May 16, 2014 11:20AM
By Jessica Herndon
LOS ANGELES — Films about transitioning to adulthood have been a Hollywood staple for years. Some of today’s biggest stars got their start as 20-somethings in mostly carefree coming-of-age movies.
But what about the often more complicated progression from our 20s to 30s? There have generally been fewer of those treatments on the big screen — that is, until now.
This summer, charming indies and raunchy comedies — including this weekend’s “Neighbors” — explore what could be one of life’s most challenging decades, but always with humor and also some surprising box office potential for studios.
While the 30s can be a satisfying time, full of firsts like marriage, buying a home and having children, the period can also bring tough crossroads both personally and professionally.
Yet films like “Neighbors” and the upcoming “Happy Christmas” and “Wish I Was Here” highlight the humor in common 30s plights while offering everyday relevancy to audiences in that age group.
In “Neighbors,” a couple (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) and their newborn baby buy their first house, but their life is disrupted when a fraternity (led by Zac Efron) moves in next door.
“Yes, there are ridiculous, outrageous jokes,” says Dave Karger, chief correspondent of movie ticket-seller Fandango. “But there’s also real poignancy there and very relatable characters in their 30s.”
In “Happy Christmas,” due in July, an irresponsible 20-something (Anna Kendrick) moves in with her 30-something brother (Joe Swanberg), who has a 2-year-old with his wife (Melanie Lynskey), a stay-at-home mom who starts writing a trashy novel to ease her boredom.
A decade after Zach Braff tackled tragedy as a 20-something in “Garden State,” he portrays love and loss in his 30s in July’s “Wish I Was Here,” which follows a struggling actor (Braff) who must homeschool his two kids after his father’s cancer worsens and he can no longer afford private school. Kate Hudson plays his wife, a woman who hates her job, but must stick it out to provide for her family.
“What that age group is going through, it’s not just a wacky high school night out or a college first love,” says Karger. “The particular themes, like an early mid-life crisis, are really interesting.”
Character-based films have never been an easy sell for studios or audiences, notes Karger. “The main audience that you think of at the theater is teen boys and 20-somethings.”
But the 25 to 39-year-old demographic actually makes up the largest amount of frequent moviegoers.
In 2013, they equaled 23 percent of those who go to the movies more than once a month, according to the 2013 Theatrical Market Statistics Report by the Motion Picture Association of America.
Other films targeted for the 25-39 demo this summer include “Blended,” starring Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler; “Begin Again,” with Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley; and “They Came Together,” featuring Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd.
Though they won’t tally as much as the superhero flicks, films targeting 30-somethings can be among the most profitable because they don’t cost as much to make.
Additionally, “the good ones have a long shelf life,” says Alex Ben Block, senior film editor of The Hollywood Reporter. “With classic movies of the genre like ‘When Harry Met Sally.,’ ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ or ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary,’ you got a pretty good run in the theater and then in home video, DVD or digital.”
But initially, they’re often hard to market. It’s key, says Block, for studios to do a lot of screenings to ignite buzz — and hope for rave reviews, because people in this group still read reviews and are affected by them.
The stars’ likability and familiarity also matter, adds Block. “This audience is sophisticated. They aren’t going to the movies just to go.”
If “Neighbors” dominates on its opening weekend as expected (projections have it making nearly $50 million), could the studios’ view of these types of films change?
“If ‘Neighbors’ becomes this smash, then I think there will be more of an appetite at the studios for films of this type.”