In this politically supercharged climate, we’ve lost sight of the art of actual conversation. Not that movie critics (with some obvious exceptions) have ever truly had their fingertips on the pulse of the culture, but nowadays it’s really bad.
New Yorker film critic Richard Brody appears to be in particularly bad shape. It’s almost as if he’s determined to prove, one review at a time, that he is the single most out-of-touch critic on planet earth. He cannot discuss any film without force-fitting a dull political interpretation. He wagged his finger when Free Solo won the Oscar for Best Documentary because it’s “the only one of the five nominees with no political substance whatsoever.” For him, Booksmart was “a counterfactual comedy about a world minus Trumpism” — as if a work of fiction be counterfactual. But Jim Jarmusch’s new zombie comedy, The Dead Don’t Die, is “a fierce political film” — meaning, of course, that Brody rather enjoyed it.
What on earth is going on with Richard Brody? He’s suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome, to be sure, but the symptoms manifest in the most peculiar ways. In a particularly unhinged fit, Brody described a scene from Peter Rabbit where CGI rabbits hurl blackberries in order to fight off a predator as “unpleasant insensitivity…ugly obliviousness…conspicuous…peculiar [and] disturbing” because he’s “a parent of children with severe food allergies…part of the problem underlying the undo silliness is that many people (including, obviously, the filmmakers and the studio) don’t understand allergies to be disabilities.”
Wait — what? Is he even talking about the film at all?
He’s not the only one to exhibit signs of one-track-mindedness. For instance, A. O. Scott, in the New York Times, condemned the latest remake of Shaft simply because it “is steadfastly not political.” Since when do movies have to be political? And why does the fact that a film lacks political dimension qualify as a criticism? Spike Lee explained at a Hollywood Reporter roundtable that, “If you’re an artist and you make the decision that you’re not going to include politics, that’s a political decision itself.”
So even when a movie is apolitical, it’s still political. I’m no mathematical expert, but I sense that there’s something off in that equation. Bradley Cooper, in response to Lee’s assertion, pointed out rather obviously that filmmaking is “a personal art form, and it doesn’t really belong to us once we put it out there. Whether it’s going to be politicized is really not up to us.”
This insight makes way too much sense to penetrate the brainwaves of critics who simply want to view all movies a certain way because, for them, everything is about politics — even when it’s not.
Increasingly, this sentiment is echoed from those who go behind the camera as well. Director Jon M. Chu has stated that his hit movie, Crazy Rich Asians, is actually “not a movie, it’s a movement.”
But in point of fact, it’s just a movie, and not a very good one. What’s the takeaway? That Asians can make mediocre but successful movies too? I don’t understand why that’s news, and I can’t begin to understand why it qualifies as good news.
Crazy Rich Asian is not my kind of movie because the dramatic tension hinges upon the maudlin, old-fashioned, self-imposed anxiety experienced by people who don’t have the psychological stamina or creative idiosyncrasy to ruthlessly scrutinize the values of the generations that preceded them, the progenitors who grudgingly withhold their approval and lord it over their children and grandchildren perpetually.
I want to see a movie where a Post-Empire protagonist says, on no uncertain terms, “Fuck my family and fuck their outmoded values.” (Ferris Bueller was one of the first characters to do this; also Ron Livingston in Office Space.) That’s why I enjoyed The Beach Bum more than I should have. I almost cheered when he blew up his boat and all of his money at the end.
For Jean-Paul Sartre, Citizen Kane was “completely passé because the whole film is based on a misconception of what cinema is all about. The film is in the past tense, whereas we all know that cinema has got to be in the present tense….And film in the past tense is the antithesis of cinema. Therefore Citizen Kane is not cinema.”
You can’t find two movies more different from each other than Crazy Rich Asians and The Beach Bum. The latter takes place in the present and the former takes place in the past.
As far as I’m concerned, there is the work of John Cassavetes, then there is Rachel Getting Married, and then The Florida Project. These are purely present tense movies. Their action unfolds right now. And — they don’t give a flying fuck about politics.
Chris Karr is a contributing writer for The Epoch Times. His reviews, interviews and cultural criticism has appeared in Highbrow Magazine, Time Served, Radio Facts and Film Vault. He is co-creator of the TV series Server Life as well as the producer and co-director on Vials, an original pilot available through Amazon Prime. Mr. Karr lives in Los Angeles.