Skip It

Why the best teen movie of the year, based on a beloved novel, won't be in theaters

Six years ago, Davis and Sandlin hunkered down to adapt Skipped Parts: She flew to the writer's cabin in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where the former elk skinner, newspaper editor, ice-cream man and dishwasher has lived since 1975. He then flew out to the house Davis and her husband, Michael Diamond (a.k.a. the Beastie Boys' Mike D), share in Los Angeles. She gave Sandlin a synopsis of how the script should read and even circled dialogue from the book she wanted to keep in the film. It was her intention to keep the film as close to the source material as possible, and, indeed, the film renders the printed page flesh and blood; it's among the most faithful adaptations of a novel for the screen since The World According to Garp.

The film was to be made for another studio, which had gone out of business, and Davis needed an above-the-title star to acquire financing for the project, so she cast her pal Barrymore in a relatively small part--that of Sam's Dream Girl, a figment of his overactive imagination. One of the film's producers, Alison Dickey, then asked her friend Jennifer Jason Leigh to appear as Lydia. Her involvement sealed the deal: Davis would finally be allowed to film the object of her desire and obsession.

"I loved Catcher in the Rye growing up, and Skipped Parts has this voice of a young boy who was so frank and honest," Davis says of her attraction to the book. "And I loved the writing--it was funny yet really poignant. I also grew up during a very important part of my life alone with my mom, and I loved the idea of: How cool is it to have a cool mom, and what does it mean to have a real family?"

Cast, castaway: Skipped Parts -- starring, clockwise from bottom, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Drew Barrymore, Bug Hall, Mischa Barton and Brad Renfro--is coming this month to a video store near you.
Cast, castaway: Skipped Parts -- starring, clockwise from bottom, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Drew Barrymore, Bug Hall, Mischa Barton and Brad Renfro--is coming this month to a video store near you.

"She's kind of like a bull moose on a rut when she wants something," Sandlin says of his collaborator. "She's a force of nature in her will, and she goes after things. She's a remarkable woman."

The film began making the festival rounds last year: It debuted to raves and packed houses at the Seattle Film Festival last June and was screened at festivals in Cannes, Boston, Austin and New York. But in October 2000--after Trimark's most profitable year in its 16-year history, thanks in large part to its home-video division--Mark Amin sold the company to Lions Gate for $50 million. Shortly after that, Lions Gate executives took Davis to lunch and broke the bad, if inevitable news: Her movie was being dumped to video.

"It's like being an adopted kid in another family," Davis says. "[Lions Gate] didn't make the film, so they don't have anybody over there who's personally involved with it. Mark made five other films, and they decided not to release any of the Trimark movies but to put them all out on video. I got lumped in with them all. We tried to meet with the head of Lions Gate, and he hadn't even seen the film. He already made his decision to put it out on video. With a film this small, he said you make more money with a video and a cable release than for him to put money into a theatrical release."

"Lions Gate just wants to do these European-intravenous-drugs-incest movies," Sandlin adds, without a laugh. "They're the ones developing American Psycho 2, and they're just not interested in this kind of movie, so they blew it off. It's just part of the process. It'll get a lot of viewers on video. That's what happens."

In the end, the decision to release Skipped Parts on video is hardly a surprising one: It allows studios to save millions on promotion and distribution, even when (or especially when) the film is relatively low budget ($2 million wouldn't have paid for a week of catering on the set of Pearl Harbor). And, likely, more people will wind up seeing Skipped Parts on video and cable than in theaters.

But there is nonetheless a stigma attached to direct-to-vid releases, one that shouts: This film wasn't good enough to be seen in a theater. Davis' movie hardly fits that description. At a time when teen movies play like gross-out remakes of The Last American Virgin, Skipped Parts is the perfect antidote--a thoughtful, intimate look at children who only think they're ready to become adults. And that, perhaps, is what keeps Skipped Parts out of theaters: It's a movie about children having sex and, finally, having their own children.

"It's a G-rated movie, only they're discussing R-rated subjects," Sandlin says. "It's hard to figure out a mass audience for it, ya know? That could have been one of their problems. It's like having Snow White talk about oral sex. You're going to lose both audiences: People who like oral sex aren't going to like Snow White, and people who like Snow White aren't going to like the subject matter. I can see where it was difficult to market. But I think it could have been done. It was disappointing, sure. We worked a lot of years, and it would have been nice to have had it out there on 2,000 screens. It wasn't the way it came down. But I don't think anyone went out and spent a month drunk over it or anything. It's just how it goes."

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