Movie critics are only human.
Try as they might, it’s impossible to filter out all biases while sharing their reviews. The best strive to do just that. They set aside grievances they may have about the filmmakers, stars and genre in question.
That’s for the best. Audiences care more about the quality of a film than the critic’s personal agenda.
As an aside, this critic happily praises films that don’t align with my worldview. Most recently, that happened with the comedy “Booksmart.”
I’m no fan of Alec Baldwin’s off-screen outbursts, either, but I’ll defend his talents all day long.
It’s why a confession aired on NPR’s “Pop Culture Happy Hour” podcast felt so dispiriting. And, in a way, suggests other critics may have followed a similar path while smiting the most talked about movie in ages.
The show’s critical quartet debated the merits of “Joker” this week. That’s hardly news worthy. It’s what co-host Tasha Robinson said that revealed plenty about the current state of film journalism.
The mainstream media has been in attack mode against “Joker” for a while now. Reporters connected the film to President Donald Trump’s rise, suggested screenings could spark violence and worried about its impact on Incel Nation.
The NPR quartet pounded the film on several fronts. Criticism remains a wholly subjective art, and much of the conversation compared the film to similar efforts by director Martin Scorsese. Listeners came away with a greater sense of the film’s place in pop culture history.
It’s how Robinson responded to the director’s recent comments that proved cringe worthy.
Todd Phillips told Vanity Fair recently that his days crafting blockbuster comedies like “The Hangover” may be over. Why?
Phillips name checked our increasingly woke age, So many jokes are now deemed inappropriate, problematic or flat-out racist, he said. Why bother making comedies in that environment?
And the box office numbers back him up.
Robinson seized on those opinions.
“The self pity in that statement, in an environment where so many people are making tremendous comedy that isn’t his brand of cheap, slappy bro comedy … the self pity of that makes me see ‘Joker’ differently,” she said.
Did her fellow critics chastise her for that pose? No. They cheered her on.
Co-host Linda Holmes is heard saying, “uh huh” in agreement as soon as Robinson ties the director’s comments to her “Joker” review.
Robinson isn’t finished.
“There’s a heavy strain of self pity, of ‘why is the world such a terrible place to me .. everything that Todd Phillips says makes me see this movie differently and kind of takes away some of the power of it for me.
“Everything Todd Phillips says comes across as, ‘Why don’t you see my brilliance? Why don’t you see my vision? Why are you picking on me?'” she continued.
Now, imagine a critic slamming the latest Scarlett Johansson movie for her Planned Parenthood activism.
“I had a hard time seeing Johansson as a worthy character after seeing her disdain for the pro-life movement…”
The outrage would be palpable, and for good reason. At a time when movie moguls reveal their ugliest behaviors and stars are literally sliced out of movies, critics are tasked with pushing off-screen behavior out of their minds.
It’s a movie, and it should be given a fair, robust review. The vast array of artists, from the actors to the crew members, deserve nothing less.
Slamming a movie because the director doesn’t see comedy trends the way you do is no grounds for rejecting a film.