If news from Hollywood can sometimes seem like a joke, it might as well be an intentional one. I am one of the many who frequently freshens up on what's happening in the biz while also having a chuckle at Filmdrunk.com.
A part of the larger Uproxx network (think the Gawker model with different sites focusing on different niches like TV, geek news, urban celebrity news, and "outrageous NFL opinion," among others) Filmdrunk's primary voice is one Vince Mancini. He's been the Editor in Chief since the beginning, he runs the hilarious Twitter account and he writes most of the big articles that get attention. His writing is almost stream-of-consciousness, usually unpredictable, and often laugh-out-loud hilarious. It may be a tad on the lewd side for some people's tastes, but it's always clever (more Howard Stern/Louis C.K. than full-on "bro" humor.) It did not surprise me to learn that Mancini is also a stand-up comic.
He's also -- and this is something you may not realize the first time you sniff out the site -- a really sharp guy. His movie reviews aren't just played for laughs. He's got opinions, he can back them up and he has a deep knowledge of cinema to draw upon. Yet most people, I feel, still tend to ghettoize him as just a bordering-on-NSFW yukster. Certainly the Sundance press office does, as you'll read below.
The opening of his much discussed pan of "Beasts of the Southern Wild" works as good sampling of what you'll get at Filmdrunk.
"As an MGMT video, 'Beasts of the Southern Wild 'is pretty good. It’s got soaring music, pretty cinematography, fantastical imagery that borrows heavily from 'Where the Wild Things Are,' an impossibly cute little girl, and deep south swamp locations exotic to urbanized yankees like me ("look, crawdaddies! Isn't that a funny word, Brent? 'Crawdaddies?'")."
Yet between the gags there are some real moments of insight, as with this line his review from "Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans:" "Like rock n' roll, there's something about a movie being almost bad that makes it infinitely better." Then there was the out-of-left-field decisions to review "Les Miserables" to the tune of a Smash Mouth song.
I had the good fortune to speak with Mancini to see what makes him tick. This is the man who once interrupted his own explanation of how he calculated his end-of-year top 10 by saying "I just tore a Chipotle burrito in half and screamed at it like it was a dead wildebeast" for no real reason whatsoever. Here is a shaved-down transcript of my conversation with one the funniest guys writing about film.
Let's start with basic questions. How long has Filmdrunk been going on?
Was this your site that you created before it became part of the Uproxx Network?
No. There was a network called Fat Penguin. That was (celebrity site) What Would Tyler Durden Do, (sports site) With Leather and (links site) Gorilla Mask. Ryan Perry, who was running Fat Penguin, wanted to start a movies site. Filmdrunk started at Fat Penguin, later sold to Uproxx, and I've been Editor in Chief the whole time. But I did not start it in my basement.
So what were you writing prior to this?
I was working as a copy writer for Adult Friend Finder. This was my day job. I'd commute from San Francisco to Palo Alto to write newsletters for Adult Friend Finder.
Wait, so, this... this is a site for married guys who want to find a quick hookup at lunch, right?
Well, not specifically married guys, but... yeah. It was a boring, crappy desk job. While I was doing that I wrote film reviews and got other writing gigs on the side. I don't want to name the sites -- I had a non-disclosure -- but I was on a decent sized site but I wasn't me. It was someone else's site and I contributed. I was, however, a film major as an undergrad at UC San Diego. And I was in the creative writing MFA program at Columbia, later. I've taken all the film studies classes. My favorite professor at UCSD was Jean-Pierre Gorin [collaborator with Jean-Luc Godard in the late 1960s and early 1970s, later the director of "Poto and Cabengo."] He was this angry French guy who would come in chugging espresso and saying these insane things like "teaching is not about bored or being boring, is about the grand clowning act of child molestation!" That was a favorite quote of his.
Not too many critics can say they studied under Jean-Pierre Gorin.
And I've worked tangentially in the production -- as a PA and whatnot.
How would you describe the philosophy of Filmdrunk?
I look at it like the "Daily Show" model. You watch that show you'll get an overview of politics for the day. Read Filmdrunk you'll know what's happening in movies, just with a funny take. It isn't just dick jokes -- but you'll hopefully laugh and still come away with the news for the day.
There's nothing less funny than analyzing comedy. However, if you had to, can you describe the comedy you do, and if it has changed since 2007?
It's changed in that when I started I had more confidence that people would see the thought behind the juvenile jokes. Now I think I have a lower expectation that people will get that. People sometimes say snarky. "It's snarky!" I hate that. The root of that is snide, and when I think snide I think someone being arch and dismissive and "above" -- like you don't know what they really think. And that's the opposite of me. I say exactly what I think. I never take my feelings out of anything. I want to express my opinion to the fullest, then make it funny.
You have a bit of an anti-ivory tower streak to a certain extent, no?
I like what I like. But I feel like all comedy is inherently anti-ivory tower. Some people get bored with film criticism because it comes from that perspective. It can be so pedantic and bloodless. I'm trying to put the cock and balls and flesh and blood back into it, if that makes any sense and doesn't come off super pretentious.
But I don't recall much knee-jerk dismissal of anything that's, for a lack of a better term, arty. There isn't a jock mentality, but perhaps a little more audience friendly.
I love to poke holes in anything full of itself, but I don't shy away from foreign films or art films. When they're good, I like them. The jock mentality doesn't preclude you from that. I use my sense of humor and the way I am to maybe make it more accessible for guys like me to watch those kinds of movies. People into "bro" humor -- and I hate to describe myself that way, but I know that I have that audience -- I want to bring them to movies they wouldn't necessarily know about otherwise. I try to be so honest about why I like something that they'll automatically get it.
Have there been pieces you've done that have gotten an inordinate amount of criticism?
Yeah, the "geek girl" fiasco a few years back. My video editor made a supercut called "Hot Women Pandering to Nerds." It got a reaction from a lot of women like "What are you talking about? Hot girls aren't allowed to be nerds!??!" They totally missed the point. This thing where everyone feels the need to self-identify and self-pigeonhole. I just hate it, I've always been against that. So we got a lot of criticism for this -- they thought we were questioning a woman's ability to have nerd cred, and it wasn't that at all. I don't give a fuck about anybody's nerd cred. I think that's stupid. To say "I'm a super nerd, blah blah blah" is just so stupid, and this is the worst example of that. But people took it the wrong way -- they always want to boil down your point of view to something that's already been expressed.
I know there was a stretch of time where, despite the fact that your website gets a lot of traffic, you were not linked from Rotten Tomatoes, and you had to campaign a little bit, correct?
Not exactly. I don't know the backstory. I think that may have been just administrative problems. Once I actually got in touch with somebody there it got set up within a day. There was a thing with Sundance, however, a few years ago when I didn't get in. I had a friend who was in the office and I knew for a fact that someone there said "Oh, we know Filmdrunk -- they're inappropriate" and I was denied press credentials.
Sundance just felt you weren't a serious outlet, compared to some of the other people who get credentials?
The word was "inappropriate." A word that's been used against me my whole life. A word that makes my skin crawl.
Your reviews are not loaded with profanity. Maybe an F bomb here and there for comic effect.
I don't set out to be vulgar. I write like how I would speak -- I swear now and then to make it funny, but there's always a serious point of view. The Sundance thing pissed me off so much. I've gone without press credentials and I've written some glowing early reviews of movies that there's no way certain people would ever have heard of. I know for a fact lots of people saw "Hesher" because I was screaming that it was a good movie. "Winter's Bone," too. I saw 'em, I had to wrangle my own tickets and get in line with everyone else. Then I screamed to my audience about how good they were and I still got the reaction of "Oh, this guy, we're not gonna' let him in." That's typical Sundance, they're all about being pretentious.
Are you done with applying to Sundance?
I'll try again next year. I didn't go this year only because my friend who gets a place didn't go. I still enjoy it, even if they don't really want me there.
You also do stand-up.
I like stand-up. I like the instant feedback. It feels more real to see a live reaction.
If a very reputable outlet offered you a space to write "straight criticism" where you could be witty but drop the comedy, would you ever consider it?
I guess I could do it. I wouldn't leave Uproxx to do it. Well, I guess it would depend on what they were paying.
There are some other unorthodox film critics and writers out there. Film Crit Hulk, I'm sure you know, who has a specific gimmick, but is also really smart.
I don't really see myself as having a gimmick. Or even a schtick. I have a way of thinking. But I never think it has to fit into a format. No diss against Film Crit Hulk, but I'm not writing in all caps. There's no format. People sometimes say "Filmdrunk -- does that mean you watch movies drunk?" No, it's a synonym for punch-drunk, like in a daze from watching too many movies.
You mentioned you've been interviewed a few times before but the story always gets killed. That you aren't funny in interviews. And one time Lena Dunham interviewed you? What was that for?
I think she just liked Filmdrunk. This was before "Tiny Furniture." I think she had an idea where she would pitch the story somewhere, but it just fell through. Frankly, I've been trying to get her to return the favor in some way, but it hasn't happened yet.
I'll try to work that in, in the hopes that she reads it. I may just shove it in at the end if it doesn't flow.
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