Author Empathy: 10
I said in this review that I thought the New Yorker film review should be the most righteously accurate film review there is. That was a little unfair given that the current holder of that title is another of those heir-apparent rags that are obligated to be excellent in some ways simply because of the size of their reputations. I don’t mean to make the New York Times blush by going on about its size but hell, their film reviews are about as perfect as it gets.
Partly because an additional dissection of a review of “A Serious Man” will tempt me to reveal too much about a great film and partly because I just don’t want to, I’ll not review A.O. Scott’s review of the same film for the New York Times. Instead I’ll review a piece by A.O. that I think is a useful contrast. The New Yorker article I reviewed was a panning of an effort by established moviemakers who have made a career out of brilliant idiosyncrasy. The New Yorker’s panning was poor, I concluded. A.O.’s panning of a massively different movie—a movie whose incredibly dull attempts at idiosyncrasy A.O. zeroes in on with a vengeance—is a righteous panning.
WHAT I MEAN:
This is what is at stake in this little reckoning between New York- -Times and –er. We all know what “Right-” means, and that is certainly what we would hope all reviews of art (and all reviews of life in general) would be correct. But it’s that “-eous” half that is important. The best reviews are FULL OF RIGHT. Chock full of the stuff, and I say that these two publications should output the most righteous reviews because if we’re chocking something full of Right we may as well fill up the biggest somethings (e.g. publications) we can find. The reputations (and consequent readerships) of these two rags are gigantic. Their size begets so much influence that they, without any concurrent opinion from other publications, can affect public regard of their subjects. For a counterexample of something that can strive for “right-“ but whose reputation is so miniscule that almost zero capacity comes with the “-eous,” look no further than this itty-bitty blog.
I’m reviewing A.O. Scott’s June 20, 2008 review of “The Love Guru,” starring Mike Myers. (Directed by Marco Schnabel but that doesn’t matter at all.)
A.O.’s lead offers a conspicuous rehashing of Myer’s career but makes it inconspicuous with a wonderfully quick effacement of himself as someone with a “morbidly obsessive interest in pop-culture ephemera.” Obviously this effacement doubles as an announcement: A.O. knows pop culture better than you and, at least right now, that interest is kind of like that of a coroner who has seen too much death. He doesn’t make us readers feel bad for our inferior knowledge or the weight of his obsession. He gains out trust through some information and a quick joke: you can hardly ask more of a lead.
This quick review then progresses through a deftly embedded question-answer cycle to a satisfying final answer. Read the sub-800 word review for the answers, here is the underlying procession of questions:
- Why did we once like Mike Myers?
- Can he still hack it?
- Should we be worried about low brow comedy as a whole because of this one excruciating go at it?
- Is A.O. just too snobby?
- Should we forgive Myers?
By review’s end, the apparent answer to the final question is HELL NO. This is righteousness in art criticism.
If, like me, you’re wondering more about poor Mike Myers, take a look at this piece he wrote for Esquire to promote “The Love Guru.”
Could you make it through the whole thing? It’s awful, it’s “downright antifunny.”(-A.O.) I was of the core target demographic when the “Austin Powers” franchise started and was in awe of it. “Wayne’s World,” I dug it, I owned a DVD copy of Myers’s best-of SNL. Is this the same guy? Either conclusion: that he was always a lucky schlub who was at times bolstered by others’ talent or that a comedian with a solid knack could plummet so far, seems too painful. I can’t bring myself to turn an eye back to the stuff I blew up in giggles for as a kid, A.O. Scott’s review has already exploded it for me.
Now that, the chopping up of my long standing notions about Myers, is a result of good writing.
GOOD MOVE/BAD MOVE:
Please don’t misunderstand: I’m not opposed to infantile, regressive, scatological humor. Indeed, I consider myself something of a connoisseur. Or maybe a glutton. So it’s not that I object to the idea of, say, witnessing elephants copulate on the ice in the middle of a Stanley Cup hockey match, or seeing a dwarf sent flying over the same ice by the shock of defibrillator paddles. But it will never be enough simply to do such things. They must be done well.
THE VERDICT: GOOD MOVE!
Addressing the reader’s most probable concerns is advisable when your going beyond the normal function of your writing. E.g. panning an actor instead of just the one movie.
THE BEST MOMENT:
In the meantime talk amongst yourselves.
BECAUSE: Ending with one of Myers’s best catch phrases (from SNL) is a classy way to leave an invitation for the comedian to prove A.O. wrong.