whole universe hears it: Opening movies simultaneously in theaters and streaming services is a bad deal. Your head can ache at the hearing studios that analyze the measurements of whether this or that film has done so much in theaters, and so much at home, and whether all of that has been more than what the film would have done if it had. been released in theaters only. But this kind of calculation, while irrelevant, misses the forest for the trees.

The forest is that: a film, even viewed from a purely commercial angle, is more than a product that translates into a week-to-week review. A film has a populist identity. And this identity is an integral part of its reality as a driver of profit. When you open a movie both at the theater and at home, you put a crimp in the motor. You say: this movie is not worth as much. In fact, you are giving people a reason not to see it.

If “The Suicide Squad” had been a theater exclusive, it would have made more money in theaters on its opening weekend than it did – and if it was ( if it hadn’t been called a “disappointment”), it would’ve been an impetus for people to come out and see it. Instead, the film was hampered, the same way other films this summer, from “Black Widow” to “In the Heights,” were hampered. The lesson of “Free Guy” turns out to be there in its title. Ryan Reynolds’ character doesn’t want to be chained to a program; he wants to be free. And movies, if they’re an art form that’s going to thrive, need to be shown there, not in your living rooms, so audiences can make a connection with them that means more than less. It only decreases movies if they have to follow the schedule.

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