Sunday, May 15, 2005

Film: Rebuttal to Davey and Lisel half-baked Monster-In-Law reviews

Let's be clear, people can loathe Monster-In-Law if they want. Stephen Holden wasn't crazy about it in The Times. But he didn't posture and he got the facts of the film correct. He's entitled to his opinion.

But when "Lisel" (she's such a climb every mountain thing) felt the need to weigh in, your intrepid TV critics decided it was past time to address the writings of Lisel.

We're not sure what bothered us more, her failure to grasp basic events in the film or her sudden interest in passing herself off as someone who cares about feminism?

Regardless, she's an inglorious mess.

Lisel feels she's being helpful urging Fonda to get her ass over to a TV drama. Always thinking "inside the box," eh, Lisel?

Having waded through over forty reviews of The Electric Horseman and fifty of Nine to Five, we were surprised by two things -- mainly the how-dare-Fonda do comedy attitudes and the why-do-she-have-to-play-a-paragon-of-virtue. Coming many years after film criticism needs a strong blood transfusion, little Lisel has little to offer but gripe that Fonda's not playing a noble character.

She's offended, for herself and all women apparently, that Fonda's playing the character Viola, a character Lisel can't grasp the basic facts of. (For instance, Viola doesn't emerge from treatment "drink-prone," it was there prior -- guess Lisel was snoozing during the early part of the film?)
Lisel tries to place Fonda's role as some sort of feminist backlash. Ironically enough, while listing women, she fails to list the woman who springs to most people's minds, someone who's made a career of groteque caricatures of women of a certain age. But Lisel's never up to speed so why are we surprised?

She gets in a slam against Barbra Streisand for Meet the Fockers which wasn't a degrading role but actually an uplifting one. Note Streisand's playing a woman who's still sexual. Maybe Lisel's offended by that? Or maybe she's offended that Meet the Fockers has a message that peace and hope aren't to be dismissed and derided? Who knows what sent the bea up Lisel's bonnet? Lisel's idea of womanhood, when it strikes her which isn't that often, is very limited.

"Feminist" Lisel dubs Fonda's character "a narcissistic bitch." Take back the night, Lisel, with your abundance of sisterhood!

(Lisel also uses the "feminist" term "old cow" in her review. Someone send her a copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves. Or Women Coming of Age.)

Lisel's offended that the film's not a drama and that Fonda's not playing one of the First Lady of the Screen roles. Those First Lady of the Screen roles always delight middle-brow critics and almost always kill off the career faster than you can say Greer Garson.

But Lisel, who writes about film, is offended that Fonda's playing "a narcissistic bitch." More than that:

a narcissistic bitch who wages war on a younger woman before undergoing tit-for-tat humiliation in a punitive comedy that tramples on decades of feminist progress with a blithering giggle.

Help us out Lisel, we're not remembering you from any of the marches. Are you current with you NOW membership dues?

Regardless, your concern for feminism comes way too late in your career to strike either of us as sincere. We also question your ability to understand the dramatic concept of conflict. People have to be at odds, Lisel, or we're watching one of those dreary, pointless, talking head films that you so love to praise.

Let's give you the rundown on Viola and we'll try not to fuck it up the way Lisel did. Viola is the anchor/host of her own popular TV show. It's a Barbara Walters role (without the annoying "ladies of The View"). A high powered news personality who's worked her way up over the years. The hard way. (One wonders if Lisel's ever watched The Mary Tyler Moore Show and knows of Mary's Aunt Flo?) She's hit with the news that she's being replaced by someone younger because the network wants to lure a more youthful demographic.

Viola's humiliated and enraged. (And was prone to rage and control issues prior to the news in her opening scene but Lisel was apparently dozing.) Stuck afterwards interviewing one of the many pop tarts who are noted for their body (and youth), Viola is appalled that the sixteen-year-old woman has no clue of anything (doesn't read a paper, thinks Roe v. Wade is a boxing match, etc.) and all of her rage erupts.

Viola goes into treatment (partly, if you think about it, to avoid a lawsuit). She's attempting to put a happy face on the whole thing. Finally, she's going to do something with her son, other than bother him several times a day with phone calls. (Which aren't an example of smothering, but the check-off-the-to-do-list items.) She's going to take him to Africa. And apparently his new girlfriend once Ruby (Wanda Sykes) informs her of that development.

She's not thrilled with the idea of Charlie (Jennifer Lopez) but it becomes a huge sore spot when her son (Michael Vartan) proposes to Charlie in front of her.

Let's break it down for Lisel because she's apparently never suffered a loss (or lacks the awareness to know that she has). Viola's lost everything but her son. To make the best of everything, she's doing what so many women are encouraged to do, focus on your family. And the control issues are still present. So when she feels her son is rushing into marriage (and that her plans to make up for the past will be shelved), her normal rage kicks in. (Normal for the character of Viola. See Lisel, paragrons of virtue don't play well in terms of conflict.)

Lisel's too busy passing herself off as the last defender of feminism to grasp the movie (or even enjoy it but she only laughs at independent films and then, judging by the pedistrian review of Flirting With Disaster, not too loudly or often.).

So help us out Lisel, where's the feminist critique in your work? We see the trashing of Julia Roberts for I Love Trouble (the mocking of her and letting Notle off with a pass comparatively).
We see you shine it on for Chris O'Donnel. (Tell us Lisel, do you still feel he's that talented.) We've seen you focus on Michelle Pfieffer's looks excessively (is that it, you need beauty from women to appreciate them?). Or maybe it's that "arouseability" factor you refer to on Dangerous Liasons? Did Lopez not do enough for you? Did Monster-In-Law not meet your "ha-ha funniest" meter? (That's your term, Lisel.) You seem keen on "normal size" (we won't touch that except to note that you think Jeff Bridges achieves it), was Monster-In-Law not "normal size" enough for you?

Do you still hold so much of that "deep affection for Chris O'Donnell's adorableness" that you "hope to heck Hollywood doesn't get to him . . ."? Are "normal size" and "adorableness" the way you evaluate a film? While praising his filmography, did you, feminist that you suddenly are, ever wonder if maybe the women in School Ties could have been more than objects and if maybe the story wasn't so universal?

Like it or not, Lisel, a lot of mother-in-law & daughter-in-law combos don't get along. Some do, but many do not. Monster-In-Law is a comedy about that conflict. It's also a female driven comedy. And apparently you missed that and the fact that Charlie has more friends than what you see as the token gay guy. We look forward to the day you decide to announce that a film has set back the cause of gay rights since, outside of raving over Go Fish, we haven't noticed you saying a great deal about that issue.

You see the film as woman against woman. You fail to grasp that you're speaking of the two leads. Maybe it's been too long since you've seen two women in a film that didn't involve them sharing a love scene, but conflict is a natural concept of drama. Maybe you have to leave the sunny films of Chris O'Donnell to grasp that? We don't know. We don't give a fuck.

We just don't the see the need to hold our tongues while you pretend as though you've been offering a feminist critique over the years when what you've done is focus on women's looks when you've bothered to focus on them at all.

Was the supporting cast not pretty enough for you? Is that why you ignore the fact that there is "sisterhood" between Fonda and Sykes, between Lopez and her two female friends? (We found the cast pleasing to the eye. That didn't increase our enjoyment, however.)

You're just so offended that Fonda goes "facedown into a plate of tripe." We found the scene hilarious and, we'd add, Fonda got paid for it. We went facedown in the plate of tripe that are your reviews and we did it for free. Pay up, Lisel, pay up.

Now we'll move on to the other one who went gunning for the film, David. (Rebecca's dubbed them David & Lisa.) David's convinced himself that Viola is an ethnicist, she's against Charlie due to her Hispanic bloodlines. We wondered (we includes Hispanic Ava) how the hell David pulled that one out of his ass? And if he could shove it back up there? If he can't, will he allow us to?

If David had bothered to check, he'd find out that the issue he and he alone sees isn't "played up" because the script wasn't written for Lopez. It was adapted to her once she was interested. That meant adding touches here and there. David doesn't grasp a great deal. He also complains that Wanda Sykes is African-American. Or rather that Sykes was cast in the role of Viola's assistant and he has a problem with Sykes being cast in the part and being African-American. We're not sure what Davey's suggesting here? That Skyes shouldn't have turned down the role or that she should have bleached her skin?

While Lisel's concerned that audiences might see a character with edges (see our review of The Electric Horseman to realize how badly Lisel represents all that is wrong in film these days), Davey's upset that Fonda's apparently blowing her wad by not doing drama (see our review of Nine to Five). Why oh why won't Fonda make small independent films? That's what Davey wants to know. While Lisel fumes that Fonda should get herself over to a TV drama pronto (we're sure there's bound to be some new Law & Order or CSI version casting shortly).

What neither grasp, because they don't know enough to do their jobs, is that Susan Sarandon didn't just come along. In the late nineties, Sarandon received a great deal of praise for her lead performances as a woman over forty. We don't begrudge Sarandon for her lead performances (many of which are truly amazing). But we're not stupid enough to believe Sarandon changed Hollywood. The cut off age by the seventies was mid-thirties. (Goldie Hawn addresses this in her book, written with Wendy Holden, A Lotus Grows in the Mud.) Fonda was among the actresses challenging that notion. Fonda and Streisand were the ones regularly proving it wrong. Before there was Sarandon proving that a woman could still be box office in a lead over forty, there was Fonda and there was Streisand. Not with one role, but with many.

Fonda's now proving that a woman of 65 can be a lead in a movie. We imagine that Lisel and Davey will be praising Sarandon for this in a few years. (That's not a slight at Sarandon's age. We're not aware of her exact age, hence the use of a "few years.")

We're not going to suggest that the films Monster-In-Law or Meet-the Fockers are great art. We are going to say that they're funny and, possibly due to the cast, they're funnier than what usually gets churned out by Hollywood (Raising Helen, anyone?). Davey wants Fonda to create her own in-house independent studio and play the drama roles that will satisfy his heart. Lisel can't get past the fact that Viola's not Mother Teresa brought to screen. Neither of them can review what's up on the screen because they're too busy focusing on what's not up on the screen.

Which strikes us as strange. We don't see Wanda Syke's hilarious performance (which does touch on the issue of Lopez's ethnicity as well as on race in one scene, guess Davey was off getting Junior Mints during that) as some sort of insult to African-Americans. We see it as hilarious and applaud Sykes. We're far more concerned that at this late date, Hollywood continues to churn out so many other films with all white casts. Maybe we're missing the racism? Or maybe we just realize that Wanda is playing the Eve Adren/Thelma Ritter role in this film -- and doing it funnier than it's been done before.

Davey and Lisel have platforms and it's really sad that they can't move beyond the capsule reviews that are so common these days. Davey works for The New Yorker and rarely fails to disappoint. He's not as bad as his partner-in-crime, Tony, who sees himself as "Libby Gelman Waxner." But where "Waxner" makes social commentary that goes to the film, Tony just wants to crack wise. (Reading Tony's collected writings, you quickly grasp how empty his reviews are.)
That the magazine which gave Pauline Kael her berth and platform and helped influence film bothers to print Davey's half-baked concepts and Tony's spitballs lobbed from the back row of the classroom is truly disappointing. Lisel, at least, has a found an outlet for her writing that she deserves. As the years have passed, Entertainment Weekly has apparently decided more and more to leave "in depth" writing to In Style Magazine. Which accounts for the larger photos and smaller space for actual text. As a "writer" at a magazine that doesn't prize writing, we'd say Lisel has found the perfect platform.

But it's too bad they're willing to wallow in their uselessness. And as subscribers to The New Yorker, we're especially offended that the magazine still hasn't found a worthy replacement for Kael. The New Yorker is supposed to offer the best and the brightest writers. Instead, it offers film reviewers who are only slighty better than Lisel and her Entertainment Weekly colleagues.
Get thee to a film history class quickly or get out of the business.

It's not that you want to critique the film based on what you'd wished had happened. Again, Stephen Holden wasn't raving over it in The Times. It's that you fail to grasp what's up on the screen. We're not talking themes here, we're talking basic facts. Again, you could dislike Monster-in-Law. You could slaughter it for what it is. Or even for what you wished it had been but it wasn't. But when you refuse to acknowledge what actually happens in the film, we feel you're practicing misinformed criticism and we have a low tolerance for distorters (or liars).

Angry and "bitchy?" We're sure this article is. But when reviewers want to distort a film (or pose, as Lisel did, as someone strongly concerned with the cause of feminism) we feel we've responded in kind. Lisel, Davey, consider yourselves served.

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