Aaron Sorkin is a polarizing figure in entertainment. His writing style, full of fast-paced, hyper-literate dialogue that barely fits on the page, has turned some people off. While he’s not everyone’s favorite and has some definite ticks and quirks throughout his work, he has created some of Hollywood’s most memorable TV and movie scripts. With the new release Molly’s Game he not only has written the screenplay but for the first time steps into the role of director.
Jessica Chastain stars as the real-life Molly Bloom in the movie based on Bloom’s memoir of the same name. The story follows her as she moves from a cocktail waitress tasked with hosting a high-stakes poker game at The Viper Club in L.A. attended by actors and other celebrities. Finding she has a knack for this kind of work, she opens her own business to manage the operation herself. Eventually legal troubles come around as she’s charged with money laundering, racketeering and other crimes related to the people attending the games she operates. Idris Elba plays Charlie Jaffey, the lawyer enlisted by Bloom to defend her.
The first and only poster features a slick black-and-white photo of Chastain wearing sunglasses and looking like someone in charge. There’s no copy here that explains the story at all, just a bit about how it’s based on Bloom’s book. Other than the cast, the only other value proposition here is the credit given to Sorkin as both writer and director.
A teaser was shared by Chastain in advance of the first full trailer being released.
“I’m Molly Bloom. Do you know about me?” That’s the first thing we hear from the title character in the first trailer, which shows Molly is at the center of a big legal problem that she’s trying to get out of. Though the timeline isn’t exactly linear we more or less follow her from low-end bars where she’s helping to facilitate card games to the high-end worlds of Las Vegas and New York where she’s running her own games and attracting notable clientele. Unfortunately the money has to come from somewhere and in this case that seems to be the Russian mob. When she’s brought up on a federal indictment the prosecutors want names but she refuses to give them anyone, preferring loyalty to freedom.
The second trailer opens with the assurance that this is a true story we’re about to see. Molly is meeting with her lawyer to devise a defense against government charges. She assures him she’s done nothing illegal. What she has done is manage successful, star-studded poker tournaments for almost a decade. One impediment to her defense is that she refuses to sell out her client list, despite the fact that doing so could buy a lot of good will and clear up many of the charges against her.
It’s just as tight and dramatic as the first, though much more clearly laid out and easy to follow. Once more, the dynamic between Chastain and Elba is the real draw here along with Sorkin’s rapid-fire dialogue.
Online and Social
As has been the case with many recent movies, the only official owned website for the movie is focused on ticket sales, with a map of local theaters and showtimes appearing when you first load the site. There’s also a “Videos” section that has both trailers and most all of the many TV spots that have been produced and a “Story” section with a synopsis and cast/crew list. On the main page, there are links to the movie’s Instagram, Twitter and Facebook profiles.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
A number of TV spots like this one laid out the premise that Molly was a go-getter who’s up against some serious odds. To varying degrees it shows her rise from an assistant to the head of her own empire, focusing on Chastain’s performance as well as the setbacks she suffers.
Another commercial came out after the movie was nominated for a number of Golden Globe Awards highlighting the accolades it had already received from critics. All in all there were quite a number of TV spots created and aired, all of them presenting slightly different angles on the story. Some focused on the legal battle, some focused on the celebrity poker games, some focused on the thrilling luxury lifestyle Bloom enjoyed. Put together they present roughly the same picture of the movie as the trailers.
Those TV spots and the trailers were used as social ads along with links to buy tickets. Other online ads incorporated short bits of video as well as the key art of Chastain looking glamorous.
Media and Publicity
The first big publicity pop for the movie came in Entertainment Weekly’s fall movie preview issue, which had a first-look still along with an interview with Chastain about how she got involved, what it was like to meet the real woman she’s playing and more. That was accompanied by an interview with Sorkin where he talked about the challenge of taking on his first directorial effort.
The first trailer debuted the same day it was announced the movie would screen at the Toronto Film Festival, a major debut for the film. That screening generated pretty positive buzz for the movie, with some particularly calling out Sorkin’s ability as a director. While there were plenty of those who felt it still contained many of the issues regarding female characters that have plagued much of Sorkin’s writing, Chastain talked about how it broke the mold by not overly sexualizing the character. Both she and Sorkin also talked about how their expectations of the real woman were upended when they first met her.
This was just one of a few movies with Elba in a starring role, a trend that lead to him gracing the cover of a recent issue of Entertainment Weekly, with a story that had him talking about this and his other recent releases.
Both Sorkin and Chastain spoke here about his first outing as a director and the stylistic choices he made as well as her character and the actor’s reassurance that this should dispel any notion Sorkin doesn’t understand female characters.
After the controversy surrounding Kevin Spacey and the news involving All The Money In The World, which he initially starred in, it was announced Molly’s Game would take its place as the closing night feature at AFI Fest, a nice boost for the movie.
There was a substantial profile of Sorkin a couple weeks before release that talked about his career to date, his decision to step behind the camera, the nerves involved in putting the film out there, how he developed the story and more.
Chastain also made the media rounds, showing up on morning and late night talk shows to talk about the movie and the real-life woman she plays. In fact, she’s not only been promoting the movie in the last few months but also speaking out repeatedly about the culture of sexism and sexual harassment/abuse/assault that’s all-too-pervasive in Hollywood. She’s been active on social media and in the press championing the women who have come forward with their stories about Harvey Weinstein and other abusive men, despite fears doing so would seriously hurt her career.
In the last couple weeks Sorkin hit the media circuit appearing on morning and late night shows to talk about the story of the movie, what it was like to direct for the first time, working with Chastain and Elba and more.
Elba himself was a surprisingly low key part of the publicity campaign. He did joint interviews with Chastain as part of press days and junkets but didn’t really have much in the way of his own thing going on for this movie. There was an interview where he talked about working with Chastain but not much else. Perhaps that’s because he’s had two other movies that have come out in the last several months and so things kind of blended together or he was simply unavailable.
There’s a portion of the audience that’s going to be immediately turned off when they see Sorkin’s name attached. They don’t like him, they don’t like his writing style and aren’t going to be interested here. That group will likely be offset by those who are pulled in by his name as well as the promise of seeing actors like Chastain and Elba – great draws in their own right – with Sorkin’s dialogue to handle.
Aside from the talent involved, what’s being sold here is a slick, high-grade drama about life on the edges of celebrity. While many people may not know Bloom’s name, she’s presented here as a strong, independent woman who’s unwilling to play the victim and cave when the pressure is on. That’s a message that’s going to resonate with a lot of people at this moment in our culture and society, especially given the kinds of horrible behavior that has been exposed within Hollywood’s power structures. If that message can make it home to audiences looking for a story about a woman who refuses to break under any circumstances – especially one that already has strong word of mouth – this could be a decent hit.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.