Michael Moore's latest film, "Sicko," was a smash hit over the weekend. The documentary about the health care industry was sold out at all its "sneak" screenings in 43 locations around the country including Cleveland, Boston, Atlanta, and Detroit.
In New York, at the AMC Lincoln Square, where "Sicko" began an exclusive run on Friday, Moore's funny and quite sad look at how Americans might benefit from universal health care sold out its entire run. The total box office at the theater was over $70,000 — possibly a record for an exclusive showing.
This was the only really good news for the box office weekend, as both the incredibly expensive comedy "Evan Almighty" and the highly touted "A Mighty Heart" were disappointments. The latter, however, should have a decent run and return during awards season.
But as far as igniting the passions of audiences, "Sicko" had the field to itself. On Friday night, Moore and one of his producers attended the 7:45 p.m. Lincoln Square screening, unobtrusively and out of sight of the audience. When the show ended, a standing ovation ensued, with cheering that culminated in Moore ultimately revealing he was there. The situation got so out of hand that the fire marshall came in to clear the theater.
Moore told me on Saturday night what happened next:
"We tried to leave the theater and people just followed us outside onto the street. All the way down and out of the theater they were applauding. Out on the street we had our own Q&A session," he said.
He was wide-eyed as he told me this over dinner at Prime 101 in East Hampton where swells like Candice Bergen and Roy Scheider, designer Tommy Hilfiger, as well as famed "In America" director Jim Sheridan were among the A-list guests who had come to applaud him.
Many of the guests headed over from another swell get together, at the home of attorney Gerald Lefcourt, who entertained NBC's Jeff Zucker, Conan O'Brian producer Jeff Ross, and perennial favorite Kelsey Grammer with wife Camille.
The Friday night situation at Lincoln Square, by the way, turned into such a mess that the 11 p.m. show was delayed. When Moore went into that theater — now he was obviously there — there was more cheering as he walked down the center aisle at the end and fans chanted "Speech!"
Around the country, audiences were said to be similarly moved by the "Sicko" screenings.
Meanwhile, back in the Hamptons, where Moore literally came and went in one night, the director ran into celebrated young actress LeeLee Sobieski. She told Moore something he didn't know:
"You discovered me," she said. "It was a promo commercial for your movie 'Canadian Bacon.' You cast me in it. I must have been around 11."
When Sobieski described the 13-year-old episode, Moore did recall it. "Canadian Bacon" was his failed attempt at a fiction film, although he says he may try one again after one more documentary.
What will that be? "If you look at the other films in order, you can see a theme and pattern," he said, "but much more I can't tell you yet."
In fact, after he launches "Sicko" this week in Denver, Moore has another project that he'll announce on Friday. It has to do with wellness, health and his own weight loss, which he's working on.
"You have to do three things to lose weight," he offered. "Take a walk every day" and "be happy" are two of them, he said. Designer Donna Karan, who eats only raw, organic, and healthy foods — and looks terrific — agreed. She's busy getting hospitals to change their menus. Moore told her that one scene which was cut from "Sicko" showed hospitals serving McDonald's.
"We have this great long tracking shot," he said, "of the patients, all sick, ending in the McDonald's that was right there. It will be on the DVD."
Meantime, this week Moore takes "Sicko" to Denver, where he still maintains friendships with families from Littleton, Colorado school shooting and his film, "Bowling for Columbine."
But it's the initial response to "Sicko" that's on Moore's mind now. He'll appear on Jay Leno's talk show this week, and hopes to be on FOX News with either or both Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity before the next week is up. The next decision he has to make, with Harvey Weinstein, is how many theaters to put "Sicko" in on Friday.
"We don't want a wide release. We want it to be gradual." But from the looks of this weekend's results, "Sicko" should begin exclusive runs this coming weekend in at least the 43 cities in which it debuted.