Of all of Roger Ebert’s reviews, perhaps none is as widely known as his famous zero-star takedown of Rob Reiner’s 1994 film “North.” In fact, Ebert’s review has by far eclipsed the film: far more people can recite its famous line (“I hated this movie. Hated, hated, hated, hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it”) than have actually seen the film – and thank goodness, because it’s as abysmal as its reputation suggests. Reiner — whose new “And So It Goes” opens Friday — arguably has never fully recovered from “North,” either, delivering a handful of populist favorites like “The American President” and a whole lot of bombs along the lines of “The Story of Us,” “Alex & Emma” and “The Magic of Belle Isle.”
Reiner joked about Ebert’s review at his roast a few years ago (“If you read between the lines, [the review] isn’t really that bad”), but he commented on Ebert’s take again in an interview with ScreenCrush. The whole interview is worth reading to get a handle on Reiner’s mindset during different points in his career – “Misery,” for example, reflects how trapped and pigeonholed Reiner felt by his own success – but here’s the relevant passage:
“And ‘North,’ to me, my good friend Alan Zweibel had written this book and I looked at it and I went, Every single kid that I knew, at some point, thought about what would life be like with different parents. Would it be better? And I just thought, hey this is a little fable. I wasn’t thinking of the pictures I made and the pictures I’m going to make, or any of that stuff. But the critics! Roger Ebert said, ‘I hated this movie!’ Seven times! He said ‘hated’ seven times. And I’m thinking, that’s because Roger Ebert wanted me to do something. He wanted me to do something that I didn’t do for him. So, I wanted to make this little fable — this little kind of quirky fable about a boy whose questioning if he could have different parents. That fantasy that kids have at all times. So, I liked that.”
Reiner doesn’t really get into what it was Roger Ebert wanted him to do, which doesn’t seem much more complicated than “entertain.” Still, Reiner’s take-it-in-stride response to Ebert is refreshing, considering how often critics are blamed or dismissed by some in Hollywood when they don’t care for their latest project. He doesn’t apologize for the movie (not that he should have to), and he might not see what the fuss over his little fable was (see: horrible ethnic stereotypes, hackneyed jokes/storyline), but he’s not so myopic that he can’t understand how someone might not go for it. Hey, can we get more of that?