Early this morning, the internet discovered Jesse Eisenberg’s “An Honest Review,” a humor essay from this week’s New Yorker in which he takes on the persona of a jealous, modestly creepy film critic whose judgments of the movie he’s writing about are profoundly colored by his own shortcomings. Eisenberg-as-film-critic writes:
“The movie, which was written and directed by Steven Kern, who also stars, tells the story of a young man named Cole, who is tasked with bringing down the Italian Mob. Cole uses his paintings to send secret messages to the police, which pisses me off, because in grad school I wrote a short story with basically that exact idea. And I failed the grad-school class, but Mr. Kern is getting early Oscar buzz. Justice? Not in this life…”
In sum, these are the main problems with ‘Paintings of Cole’: it was inconveniently shown on the Upper West Side, written by a guy I envy, screened by a cute intern whose name was too confusing to remember, based on an idea that I poorly executed in grad school, and praised by the Times, which rejected me.”
Some critics, not surprisingly, took offense. Some other critics, also not surprisingly, called them for being thin-skinned and/or hypocritical. Others pointed out that, even in satirical New Yorker pieces, women are relegated to the role of the cute publicist the story’s slobbering hero has the hots for. The battle raged on for a while, but in the end it was like one of those cartoon tornadoes that picks everything up and puts it down exactly where it was before, leaving a single sheet of paper floating softly to earth.
My own (very quick) read: Critics shouldn’t dish out what they can’t take — and if you’ve ever written for a publication with a comments section, you’ve certainly heard worse. But Eisenberg’s piece is lazy and cheap, and apart from the reference to “unique page views,” it could have been written decades ago. Did you know those highbrow New York Times critics like Buñuel? Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
Given that Eisenberg’s movies have generally gotten a pretty good reception from critics, they seemed like a strange target. (If Jai Courtney had written “An Honest Review,” I’d understand.) But as he explained to the Chicago Tribune’s Mark Caro last night, the idea of “a narcissistic critic who thinks that he’s the center of the universe and his personal gripes are somehow worthy of being publicized” was too good to pass up, even if he admits that “good critics don’t bring their own personal gripes.”
“I was just doing a Woody Allen movie, and someone showed me a review of his last movie,” Eisenberg explained. “The review said something along the lines of, ‘Woody Allen makes another movie. This one doesn’t really work, but hey, he’s doing one a year. Slow down, Wood-man.’ And I realized the guy was not criticizing the movie. He was criticizing his own lack of productivity and laziness, vis-a-vis Woody Allen’s productivity. But instead he was putting down the movie.”
The complete video is here.