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If Marketing Misleads, Should You Sue the Distributor?

October 17, 2011

By John C.

Since it premiered at Cannes last May, Drive is a film that has many people talking.  The majority of critics, myself included, found much to admire about the stylized arthouse thriller.  But many audiences have been reacting in a completely different way, blaming false advertising and unrealistic expectations for their bad experiences with the film.

In fact, Sarah Deming of Michigan was so disappointed by the film that she is suing the distributor, FilmDistrict, for the price of her ticket.  Deming was quoted as saying that it “bore very little similarity to a chase, or race action film, for reasons including but not limited to Drive having very little driving in the motion picture.”  In other words, she is suing because Drive wasn’t in the same vein as a non-stop action flick like Fast Five.

Adding more confusion to the mix, Sarah Deming also took issue with the portrayal of Jewish characters in the film, unrealistically claiming that it promoted “criminal violence against members of the Jewish faith.”  This certainly wasn’t an opinion that I took away from the film.  As for the part about there not being enough driving, Drive actually does feature two expertly paced chase sequences.  But the movie’s title is a metaphor for a nameless main character who can do nothing but keep moving forward at all costs.

Because the judge opened this up to a class action lawsuit, other audience members will be able to come forward and offer their own excuses as to why the studio should be sued.  Although I personally admire Drive, particularly the excellent leading work of Ryan Gosling, I also respect that certain audiences would be seriously disturbed by the level of violence or bored with the calculated pace.  But this lawsuit is nothing more than an irritating example of the self-righteous nature of today’s society.  What’s ridiculous is that the level of violence isn’t even the reason why she decided to sue.  The lawsuit stems from the fact that the one word title of the film didn’t deliver what she expected.

I will admit that some of the marketing for Drive focused a bit too much on finding a mainstream audience.  The film would have done better in a smaller arthouse market, rather than the commercial push that it ultimately received.  But here’s the thing.  There was enough buzz to make it clear that this was a film filled with silent exchanges in the first half and graphic violence in the second part.  A movie ticket doesn’t cost all that much in relative comparison to a lawsuit, and if you are seriously put off by a film, then you are free to walk out.

The trailer for Drive made no misconceptions about the level of violence seen in the film.  If you merely looked at the rating advisory or read any reviews, then you had a pretty good idea about what type of violent acts would be on display.  I understand why many would be put off or even disturbed by these scenes, but that doesn’t mean you can or should sue the distributor.  Obviously some of these problems can be solved by releasing a red band trailer.  But there is also controversy over how much extreme content should be shown in a widely available internet clip that can be easily accessed by entering a birth date that makes you at least eighteen.

The idea of suing someone merely because a movie or work of art failed to live up to your expectations is one of the most ridiculous things that I have ever heard.  As a film critic, I see numerous movies every year, and have generally seen a trailer for the title before attending the screening.  So if I sued the distributor or studio every time one of these movies failed to live up to my preconceived expectations set by the calculated advertising, then let’s just say that I would be a very rich man.

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