We’ve all seen gags about manufactured blurbs for subpar movies, the ones that read “A…. triumph!” or “The [best] movie of his career!” There’s even a parody site, called The Critics Agree, whose whole premise is making them up. (“Nerd Report’s Fred Topel gushes, “I see movies for free.'”) But you rarely run into a case quite so blatant as the one described in A.V. Club critic A.A. Dowd’s open letter to Mongrel Media, the Canadian distributor of David O. Russell’s “Accidental Love.”
As you may recall, “Accidental Love,” formerly known as “Nailed,” fell apart during production due to financing projects. Russell moved on to other movies, and the movie seemed doomed to remain unfinished. Unfortunately, that’s not the same as unreleased, and eventually the movie’s financiers found a way to put it out, still incomplete and without Russell’s cooperation or approval. Not surprisingly, critics hated it, but Mongrel still found a way to slap a quote of Dowd calling it “a comedic masterstroke!” on the DVD. (Update: The president of Mongrel Media has contacted Dowd to apologize and promise the quote won’t be used on any further copies.)
Critics are used to having their words repurposed and taken out of context, and those with experience write with one eye on how they might be blurbed: Quoting, say, Uproxx’s Mike Ryan saying “‘Pixels’ is Adam Sandler’s best movie in six years” without including “…not that that’s saying much” doesn’t convey the full sense of what he meant, but it’s still technically accurate. But look at the source of the quote from Dowd’s “Accidental Love” review:
“To be fair to whoever refashioned ‘Accidental Love’ from the abandoned scraps of ‘Nailed,’ there’s little reason to believe that the ideal, untroubled version of the material would have been a comedic masterstroke.”
Not only is he not saying “Accidental Love” is “a comedic masterstroke,” he’s expressing doubt that it ever could have been, even had Russell been able to finish the movie himself. It’s a blatant perversion of his words, and Mongrel Media should be ashamed of themselves.
As Dowd points out, this isn’t just dishonest: It’s bad business.
It’s dirty pool, Mongrel, and you know it. You’re breaking the bond of trust between a critic and the public; if I lead anyone astray — and I’m sure you could find plenty of readers of this site who feel that I have — it’s by way of a difference in opinion, not malicious intent. Framing me as a big fan of Nailed isn’t just a lie, it’s an attack on my critical reputation. What if someone reads that and really thinks I see a “comedic masterwork” in “Nailed”? They’ll never trust me on a comedy again!
And thing is, these cheap tricks hurt everyone. That’s right, Mongrel: I’m looking out for you, too. Never mind that in an era when it’s collectors, increasingly, who are buying the DVDs and Blu-rays, associating your brand with such underhanded tactics may not be the wisest move. (You don’t see Criterion fabricating the essays they package with their movies.) When consumers stop trusting blurbs, they start ignoring them — and that has a negative effect on both critics, who lose their power of influence, and distributors, who lose their ability to sell a film with good reviews. A mutually beneficial relationship is compromised.
Increasingly, movie studios don’t seem to care where their blurbs come from, and assume their target audiences feel the same: Sure, it’s nice if you can run a quote from the New York Times, but if not, a random Twitter user with 46 followers is the next best thing. All that matters is being able to associate certain desirable words with the product they’re selling. If you’ve got no credibility in the first place, you’ve got nothing to lose.