More 'Grown Ups': MSN's James Rocchi Responds

The thread for my "Grown Ups" review was pretty played out by the time MSN's James Rocchi responded late Saturday night or Sunday morning and I in turn responded to him a few hours later. It's an interesting back and forth, it's also civil, and I think Rocchi deserves his say on a bigger forum than a dying comment thread, mainly because my lack of clarity made the review sound like a direct attack on him -- which I regret. Don't get me wrong, criticizing and ridiculing the entertainment MSM (and James Cameron) is my reason for getting out of bed in the morning. But in my hurry to post the review Saturday morning, Rocchi, whose critique mirrored most everyone, was collateral damage.

grownups



Here's Rocchi's response (my response to his follows):

John:

Please let me note -- with civil bemusement, not flaming-eyed fury or righteous indignation -- that my last line was intended as a joke, and not as a serious, scornful indictment of American Mass Culture; I like a good fun movie that's well-made (Hot Tub Time Machine, Zombieland, Date Night, Funny People, The Fantastic Mr. Fox -- naming just a few examples from past months) and the fact is that -- in my opinion, which is neither writ nor offered as irrefutable truth -- Grown Ups is simply not a good comedy. I also noted in my review -- which I offer for clarification -- that "Sandler's capable of good work ("Punch-Drunk Love," "Funny People") and even capable of noble errors working with real directors ("Reign Over Me," "Spanglish") ..." To me, part of why Grown Ups is so painfully unfunny is that it's beneath the real talents of the people involved; it's lazy; it's shabby; it's dull. Look at Chris Rock and Maya Rudolph's scenes; they have a real crackle to them, of something unexpected and funny and human. The rest of the movie lacks any similar spark of life or real joy.

I'm also perplexed by your closing argument, as I often am by other arguments that "If it makes money, it must be good." Suggesting that Grown Ups is a good movie because it makes a bunch of money is a suggestion as logically flawed as saying that, for example, Obama is a great president because he got a significant number of votes. There's no causal link between the two things -- and Sandler's films have deep, depressing second-week box-office drop-offs as of late : 62% for the best of the bunch, Funny People -- and 57% for "Bedtime Stories," 45% for I Now Pronounce you Chuck and Larry, 50 % for Click and 53% for You Don't Mess with the Zohan; if Sandler's films make money, that seems to be a matter of marketing more than word-of-mouth. I'd make a gentleman's bet that Grown Ups will have a box-office drop-off of at least 55% next weekend, because the majority of audiences will see it, be underwhelmed, and not encourage friends to go -- a motivating force behind any movie's success that has time and time again proven to be far more powerful than any one critic, or, frankly, all critics.

As you and I both know, Mr. Nolte, the writer's job is not to sit with a set of unimpeachable scales and judge a film with them; the job is to articulate your subjective opinion in a way that makes sense to the objective reader. My subjective enjoyment of Grown Ups was minimal; your subjective enjoyment of it more so (although on a close reading your words don't quite sound like a ringing endorsement). We both tried to convey that to the reader. If my review was meant to convey anything, it's that rewarding lazy work with box office lets Hollywood make more lazy films -- and I don't think even a fan of Sandler's would put Grown Ups in the top half of his filmography; would you?

I hope that this note finds you well, and I thank you for the courtesy of a clean, well-lit place for civil dialogue.

Yours,

James.

****** ****** ****** ******


James,


Obviously I'm waaaay in the minority with this one but I'm also a firm believer that taste is subjective. What I said, however, was 100% true: when I read your closer about the audience laughing that's what motivated me to duck into a matinee. I do apologize, though, if my quoting you came off like I was singling you or any reviewer out for criticism on this one. It's no secret that I'm not above such things, but in this case I really wasn't looking to criticize. I was simply using you as an example of ALL the hostile reviews because it was the one that convinced me to see a film I really didn't have time for.



But I know the readers also thought I was criticizing your review as well, so that's my fault for not being clearer and also why I added White's and Kyle Smith's review info late last night and then jumped into the comments.

As far as your questions/comments:

1. I never said if a movie makes money it must be good, I said GROWN UPS -- my point being: unlike so many others that sucker their audience and don't deliver -- "deserves" its opening weekend.

2. I didn't find GROWN UPS "lazy," I found it formulaic (that's not a criticism) and laid back (coasting on relationships). But the thing had me laughing throughout ... hard. Harder than any Apatow movie by a longshot. Was it a brilliantly structured comedy with something to say like "Tootsie"? No. It was more like one of those great Abbott and Costello comedies that keeps it simple (and keeping it simple is difficult) and keeps the laughs coming.

3. I've seen too many "un-lazy" films -- too many that are frankly too eager o prove that they're "more than just about making with the funny" that end up punishing the audience with a frantic plot that's impossible to follow and absurdly long run-times (the third act of ZOHAN, for example). Sandler and Dugan slowing it down, keeping it simple and concentrating on the laughs and small moments of warmth -- these days that's kind of a vacation.

4. I have a lot of respect for a film that delivers genuine, consistent laughs and take my hat off to the work that goes into pulling that off. Where you see laziness I see an incredible amount of effort and talent in the timing of the performances and post-production editing to achieve that. Do a couple of the subplots stumble, including the one you mentioned with Chris Rock and Maya Rudolph? Sure. But the over-arching relationships (between the 5 guys) works effortlessly. And not to put too fine a point on it, but "effortless" is hard.



5. Don't underestimate the power of goodwill. This was an all-star cast of actors who have entertained us for a couple of decades now. We love them on sight. The first act also does a very good job of establishing who these character are, earning our sympathy, and especially establishing their friendships. That reservoir of goodwill got me through the bumpier spots.

Again, taste is subjective. But I had a great time. So did the audience I was with. It was like Sandler smooshed two of my favorite sleepers together: "The Big Chill" and "Summer Rental."

As far as how I would rank it in the Sandler canon, I can't say as of yet. I do want to see it again (which is about as high a compliment as I can give) but I don't want to pull the judgment trigger too soon. It took three viewings to discover THE WATERBOY (which I didn't care for at first) is a near-masterpiece and ZOHAN loses something with each new go-round.

My criteria for what makes a good movie is a simple one: Does it cast a spell and hold it? Though far from a perfect film, GROWN UPS took me away for 100 minutes, amused me, and even moved me at times. I enjoyed my weekend at that lake with those guys and was sorry when it was over.

Though I'm blessed with a job that pays me to see films and write about them, I'm just another guy with an opinion no more important or valid than your's or the guy who reads my gas meter.

I've certainly been on the other side of the "vs." -- AVATAR is probably the best example, not to mention TRANSFORMERS 2. And after gushing over Soderbergh's CHE, I've never felt more alone.

Thank you much for stopping by.

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