We’ve had quite a few “women in corsets” type movies this year. Lady Macbeth, My Cousin Rachel, A Quiet Passion…all of them have not only featured elaborate period costuming but also to various degrees tales of forbidden passion being let loose. To both categories we now add this week’s Tulip Fever.
The story of the movie focuses on Sophia (Alicia Vikander), a young woman who’s forced to marry a powerful businessman named Cornelis Sandvoort (Christoph Waltz) to escape a life of poverty. She doesn’t love him, of course, so when he commissions a young artist named Jan Van Loos (Dane DeHaan) to paint her portrait he unknowingly lets a fox into the henhouse. The two young people start up a passionate affair set in 17h century Amsterdam, seeing the key to their escape in the thriving tulip market that dominates the city.
The movie has been finished for almost three years but has languished on the shelf of The Weinstein Co. More on this below, but it’s important to keep in mind as we move through the campaign.
In the movie’s first – and only – poster we’re presented with a gauzy period drama that’s being sold through the beauty of Vikander. She stands alone, looking down through a window holding a flower looking very proper, an expression of longing and maybe dissatisfaction on her face. It’s not hugely revelatory but it tells us what we need to know to make at least a half-informed decision about the movie.
We’re told in the opening of the first trailer that Sophia is an orphan and that she’s being married off because that’s what society expects for her own good. So she’s given to Cornelis, an older man whom she obviously doesn’t love but who has been arranged by the nuns that care for her. When he arranges for their portrait to be painted she meets Jan, a painter who is not only her own age but who stirs her imagination of what could be. The two begin an affair as they conspire how to be together. There are lots of shots showing the young lovers in a passionate embrace and of the married couple being more cold and formal.
If the trailer is to be believed, there’s a strong Romeo & Juliet element to the proceedings. Outside of that, it looks a lot like other period movies that deal with these kinds of arranged marriages. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. Vikander looks like she’s doing great work, but this is a scenario we’ve seen before.
After some release date finagling, the second trailer starts out by establishing the time and setting before explaining that Cornelius has hired a painter, with whom Sophia quickly becomes involved. The love affair between the two and their plan to escape together forms the rest of the trailer, presenting it as a story of true passion that must break free from the shackles of an arranged marriage.
It gives the same sort of vibe as the first spot but focuses much more on the affair between the illicit lovers. It’s a bit stronger for that focus but makes the same basic value proposition to the audience.
After all the date changes that moved the release all around the calendar a red-band trailer was given to Vanity Fair just a week out in a last-ditch effort to get people talking. The trailer outlines much of the same story as the earlier effort but includes a lot more nudity and sexual situations to underline the passion the characters feel for one another.
Online and Social
There doesn’t appear to be an owned website for the movie. If you visit TWC’s site, the link to the movie’s official site just takes you to YouTube trailer. That means the film just has Twitter and Facebook profiles to help sell it online. There’s almost nothing on those profiles, though, both of which have less than a dozen updates that date back just to April of this year, with most of the activity happening in roughly the last month. I will say, though, this is the first usage of Facebook’s new feature allowing for videos to be used as cover photos and…I don’t like it.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
There appears to have been to have been a TV spot created by the studio but it was rejected by Fox for being too inappropriate, with TWC very loudly refusing to cut anything from the commercial. This is a common tactic from the Weinstein’s, causing a big ruckus over content as a way to drum up a bit of conversation and buzz.
There was at least one TV spot the focused almost exclusively on the passion of the young lovers and their plans for escaping, despite the power and anger of Sophia’s husband.
If there was any other advertising, even online, I’m unaware of it.
Media and Publicity
Unfortunately, much of the press early on was not great. As has become commonplace for Weinstein releases it suffered from a handful of release date shifts, moving from 2016 to early 2017 to mid-2017. Even in the last few weeks, it’s changed dates from a limited release on 8/25 to a wider one on 9/1. The history of the film, including early reactions and a complete timeline of dates the movie was supposed to open on, was recounted by Vulture in a widely-discussed and shared piece.
I’m not even sure what kind of scale to put this campaign on, what to measure it against. It’s been a year-and-a-half since the first trailer was released, with the second coming almost exactly a year later. That’s a long time to sustain anyone’s interest, particularly in the face of such commentary about the movie being a mess and the apparent lack of faith the studio had in it. I’m actually kind of surprised TWC didn’t just dump it onto Amazon Prime or something and cut their losses without the expense of a theatrical release.
That lack of commitment to the movie comes through loudly in how the studio is still going all-guns with the marketing of Wind River, which came out a few weeks ago. That movie is more prominently displayed on the studio’s website and just recently got a new trailer to keep word-of-mouth going. Which horse TWC is backing is obvious.
All that aside, it’s not a bad campaign. The beats feel a bit overly familiar as we’ve seen plenty of movies about unhappy arranged marriages, the stories set in less enlightened times and almost always featuring the woman risking everything to leave an elder husband and be with her more age-appropriate young lover. Everyone looks game and TWC knows how to make this kind of movie, which makes it all the more surprising that it’s been so badly handled.