Kevin Smith is happy with critics. Well, he’s happy with some critics, anyway. His new horror movie “Tusk” just debuted at TIFF’s Midnight Madness section, and while not everyone has gone for it, those in tune to its (apparently insane) wavelength have been very positive indeed. Alison Willmore of BuzzFeed (and formerly Indiewire) is one of the many who dug the film, and her article about it includes a surprising sentiment from Smith: he read and retweeted Scott Foundas’ rave and noted how happy and emotional he was after being “so fucking angry for so long.”
It was nice to let go of that. I’m too fucking old to fight or care anymore. I’m old enough now to know some people are going to like it and some people are not going to like it. And that’s way easier to say with something like “Tusk,” because yeah, some people are not going to like it. (pause) I’m more shocked that anybody likes it. I’m delighted.
For those who might not remember, Smith got very angry after his 2010 buddy-cop movie “Cop Out” bombed with critics, taking to Twitter with a long rant about how he wasn’t going to let them see his movies in advance anymore.
You wanna enjoy movies again? Stop reading about them & just go to the movies. It’s improved film/movie appreciation immensely for me. Seriously: so many critics lined-up to pull a sad & embarrassing train on “Cop Out” like it was Jennifer Jason Leigh in “Last Exit to Brooklyn.” [F]rom now on, any flick I’m ever involved with, I conduct critics screenings thusly: you wanna see it early to review it? Fine: pay like you would if you saw it next week. Like, why am I giving an arbitrary 500 people power over what I do at all, let alone for free? Next flick, I’d rather pick 500 randoms from Twitter feed and let THEM see it for free in advance, then post THEIR opinions, good AND bad. Same difference. Why’s their opinion more valid? It’s a backwards system. People are free to talk shit about ANY of my flicks, so long as they paid to see it.
Jason Bailey of Flavorwire included Smith in his detailed history of actors, directors and executives grousing about their reviews and saying that they make their movies for “real people” instead of critics. Smith’s anger over “Cop Out’s” reception kept him from screening his 2011 horror film “Red State” in advance for critics (ironically, many critics appreciated the film, even liked it). But now he’s changed his tune: his new film will be screened for critics, and he’s accepted that not everyone is going to like it, in part because it’s a more potentially alienating film than his others, at least on paper.
I’ll admit, my gut reaction when I first saw that Smith retweeting a highly positive review and talking about being OK with critics was a bit cynical. It was curious that he suddenly went back on his very public battle against the critics (complete with his anti-review show “Spoilers”) now that he has a film that’s a bit stranger and more ambitious than his usual fare, something that might need critical support. At first glance, it felt opportunistic. But Smith’s comments at TIFF’s “Tusk” screening sound more like a man who’s grown more comfortable with criticism, who recognizes that critics aren’t, as Bailey argued and Scott Meslow echoed, some “alien life form” apart from the”real people.” In fact, some of them actively like his films (myself included, though I’m certainly more in the corner for some than others).
It’s nice that Smith has put sour grapes aside and gotten past the dumb knee-jerk “well, critics aren’t the real people I’m making movies for” response that’s become de rigueur for Michael Bay and Tyler Perry, among others. It’s hard not to take it personally when someone doesn’t like your work, whether you’re a filmmaker, screenwriter, critic or anything else, but it’s important to recognize that 99% of the time it isn’t personal. He’s getting a bit closer to the Rob Reiner take-it-in-stride response to people not liking his films. Like I said when Reiner spoke about Ebert’s “North” review without any hard feelings: hey, can we get more of that?