Film Critics: Great At Giving It, Less Great At Taking It

Jesse Eisenberg upsets Film Twitter with a satirical piece.

Here's my number one pro-tip: if someone writes a satirical piece not about you personally but about a larger group to which you belong, don't get all twisted about it. What you'll be doing is essentially proving the satire hit home, and you'll be revealing yourself as a bad sport. As someone who has been a bad sport in the past I can tell you it's not a great look. 

Today Jesse Eisenberg published a short satirical piece in the New Yorker about film critics (very specifically about New York film critics, a breed apart from those found in other cities) and it really upset a bunch of film critics. 











Lighten up, dudes!

Let's assume the Eisenberg piece sucks (I don't think it does, and in my time as a New York film critic I met, if not that guy, the five guys who make up that guy Eisenberg is skewering). Even under that assumption the whining is just giving the piece power. And to everybody who follows you who isn't a critic, the whining makes you look shook, which makes the piece seem correct. Laugh it off. 

But beyond that: how many times do you think you've generalized actors/acting in your career as a critic? And how many times do you think you have been profoundly wrong about the actors about whom you're writing? I bet a lot, and I bet that very few film critics have been trained as actors or had any real experience as actors. I bet very few have even been on a film set. Maybe some have made a short in film school, but that's like saying your canoeing trip lets you understand how the captain of a Navy destroyer does his job. We tend to sit on the outside of the process, being a lens through which the audience can look at the deeper aspects of film. It's a valuable job and I love what I do, but I am also aware that in my time as a film critic I have said dumb things, misunderstood how the filmmaking process works and been dismissive of the hard work many people put into a film as I search for the best biting phrase to tweet or make into a headline. So is Eisenberg generalizing/taking cheap shots? Maybe, but attend the beam in thy own eye, film critics. 

I've seen some people express surprise that he would take a shot at film critics, as he's generally well-reviewed. I'd certainly like these critics to consider what it means to be 'generally well-reviewed.' That means you get some bad reviews. And some of those bad reviews will be people looking to be funny/snarky, and all of those bad reviews - every single one of them - will have his name attached. Critics, consider how it feels having a broad caricature of yourself pierced by someone you think doesn't know you. Now imagine Eisenberg's piece wasn't broad but had your name attached. If you're upset about this, a piece directly criticizing you might just give you the terminal vapors. 

But there's one other thing to consider: if you can dish it out, learn to take it. I struggle with this a lot; the nature of my opinions and writing seem to give offense on the regular, and that leads to people lashing out at me. It's weird to say something general like you hate the Star Wars Prequels and then get replies that are very, very personalized. It's a weird scenario where you say something broad and get specific and targeted anger back. I try (and often fail!) to be a better man and let these nasty replies wash off me, partially because if I want to say shit into the abyss I must expect the abyss to say shit back. As critics we're saying a lot of shit into the abyss, and while it doesn't feel personal from where we stand, it can be taken as personal. When I shit talk the Prequels I am not shit talking one specific guy on Twitter, but you can bet that one guy will reply like I was shit talking him directly into his face. In the case of Eisenberg I am sure it definitely feels like we're shit talking him to his face. I can get a hundred nice comments about something, but I will always fixate on the nasty ones, due to whatever is broken inside of me. I suspect that a lot of people in the arts are similar - the same thing that makes you want to put yourself and your performance/thoughts out there is the same thing that makes you truly feel the slightest negative feedback. 

So we're dishing it out, every single day, every single movie we see. All the time. And sometimes somebody hits back, whether it be Eisenberg in The New Yorker or Innaritu in Birdman, and the true test of us as people and professionals is how we deal with it. We should deal with it with a laugh and a shrug. "Hey Jessie, glad you're reading," should be the response, not a red-faced critique of his prose. Let it fucking go. Don't prove the point. Don't be thin-skinned, especially when your job involves piercing the skins of others. Again, I speak from experience, as a guy who has been (and likely will be again in the future!) thin-skinned and sensitive to criticism. 

Anyway, it was a funny piece. Lighten up.