Twitter is all about #WhyReadRomance today. I have to say, I love romances, but I’m a bit particular. I used to adore Loveswept and Zebra Historical romances as a teenager. When Loveswept, with its unique brand of humorous and/or steamy contemporary romances went away, I trundled along with Avons for a while. Loveswept was awesome and some of their authors are still bestsellers today. (I’m looking at you, Kay Hooper and Iris Johansen), though they now write in the thriller genre that I tend to avoid.
I have a thing about damsels-in-distress type books. I keep wanting them to kick the crap out of their would-be murderers and I get annoyed when they can’t do it until after they’ve slept with the handsome cop/detective keeping them alive. Seriously, you need sex to jump-start your brain and figure out where the murderer will try to strike next? Or to come up with the supremely bad idea to be bait?
I recently read Rex Reed’s review of Identity Thief because everyone was making a fuss about it, and because I’ve loved Melissa McCarthy since Gilmore Girls. I mean, unconditional, total Sookie love. But I didn’t want to see that movie. Slapstick hasn’t been my style since Jerry Lewis started doing telethons. All the same, I wanted to see if what he said was really that bad.
It was. Really it was. But I think there’s a lesson here for anyone who wants to work in the craft.
A huge part of writing is reviewing. At least it was for me. Just about everything I ever needed to know, I learned from reading other people’s work, especially in my online review group. Because we had a forum that let you post your work, but asked you to review other people for points to post more, reviewing and reviewing well was important. And one of the first things I learned about reviewing is don’t shoot the writer. Shoot the bad writing. It’s the message, stupid.
Look, no one likes to hear bad news about a piece of work they’ve slaved over and loved. But as a reviewer it’s your responsibility to be both honest and constructive. You can’t blame the writer for stuff they have no control over. Like the browser throwing in tons of weird symbols, or the fact that you have a particular issue with Russian villains, and look, here’s one in this story, to your ever-lasting annoyance. That sort of unhelpful stuff doesn’t belong in a review. Neither does a treatise on how obese or obnoxious you find Melissa McCarthy. Especially if the second part is entirely due to the CHARACTER she’s playing. Rex Reed needs to go to Review 101. It’s the movie, stupid. She’s just acting in it. (Funny thing. John Goodman and John Candy never got called ‘hippo’, or ‘tractor-sized’, or ‘gimmick comedian’s who trade on being ‘obnoxious’. Wonder why the men can do it, but not the women.) I found it so bizarre that he would totally diss someone like that, I decided to take a look at a few other reviews. Perhaps he’s just misunderstood, I thought.
His review for Hansel and Gretel–which I’ve seen–was filled with things that never happened in the movie. Like rape, villagers using flesh-eating dogs, and Hansel trying to eat his way out of a house. Okay. It’s not the best movie in the world. Maybe he fell asleep on it, or found it hard to pay attention. But I find it hard to see how someone would accept constructive criticism if you display blatant evidence you barely watched the film.
But it was his review of the touching rom com ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ that really sealed it for me. I agree—the name is awful. But to claim this film is boring and ‘a mess’ is, to me, insanity. Worse yet, he grudgingly compliments Bradley Cooper on doing some acting, and claims Jennifer Lawrence needs lessons. Apart from the fact that this is the first rom com I’ve seen in decades that captures the sweet, real world, neurotic romances real people can have in a way that classics like ‘The Way We Were’ and ‘Finding Amy’ took for granted, it also does what those movies did. Define a society and relationships during a moment in history. We are more drugged up, neurotic and off-kilter than any other time in history. But we all still want—and need—love.
Which is why romance matters. Why romance books matter. Why rom coms matter. And after having to sit through the alternate rom com realities of Judd Apatow movies, I am happy to get down on my knees and thank the good Lord for David O. Russell’s ‘mess’.
So Rex Reed can take his dubious techniques and say a truth. Identity Thief is probably not going to win any awards. But no one listens when you are both bitter and spiteful. Or when you’ve clearly lost any shred of professionalism or objectivity that makes your opinion worth listening to.
Which is also why so many writers are told to grow a thick skin, but every writer I know still cries into their beer privately when a bad review comes in, whether it’s from Publishers Weekly, or a peer.
Personally, I think Reed’s the kind of reviewer who makes quick judgments, trusts his taste implicitly and likes to really drive it home when he thinks something stinks. To the point where he will say just about anything—true or not—to emphasize what a piece of crap it is. This gets you points with people who hated the movie. But for someone looking for an unbiased, thoughtful review? Not so much.
Now he could be the nicest guy in person. He could adopt strays and make fairy dust in his spare time. But the reviewer I see is someone who will alienate everyone including the audience and any filmmaker actually looking to learn from his critiques. Take this as a lesson, my friends. Anyone who shouts all the time ends up shouting in an empty house. THE INTERNET HATES ALL CAPS. And with good reason.
In Miss Poppins’ immortal words, a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down. In movies, writing and life in general.
P.S. Mr. Reed? Could you try reviewing a movie without telling everyone the ENTIRE plot? I’d like to see it and form my own opinion before I read all about it, thanks.
Dear friends, if someone ever reviews you like that, whether it makes you angry or makes you cry in your beer, there is only one thing to do. And Melissa McCarthy has shown the way. You say nothing. Because anything else will just make you look like a thin-skinned fool who can’t take criticism.
So you go, Sookie. We love you, and now you know.
Plus, ‘Bridesmaids’ still rocks.