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From the Wire: A Critic Reconsiders His Negative Review

From the Wire: A Critic Reconsiders His Negative Review

The Telegraph‘s Robbie Collin says Lee Daniels’ “The Paperboy” was the worst film he saw at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. Now at the time, he called “The Paperboy” “a transcendentally awful piece of filmmaking” anda dismally bad job” and a “definitive doubleyou-tee-eff moment.” So he was pretty clear: this was not a very good movie. But now “The Paperboy” is coming to theaters in the UK, and believe it or not, Collin says he “can’t wait to re-watch” this disaster:

“Will ‘The Paperboy’ play differently outside of the festival hothouse? I hope so, but even if it doesn’t, at least it will have failed on its own loopy terms. Even so, it could be that ‘The Paperboy’ is simply misunderstood in its own time. No less a film than Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo’ (1958) suffered the same fate. Last year, it was named the Greatest Film of All Time by Sight & Sound, but on its release, Hitchcock’s masterpiece was met with a barrage of bad-to-lukewarm reviews (Sight & Sound’s own critic bemoaned the ‘egg-shell thinness’ of its plot).”

Just so we’re clear, Collin is comparing Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” — one of the greatest films of all time — to a movie where Nicole Kidman pops a squat over Zac Efron’s chest and urinates on him to save him from jellyfish stings. Are we clear about this? I mean there’s a YouTube clip of her doing it that I could put here, but I feel weird embedding that on my blog. We’re clear right? Kidman pees on him. There’s a close-up of the pee.

My own first viewing experience of “The Paperboy” was quite a long ways from the Palais at Cannes. I saw it, just a few weeks ago, on my laptop’s DVD player. Beyond those big infamous moments everyone mentions in their reviews — Kidman “saving” Efron, John Cusack giving Kidman an orgasm from across a room through the power of his, uh, penetrating glare — I didn’t find it particularly memorable. Even with those few WTF-heavy sequences, there’s not a lot here worth saving. Unless we’re “saving” it the way Kidman saved Efron. In which case…

But Collin’s point is an interesting one: critics didn’t like “Vertigo” in 1958 and last summer a new generation of critics declared it the greatest movie of all time. In fact, most critics dismissed Hitchcock entirely right up through the early 1960s, when he became a favorite subject of Andrew Sarris and the auteurists. Is it really that inconceivable that in 50 years, some critic may write a really passionate defense of “The Paperboy” and Daniels’ oeuvre? I mean, yeah, it’s mostly inconceivable, but not totally inconceivable.

In the same piece, Collin writes about how a recent rewatch of Paul Verhoeven’s “Showgirls” — another swampy thriller that was quickly dismissed as camp upon its initial release — gave him a whole new outlook on the film. Previously, all he saw was “bona fide junk.” Now he’s discovered “sickly vibrancy, moral trickiness and wicked satirical bite.” 

This is a good reminder that while movies are fixed, our opinions are fluid and mutable. Critics like to position their commentary as definitive and authoritative, but not only is criticism subjective, it’s also subject to change. The film critic’s beat moves too quickly these days, but I’ve often felt that the ideal way to review a movie is to see it twice before writing about it. First impressions aren’t always perfect.

Just last night, I was watching one of this year’s new releases for the second time. Freed from the burden of having to closely follow the plot, I felt things more deeply than I had when I wrote my original review; there were themes and ideas that I only half-recognized the first time, and flaws I’d previously overlooked because I’d gotten too caught up in the story. Maybe a second viewing of “The Paperboy” would yield undiscovered cinematic treasures, and make plain its status as this generation’s “Vertigo.”

Yeah, no, I doubt it too.

Read more of “Were Critics Wrong to Boo ‘The Paperboy?’

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