May 29, 2017

Vanity Fair sending mixed messages over “Scott Pilgrim”

By Sean O’Connell Will the real Vanity Fair please stand up?

The contemporary culture magazine seems to be suffering from split personality lately. In July, curmudgeonly contributing editor James Wolcott hurled jabs at and Cinematical writer Todd Gilchrist for his “earnest unreview” of Edgar Wright’s “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.” Gilchrist caught the film at Comic-Con, loved it, and expressed those emotions in a heartfelt review.

Wolcott disagreed. Sort of. Seemingly disgusted that Gilchrist could possibly like a movie, he linked his readers to a deeper criticism of Cinematical’s review by Tom Shone. Because there’s nothing quite as productive as one critic critiquing another critic’s critique.

So Vanity Fair hates “Scott Pilgrim,” and condemns those who sing its praises. Got it.

Why, then, is John Lopez – in the magazine’s “Little Gold Men” section – begging people to go see the film now that it has underperformed? Holy backpedal, Batman! Is this better than taking a stand on a movie before the masses have had the ability to weigh in? Is it nobler to defend a failure than it is to champion a potential underdog? The magazine might be sending mixed messages to its readers, but at least all of the notes are being handed down from the magazine’s lofty pedestal.

As for “Scott Pilgrim,” I don’t quite understand the public pleas for additional business. It’s as if certain film scribes have a piece of the back end.

Lopez’s piece follows Drew McWeeny’s open letter to “Twilight” fans asking them to support Wright’s film. Both writers link the film’s box-office success (or, in this case, failure) to the potential future of other “challenging” films … though in all honesty, “Scott Pilgrim” isn’t as revolutionary as its supporters believe.

I also don’t believe the failure of one film to find its audience will stop a studio from bankrolling another offbeat adaptation any more than I think the underperformance of, say, “The Back-Up Plan” is all of a sudden going to grind the rom-com gravy train to a halt. Wright will make more films. Michael Cera will make more films. Both will connect to larger audiences through other projects. I’d bet most of “Scott Pigrim’s” box-office take on it.

What bothers me more is this. Where were similar requests for equally impressive films that came out this summer? I’m sure the Duplass brothers wanted more people to see “Cyrus.” (And I’d heartily second their recommendation, as it’s a fantastic comedy.) “Exit Through the Gift Shop” never found its audience, despite a whopping 97% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. Shouldn’t people concerned with the future of intellectually stimulating films pay to see these movies in the theater, as well?

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About Sean O'Connell

Sean O'Connell is a nationally recognized film critic. His reviews have been published in print ('The Washington Post,' 'USA Today') and online (AMC, MSN's Citysearch) since 1996. He's a weekly contributor to several national radio programs. He is a longstanding member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Southeastern Film Critics View all articles by Sean O'Connell Association (SEFCA).

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