As much as I am a devoted Christian I’m the first one to admit that religion can be pretty funny. It’s a rich mine of comedic material, from the ceremony surrounding everything to the sometimes overzealous attitudes of the congregation, you have to really lean into it to cross the line from “deservedly funny” to “offensive.” That line is pretty much when you start being mean toward the people who have genuine faith as opposed to simply having a good laugh. Everyone needs to be taken down a peg or two from time to time.
The new movie Don Verdean is about taking some aspects of the Christian faith down a peg or two. Sam Rockwell plays the title character, a Biblical archeologist who specializes in sensationalized discoveries of relics from Biblical times. But Don and the church he serves are suffering declining attendance, so they want to make a big splash with some new treasures. When the team – including Don’s assistants played by Amy Ryan and Jemaine Clement – have some trouble delivering, though, they maybe play a little loose with the truth, going down a path of tangled lies and other problems.
The first poster is all about showing off the cast, but in a cool kind of artistic way. The cast list is at the top and all those people are shown off in the main image, which is kind of tinted and looks more like a painting of some sort than a straight-up photo. Each person has some sort of easily observable trait. So Rockwell is holding a huge skull and a pick-axe, Ryan has a video camera and so on. The idea is to make each one of them memorable in some way. In between those two things is the copy point “Fraud works in mysterious ways,” which promises some sort of scam is going to power the plot. Finally, just above the title treatment, the poster promotes how it comes from the director of Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre.
The first trailer is…kind of great. We’re introduced to Don (Rockwell), who is a Biblical archeologist of questionable repute. He’s attached to a church that’s struggling and so he’s tasked with bringing back home some religious relic. But his attempts to retrieve Goliath’s skull don’t go as planned so he kind of has to attack the structural integrity of the truth. This of course leads to one bad situation after another as he then needs to top that, is attacked by a rival church and has to basically deal with the people around him, each with their own agendas.
Rockwell is certainly the star and he brings his easy charm in the trailer, but getting nearly equal attention is co-star Jemaine Clement, who plays one of his assistants. Clement gets some of the trailer’s best lines and moments with his outrageous accent, inappropriate phraseology and overall deadpan demeanor. It seems like he’s going to bring most of the obvious laughs.
Online and Social
The movie’s official website is nothing special and pretty sparse.
As you work down the page, the first thing you see is the “Trailer,” which is definitely worth rewatching. After that there’s a “Theaters” drop-down menu where you can see if and where the movie is playing near you. A short “Synopsis” is next, followed by a small icon-based link to the movie’s Facebook page.
The “Cast” section just has a headshot of the character along with the name of the actor and the character he or she is playing.
The Facebook page for the movie is kind of odd. It’s a mix of straight promotional items about the movie – links to cast Reddit AMA, countdown images and so on – and photos/posts that are made to appear to be from Don. The switch between in-character and marketing voices is a bit weird and gives the page a disjointed feel.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Nothing that I’ve seen or heard about.
Media and Publicity
The movie premiered at Sundance 2015 where it received mixed reactions. But most things involving Rockwell and Clement will get a generous benefit of the doubt from many critics how are general fans of the two of them. The movie was picked up after Sundance by Lionsgate and while there the cast talked about making the movie, being part of such a high-level ensemble and more.
Closer to release the cast would make the media rounds, with Rockwell appearing on The Today Show, the cast appearing on other shows and Hess talking about the movie in general. The general theme of much of the coverage was about how Verdean was the “anti-Indiana Jones” but that he was doing all of the things he does, many of which are ethically questionable, from good intentions. It wasn’t exactly a huge press push, but it was in-line with the scale of the film in general.
It’s a funny campaign for what looks to be a funny movie. Rockwell is always charming and the rest of the cast is usually super-dependable in roles of any size. The premise is intriguing and holds the promise of plenty of comedic fodder.
But my hunch is that this is going to fall through the cracks. It may be the kind of movie that picks up an audience after a while as opposed to being a hit on release, something that maybe helped by it hitting VOD at the same time as theaters. I get the the feeling the campaign is hitting most of the most outrageous or overtly comedic moments but that there’s a treasure trove of smaller moments that just didn’t make for great trailer material hiding in there somewhere.