Heckler - Only Bitches Talk Ish

Posted by Eric Brightwell, November 6, 2007 06:09pm | Post a Comment
I saw Heckler at an AFI screening the other night. In it, the nearly universally-derided Jamie Kennedy turns the camera in the direction of hecklers and online film critics, attempting to argue that they're essentially the same thing. In the process, comedians, filmmakers and a dancer share anecdotes
about how they deal with relentless negative criticism and live with the pain caused by disruptive heckles. That may sound awful but it's actually quite enjoyable.

Jamie Kennedy in the ten-years-too-late Kickin' It Old School, which Richard Roeper courageously gave a "thumbs down," which is good, because I thought it was going to be a masterpiece along the lines of Seabiscuit.

The first part of the film focuses on the hecklers. Comedians that I don't even usually find terribly funny are, for the most part, pretty successful at making the viewers feel sorry for them and a lot of the filmed scenes of comedians being heckled are extremely tense (and in some cases, familiar from YouTube). If you have any sort of recognizable emotions you'll feel sorry for these easy targets of doltish goons trying to learn us something.

The second part of the film attempts to portray online film critics as no more than hecklers operating behind the safety of anonymity and protected from recourse from the heckled comedians. In this portion of the film, Jamie Kennedy is filmed confronting some of the writers of the most mean-spirited criticism and personal attacks which also ends up creating an alternately funny, sad and tense air. But I even felt sorry for the critics, who seem like harmless, socially-retarded dorks across the board (and I don't mean that in a mean way).

The result is a surprisingly entertaining film that doesn't necessarily argue its case terribly logically or consistently but does make for an enjoyable albeit frequently uncomfortable viewing.

Some of the assertions by the interviewees come off merely as whining and poorly-reasoned. Joel Schumacher, with an arrogant flounce, dismisses the possibility that any child has ever wanted to get into film theory or criticism which is, of course, untrue, and expectedly moronic from the guy whose critically-doubted creativity produced the ripe cinematic fruit that is the accidentally hilarious Flawless, which everyone without a heart of stone should view (you'll need subtitles though).

                                "No one wants to be a critic"                                       "And no one wants a Charlie-In-the-Box"

I'm sure (despite the assurances of the noted authority on the dreams of children) other kids watched At the Movies and Sneak Previews and thought, "I want to be paid to watch movies and turn people on to stuff they might not otherwise know about," at least occasionally. Just as I'm sure some kids think, "I want to be paid well to squeeze out a sequel to a re-make to an adaptation from television for the Hollywood garbage factory with no redeeming values whatsoever." 

Joel is a self-described "sexual outlaw." How can you say stuff like that and then demand no one call you on your bullshit? And that's indicative of why people like him are so much fun to criticize -- because artists like him want cash-paying disciples, not critically-thinking film-goers. There's a prejudice in the commercial art world among the less intelligent that creativity is an aspect of intelligence superior to all others and yet only possible when safely detached from other forms of thinking like analysis, evaluation, criticism and whatever else clicks in our heads that tells us, when confronted with a Joel Schumacher film: maintain eye contact, back away slowly and then run downhill. That's why he made the self-gratifying, cocaine-induced Batman & Robin. 

The ever pompous George Lucas talks about "his art" being a Force for Light or some equally repulsively self-important B.S. Have you seen your films after Empire Strikes Back? They're not good. Good said they've never heard of you. And the gag reflex kicking in when you hear someone talk about themselves like that is a valid reaction, even if it gets in the way of being fake, dishonest and friendly, as these "artists" would like. Which is one more reason the film is so much fun -- you get to see truly annoying people making asses of themselves.

So, no -- I don't think all film critics are failed Hollywood hacks. I do think, however, from what I saw in the film, that most critics are aspiring celebrities and frequently failed wits. The screening drew a few of them that were confronted in the film. Some I recognized only because before show time they made sure to grab attention by making loud, unfunny jokes to their chortling entourages. I guess my problem with their sort isn't that I think we all need to put on the kid gloves and follow every criticism with a condescendingly diplomatic, "Hey -- but that's just my opinion, brother." No, critics need to be able to skewer worthy targets -- the Oscar-aspiring histrionic, chest-beating garbage that preaches from the soapbox and pats itself on the back with a gloved hand whilst the middle-of-the-road critics agree upon its importance.

It's funny, because in Hecklers Kennedy asks a couple of hipster-come-latelies why they were heckling him. They, along with all of the vocal detractors, say something to the effect of, "You should be more original." True, his routine about country music betrays an observational depth that draws on other, tired jokes about country and nothing actually observed firsthand. The same could be said for the majority of stand-up in 2007. I'm sure it's happened to all of us where someone tells us what white people are like and it has no resemblance whatsoever to anyone we know or anything we can relate to ... but we get it because we heard about how white people sit up really straight when they drive and they can't dance hur hur hur a million times before. The jokes refer to a history of inauthentic cliche and nothing from reality. And when Kennedy does a British character and says (in a posh, Joel Schumacher-ish way), "I say!" whilst miming drinking some tea; a British heckler yells out, "We don't talk like that." True, but maybe he's missing the point or problem (depending on how much credit you give Kennedy).

Maybe the problem is that we never see accurately-observed imitations of Brits. Maybe all of our images are from distorted Edwardian stereotypes fostered by the horrible performances of American actors as Brits in best-unwatched period pieces. Or maybe Kennedy's comedy is itself a satire of the staleness that has crept into the "art" along the lines of Pauly Shore's misunderstood genius. Whatever the case, attacking Carrot Top or Jamie Kennedy is itself completely unoriginal and as safe as shooting a caged deer who's been dead for ten years after it was delivered in said cage stillborn. It's obvious that these knaves just want to show off their stunted embryonic wit without any risk of incurring the disagreement of their douche bag friends. Similarly, the bad reviews of the online critics all smell like they were created before the films come out. I doubt most of them take the time to go watch a film they know is geared toward pre-tweens. I've never been disappointed so much by a brainless comedy film that I ranted and raved about it (with the exception of Troop Beverly Hills and The Devil Wears Prada). For example, you're clearly a moron if you went to an Ernest film and it didn't live up to your expectations. Do you look in the toilet for a golden egg? I say, save your barbs for the truly offensive and incomprehensibly lauded Paul Haggis (and his ilk) and risk alienating the people you're trying to impress.

An irony of the film is that most comics base at least part of their routines around being critically observational and attacking their targets, usually in underhanded and personal fashion. What's next, George Bush making a documentary wherein he goes around to clubs and asks comics, "Why are you making fun of me? It hurts. I'm a hormel simian too." I, for one, certainly don't want comics to become as safe as Jay Leno, who, to his credit, is so deeply offensive on so many levels that my head honestly hurts just trying to figure it all out. I don't think the film really wants that either. It's, in its muddled way, more of a plea for a bit of sensitivity and politeness instead of blind insults thrown out without any regard for the consequences. I mean, when you see how buff Carrot Top is you will feel like that last time you heard someone disparage him you should've said, "Hey, be cool man." It really made me sad. Look at what a career filled with heckling can do. Have your heckle-rays helped man as you claimed they would-- or have they recklessly imperiled us by creating something more terrifying, you mad critics?

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