Every film critic has been put in the awkward position of having to talk face-to-face with someone who’s made a movie they didn’t like. You’re at a film festival or an industry function and suddenly a mutual acquaintance shoves you in front of Joe Schmoe, author of “Arduous Journey,” the heartwarming story of a bear searching for its mother and one million dollars in leprechaun gold that you called “the worst film in the history of cinema — nay, the worst piece of art in the history of art” (these are purely hypothetical examples, of course, unless you would like to read the screenplay of “Arduous Journey,” in which case, hello, my name is Joe Schmoe and it’s really not as bad as everyone says).
If you’re the film critic in that situation, what do you do? Do you play dumb and hope the writer didn’t read your pan? Do you lie outright and say that actually Matt Singer is a very common name in the film critic community? Or do you own up to your work, look Joe Schmoe square in the eye and say “Your movie was absolutely horrible. And that bear couldn’t even act!”
That’s already a tough decision. Now imagine compounding the difficulty level with this added wrinkle: Joe Schmoe isn’t a stranger. He’s your blood relative. What do you say now?
For you or I, this might be an amusingly implausible what-if. For Toronto Standard film critic Scott MacDonald, this problem is all too real. Scott’s brother is Josh MacDonald, the screenwriter of the new film “The Corridor,” recently released in select theaters and on video on demand. “The Corridor” was produced independently, which afforded Josh MacDonald and director Evan Kelly a good deal of creative control over the final product; the results have garnered a fair amount of critical acclaim. No problem there; Scott saw “The Corridor” and loved it. But Josh MacDonald’s first film, “Faith, Fraud, & Minimum Wage” (the title wasn’t his choice) wasn’t nearly so lucky, or so successful. And that put Scott in a very difficult position. As he explains:
“To cut to the chase: I hated it. Okay, ‘hated’ is too strong a word, but I definitely didn’t like it. Not only was [Josh’s] original play much better, the movie version was almost a betrayal of it, turning the once endearing townspeople into comic grotesques. And so the question now was: should I say this to him? For most people, the answer would be: ‘No. Of course not. You asshole.’ But rightly or wrongly, I’ve always felt people have a duty to be honest with those they love. I mean, if you’re not going to be honest with them, who is? But then another part of me wonders if maybe this is just plain old douchebaggery on my part. Where do I get off thinking my opinions are so valuable? …In the end, I disappointed my mother yet again and told Josh what I thought. I may have mumbled and peppered the conversation with nervous laughter, but I told him.”
Scott wonders whether his brother deserved more or less honesty from his sibling. It’s a tough question: if we can’t rely on our families for unconditional support, who can we rely on? On the other hand, if our families won’t be honest with us, who will? Here are my thoughts on the matter: telling a loved one their movie sucked is hard in the short-term and beneficial in the long-term. Eventually hurt feelings vanish, but the improvements made to future screenplays and films thanks to constructive criticism last a lifetime. At least that’s what I told myself when my brother said he hated “Arduous Journey.”
Read more of Scott MacDonald’s “When Siblings Collide.”