The Goldfinch, directed by John Crowley and based on the novel of the same name by Donna Tartt, is a story rooted in tragedy. Theo Decker (Oakes Fegley) is 13 years old when his mother dies in an explosion at the museum the two are visiting. With no other family available, instructions are for him to go live with the Barbour, whose daughter Pippa (Aimee Laurence) was also injured in the same bombing.
The story follows the connection between Theo and the Barbour family into adulthood, when a now grown Theo (Ansel Elgort) sells refurbished antiques while hiding the fact that he stole a valuable painting – “The Goldfinch” – from the museum all those years ago following the blast. Despite continuing to harbor feelings for Pippa (Ashleigh Cummings), Theo is engaged to Kitsy Barbour (Willa Fitzgerald), but more than one aspect of his life is about to be upended as the course of his life reaches a fateful turning point.
It’s a dark, possibly depressing story being sold on the first poster (from marketing agency eclipse), which shows a picture of a goldfinch half-buried in a pile of ash falling down around it. Audiences are told this is based on the award-winning book as well as that it’s “The story of a stolen life.”
That same tagline is used on the second poster, but now the image is of young Theo shirtless and jumping, the photo deliberately left blurred to accentuate the motion of him falling.
Theodore is reminiscing about his late mother as the first trailer (5.4 million views on YouTube) from May opens. She died when he was a kid, setting him adrift in the world before he was taken in by another family who felt sorry for him. What we see from that point on is a story that shows how Theodore is still haunted by that day, having problems in life that are mirrored by incidents from his childhood trauma. But there’s a secret hinted at at the very end that may upend the story and break some of the assumptions we have about these characters, especially Theodore.
The second trailer (5.3 million views on YouTube), released in late July, opens with a young Theodore being asked about the bombing at the art museum he witnessed. One of the victims he encounters sends him, as well as a young girl who was also there – to Hobart & Blackwell. Scenes of him from the present and past are mixed throughout the rest of the trailer as we get glimpses into the hunt for a painting that went missing from that museum that Theodore may know something about as well as the drama that comes from losing a parent in a violent incident like that. It’s a bit more uplifting than the first trailer, presenting a story of hope and growth instead of one of trauma and misery.
Online and Social
Not much on Warner Bros.’ lackluster website for the movie, unfortunately.
Advertising and Publicity
There was a generally positive reaction to the first footage WB showed off during its CinemaCon 2019 presentation to industry executives and press.
Advertising for the movie started with a Promoted Tweet from mid-May including the first trailer.
Online ads used elements of the key art to drive traffic to the movie’s website.
In July it was named among the select films screening at this year’s Toronto Film Festival. That screening, which included appearances by the cast and filmmakers, resulted in very mixed reviews from critics.
A brief first look aired on HBO following the finale of the second season of “Big Little Lies” that understandably focused on the relationship between Theodore and his Mrs. Barbour (Nicole Kidman), who plays a major role in his life.
Media and Publicity
Brief comments from Crowley in May accompanied a first photo from the film. During Toronto there was with an interview with Paulson about how she landed her role and comments from the whole cast about their history with the book the movie is based on.
There was an interesting feature that explored the unusual arrangement between Warner Bros. and Amazon Studios for the film, one that allowed the production to enjoy a bigger budget than it otherwise would have, a deal facilitated by the producers to keep things on track.
The movie itself may be fine, though reviews coming out of the festival suggest otherwise, but the campaign as a whole leaves me bored beyond reasonable comprehension. While I enjoy a good character drama as much as the next bloke, there’s no clear call to action or incentive for the audience to make a decision to see it. Instead the campaign relies almost solely on making an appeal to fans of the source book, with little to entice anyone not in that category.
What’s being sold here isn’t even clear. Is it a mystery? An exploration of grief and how it transforms you as you grow? There’s no single brand identity created for the film, with the marketing instead being as vague and obtuse as possible. The goal may have been for a few key images to create stark impressions on the audience, but all they accomplished was confusion in most of the potential audience pool.