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James Franco, Level-Headed Receiver of Criticism

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by Sam Adams
April 17, 2014 1:20 PM
8 Comments
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In the months I've been running Criticwire, I've received several emails from filmmakers that begin with some variation on the phrase, "I know you're not supposed to contact critics, but..." In nearly every case, I've been able to come to a peaceful resolution with the parties in question (I'm still not clear if Mark Duplass thinks I was mean about his hair), but I'm still bothered by the idea that it's conventional wisdom among filmmakers not to interact with their critics.

The relationship between critics and creators is an uncomfortable one, and it should be. I certainly understand why someone who puts years into making a movie would resent the judgment of someone who at most spent several hours on their review, and critics in turn can be awfully thin-skinned when they feel their work is being attacked. But there's a way for the parties to interact with each other in a way that, if not exactly comfortable, ought at least to be civil. Filmmakers need to bear in mind that a critic's job is not to tell them how to make films -- which, unless a critic is specifically asked, would be an insufferable presumption -- but to represent the viewing audience, and critics need to be mindful of the fact that they're taking a small part of their subject's livelihoods in their hands every time they open a new document.That's not to say that critics should be "nice," but that they should be conscientious, something they owe to their readers as well.

And then you come across something like James Franco's Instagram response to Ben Brantley's New York Times review of "Of Mice and Men" -- captured by Vanity Fair's Richard Lawson before it was deleted -- and you give up just a little bit of hope.

For the record, I think Franco is a talented actor and an interesting, if not especially great, director, and he's certainly within his rights to take issue with Brantley's review -- although it's a little bit depressing how predictably actors, directors and the like single out the most positive notices of their work as the ones who really "got it." But citing Brantley's supposed lack of popularity in the theater community -- which, more than any other, insists on the false idea that a critic's job is to act as a booster rather than an analyst -- is not an especially convincing argument that he should be bounced back to the minors. (And the idea that Gawker even has a theatre critic is kind of hilarious.) Franco's outburst is heavily reminiscent of Samuel L. Jackson's response to A.O. Scott's "Avengers" pan, where he also suggested that the Times critic be bounced. It's not that hard to rustle up anti-critic sentiment, especially in the star chamber of social media, but it ends up making the complainant seem like an easily bruised egomaniac. (If only Samuel L. Jackson had a vast fortune and millions of adoring fans to console him.) I guess when people tell filmmakers not to contact critics, this is what they're trying to avoid. In any case, I look forward to the post-credits scene of "Avengers: Age of Ultron" will involve Nick Fury joining forces with Harry Osborn to attack the New York Times.

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8 Comments

  • bill | April 22, 2014 5:23 PMReply

    the relationship between "critics and creators" is not, nor has it ever been, "uncomfortable". you are ignored because picking on you is regarded as "too easy", downright borderline unprofessional bullying, like a high-school kid bullying the fourth-graders. even the "best" of you (re: no one on this site) exist merely as an extension of our publicity.

  • Sam Adams | April 22, 2014 8:25 PM

    Good point, Bill who stands behind his opinion so strongly he doesn't sign his name to it.

  • SuzyQ | April 17, 2014 6:38 PMReply

    I don't know, the one thing that kept popping up in mind mind as I read Franco's comments was, "you know who's sounding like a little bitch...."

    I'm not sure which words in the above Nancy was looking up...

  • Nancy | April 17, 2014 6:18 PMReply

    Oh, yes, here you are threading long and intellectual sentences with words i had to use a dictionary to understand. But when you go on twitter, you are supposed to keep the quality of your comments I guess ... Yes, people use twitter to "market" or "express" (whichever you like) their personas, but if you remember it is still a public version of public figure out there in your tweets. "stupid hair" is just an emotional (I like or I don't like response), conventional remark. And to get emotional, conscientious conventional wisdom range opinions, I don't have to read critics or follow them on twitter. There are other sources for that....

  • Eddy Q | April 17, 2014 4:54 PMReply

    Don't forget to pour vitriol on Manohla Dargis and Stephanie Zacharek!

    And Rex Reed of course. Except this time I'm actually serious.

  • yes | April 17, 2014 3:32 PMReply

    Peter Bradshaw is an idiot too. The biggest of them all to be honest.

  • Cynthia | April 17, 2014 3:17 PMReply

    There's that monster at the voice. Melissa Anderson. Put her on the list of people who should be hated upon.

  • Justin Bozung | April 17, 2014 1:51 PMReply

    Good on Franco.... All critics are bitches.

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