Once upon a time, filmmakers accepted the sting of negative criticism as one of the emotional costs of being an artist. They put their work out there and hoped for the best. If it was torn to shreds by a few fork-tongued critics, they sucked it up and poured their energy into their next endeavor.
But that was before a little invention called social media. Today, purveyors of panned cinema routinely take to Twitter to air their grievances against those who have spoken ill of their work. Case in point: Peter Farrelly, whose long-gestating pet project “Movie 43” opened this weekend to a slew of zero-star reviews and outright derision. Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times dubbed it “the ‘Citizen Kane’ of awful,” and he wasn’t alone.
Critics across the country seemed to take a unique amount of pleasure in trashing Farrelly’s gross-out comedy -- a series of loosely connected sketches featuring a dozen directors and a star-studded ensemble. The Washington Post called it “a near masterpiece of tastelessness.” The New Yorker jeered that it’s “dull, unfunny, offensive and stultifyingly clumsy.” The daily amNew York refused to review it at all, instead running a listicle of “43 reasons this collection of shorts stinks.”
Farrelly wasn’t amused. Over the weekend, he retorted via the “Farrelly Brothers” Twitter account he shares with his brother, Bobby.
“To the critics,” he tweeted the day after it opened. “Movie 43 is not the end of the world. It's just a $6 million movie where we tried to do something different. Now back off.”
Farrelly followed the remarks up with a second tweet. “To the critics: You always complain that Hollywood never gives you new stuff, and then when you get it, you flip out. Lighten up.”
The ongoing conversation that is modern journalism has spilled over into film criticism. In the age of social media, filmmakers have the tools to do what artists have long dreamed of: respond instantly to their haters. Years ago, such behavior would have been considered poor form -- an admission of thin skin that lets critics know they’ve gotten to you -- and a certain brand of older, more secure auteur still adheres to that stoic ethos. In a rare interview last year, Woody Allen told the Wall Street Journal’s Rachel Dodes that he hasn’t paid attention to critics in 40 years, and he’s all the happier for it. “I never read a review,” Allen told the paper. “I never hear a review. I never hear what the box office is. ... I have moved on.”
But many younger filmmakers today don’t move on, perhaps because Twitter makes it entirely too easy not to do so. Farrelly-like retorts aimed at critics are becoming the norm on the site, and not just from Kevin Smith, who has earned a reputation for his serial lash-outs. Last month, when MSNBC’s Touré called Judd Apatow’s “This Is 40” a “horrible mess with a meandering plot and few laughs and characters who are hard to like,” Apatow responded in kind: “This from the guy who refused to ever pretend to his toddlers that Santa existed. You really showed them. Talk about hard to like.”
Of course, it’s worth pointing out that such retorts often serve as a means of rallying fans. In response to the Apatow/ Touré exchange, no shortage of Twitter users jumped to the filmmaker’s defense. Farrelly, too, had his share of defenders, some of whom pointed out that “Movie 43, with its modest budget,” will surely go on to make a profit, despite the negative press.
But it was Harold Itzkowitz, an advertising executive, who perhaps put it best. “Why answer critics?” he tweeted to Farrelly. “Your work speaks for itself, right? Now go laughing to the bank.”