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After too long an absence – and an even longer drought since his last movie of any real, objective quality – Eddie Murphy is back on the big screen in Mr. Church. Not a wacky comedy about talking breakfast pastries or anything else that might be more in line with the Murphy we’ve known for the last 20 years, Mr. Church is a quiet, understated drama about how sometimes the family we get isn’t the one we were born with.

Murphy plays the title character, who’s been hired by a woman (Natasha McElhone) because she has terminal cancer and needs someone to take care of and cook for her daughter Charlie (Britt Robertson). But over the years he becomes more than that, particularly after her mother passes. A reserved and private man, Mr. Church becomes if not a father figure to Charlie then definitely a caretaker, confidant and role model as Charlie goes from being a little girl to a young woman ready to strike out on her own, something that was largely possible because of Mr. Church’s presence and influence.

The Posters

mr_churchMurphy and Robertson are both on the movie’s first poster, which shows the two of them sitting at a piano together while he plays and she looks on adoringly. So it’s clear there’s some sort of bonding relationship here. That’s supported by the copy reading “He was the one person she could always count on” and the promise that the story is “Inspired by a true friendship.” All the combined with the warmly-lit photo that serves as the one-sheet’s centerpiece and it’s obvious there’s an overt play being made to the emotions of the audience.

On the second poster it’s more clear that this is primarily Murphy’s movie. His head is the primary visual component here, taking up 80% of the real estate on the one sheet and relegating Robertson to a small corner of the poster where she’s seen standing along the street with a bag in hand. That may be convey the character’s restlessness. The same copy is used here and the same sepia-tone is given to the entire design to make it clear that we’re dealing in nostalgia-driven emotions.

The Trailers

When the first trailer opens it find Charlotte isn’t a fan of Mr. Church and his role in the house, though she eventually comes around. We find out he’s been hired by someone else to take care of the house because Charlotte’s mother is dying. His presence in her life expands, though, becoming sort of a father figure as he makes takes care of her well beyond her mother’s passing, making sure she has the means to go to college and eventually helping out when Charlotte gets pregnant later on. His life isn’t exactly an open book though, as he scolds Charlotte at one point when she snoops around to find out more information about him. Ultimately, though, we see they remain close enough that Charlotte’s own daughter has an opportunity to get to know this calming, steady influence in her mother’s life.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SuKnGsYM51U

Robertson looks great as Charlotte but Murphy is outstanding, showing a restrained grace and presence he hasn’t in years. The entire story is laid out here – there’s almost no major plot point that’s uncovered by the trailer – but it’s selling his performance more than anything, which is a strong approach to take.

Online and Social

A modified version of the second poster greets you when you load the movie’s official website, which could use an SEO makeover since it’s not easy to find. There’s a big “Watch Trailer” button in the middle of the page if you should be so inclined.

Drifting over to the menu that opens up from the top left corner, the first section there is the “Synopsis” which gives you a nice overview of the movie’s story.  “Videos” has three selections, the trailer, a clip and a featurette of interviews with the filmmaker where they mostly talk about getting Murphy for the role and the strength of the performance he turned in.

“Press” has links to early coverage of the movie to help persuade you of the movie’s quality. “Cast” has brief bios of the major players in the story. Finally “Photos” has a little under 10 stills from the movie.

There were no standalone social profiles for the movie but it did get substantial support from Cinelou on its brand pages.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Nothing here I’m aware of or have been exposed to.

Media and Publicity

The movie debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival to generally positive buzz, especially for Murphy’s performance, which some called the best of his career even if the rest of the movie didn’t rise to that level.

The biggest element of the press push was this profile of Murphy in the L.A. Times that served as a career retrospective, talked about what’s important to the actor now and set up this new movie as the first part of a big comeback for him. In it he talks about needing to take some time off five years ago, what a different place he’s in both personally and professionally and, of course, what drew him to a project that’s objectively outside his normal comfort zone.

mr-church-pic

Murphy also made a few late night talk show appearances in the week or so leading up to release to talk about the movie, his hiatus from films and general wackiness.

Overall

I really like this campaign and am rooting for it to signal the start of a resurgence for Murphy, who’s always been better than even the best material he’s been handed, with the possible exception of Bowfinger. For as long as he’s been a star and for as many iconic roles as he’s played, there’s the feeling that he’s always been holding back (or been held back) and it may be time to finally come out and see him really sink his teeth into something, not give lazy performances that would make even Adam Sandler cringe.

The marketing push here focuses squarely on Murphy and his performance. That makes sense because he’s the biggest star in the movie and without a bit of “Oh, haven’t seen him in a while” curiosity from the audience this is just another mid-level independent drama that can’t compete at the multiplex with the blockbusters. If it’s truly as great as the press would have us believe then this could be something very special.

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