Doc of the Day: Heckler Review - Dan Schindel

Doc of the Day: Heckler

Posted in Days of Docs, Reviews by - June 03, 2012

For too long, our entertainers have been heckled and criticized. Now, they fight back!

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 Dir. Michael Addis, 2008, 79 min

Yesterday, I talked about a documentary that pulled off a terrific narrative about-face partway through its story. When I began watching, it lead me to believe it was one kind of movie, but then it turned out to be about something quite different. This film tries something similar, except if Better This World pulled off the move like a gymnast performing an amazing… um… *checks Wikipedia* front aerial, then Heckler tries it only for this to happen.

The movie begins with various stand-up comedians talking about their experiences being heckled while on stage. Jamie Kennedy, who also produced the film, acts as our guide and MC. It’s funny and affable and has that great “everyone’s hanging out shooting the shit behind the stage” feel, but I couldn’t help but wonder how an entire documentary would live on this thin premise. The answer, it turns out, is that hecklers aren’t actually this film’s true target.

Around fifteen or twenty minutes in, the discussion question, “What’s the difference between a heckler and a critic?” comes up. I thought, “Ooh, this will be an interesting diversion.” Except it wasn’t a diversion. This is the main thesis of the film. Everything about hecklers was just a lead-up to the real topic: critics.

Or, to be more precise, all those nasty, meanie-pants critics who make Jamie Kennedy feel bad about himself. Showing chips on their shoulders so massive they could be shoulder pads, Kennedy and other entertainers talk about how their feelings have been hurt by various negative things said about their work in the past. Sandwiched in with this are copious amounts of scorn thrown at the critical profession. At one point, Kennedy confronts a guy who wrote bad things about Son of the Mask (perish the thought!) and mocks him for going to Comic-Con a few times.

The grudge-bearing comedians, actors, directors, etc. trot out a parade of all the most worthless retorts to criticism, the kind that, when you hear them, you automatically know that you’ve won an argument, because they’re the lame fall-backs when there is no legitimate response. “Well how many movies have they made?” “It isn’t for them!” “They’re out of touch!” “They just like being negative for its own sake!” “Well lots of other people like it!” I’ve read thousands of Internet morons use these defenses, but I never expected to hear them coming from the mouths of professionals.

There is a relevant conversation to have here. There are many critics out there, as well as thousands of attention-seeking bloggers and millions of jerks with an Internet hookup, who really are no better than hecklers. They just want hits for their website, or to tear down successful people to feel better about themselves, or just stir up some noise. But there isn’t much distinguishing between intelligent, thoughtful critics and trolling critics in this film.

Here’s the problem: most of the people in this movie utterly deserve the criticism they receive. When you’re Jamie Kennedy bringing in Andrew Dice Clay, Carrot Top, Rod Lurie, Andy Milonakis, Joel Schumaker, and Uwe Fucking Boll, among many more purveyors of subpar (or subsubsubsubsubsubpar) work, to complain about people tearing said work apart? You don’t have a leg to stand on. You are Lieutenant Dan, in this situation.

In turning the tables and mocking the mockers, the film falls into many of the things that these people say they don’t like about critics. There’s the aforementioned bit with Kennedy and the man who dared to write a negative review of his movie, and that’s just the tip of he and his compatriots essentially denying criticism as a real profession. One even asks, “What kid wants to be a critic when he grows up?” The one worthwhile discussion in this film concerns how the idea that performers must have thick skins is inaccurate, as it takes a great amount of sensitivity to throw oneself into creativity. But this is how you respond? You ask that critics be nicer and more considerate while throwing nothing but venom their way? Yeah, that’ll elevate the discourse.

I suppose that criticizing this film is almost self-defeating, since it holds nothing but contempt for me. That being said, there’s a delicious irony to the fact that this movie isn’t even well constructed in addition to its intellectual vacancy. It spills formlessly from one idea to the next, and accomplishes the staggering feat of actually disintegrating even worse as it goes on. By the time Kennedy was in a hot tub with Deep Roy, comparing Rottentomatoes scores on their latest films, I was wondering if someone had gassed the room.

I’m sorry that perfectly valid deconstructions of their shitty movies makes these famous millionaires feel bad about themselves. This documentary is, ultimately, a call for empathy, but the fact that I had no problem writing the previous sentence demonstrates that it failed on that count. Crappily made and grossly hypocritical, Heckler is the worst kind of failure. And I hope that director Michael Addis, on the extremely slim chance that he ever reads this, doesn’t take any of this personally.

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Dan Schindel loves movies more than you do.

3 Comments

  • I agree with every single word of this review.
    First off, I am an occasional watcher of films. Eventually, I view most of what I’m willing to devote 2.5 hours of my life to, BUT only based on the say-so of one or two critics I have come to trust. Why? Because movies are no longer $7.50. Why? Because being in my 65th year, I have TOTALLY seen just about every worthy ‘coming of age’ themed movie and don’t need to see another teenager discover that the world isn’t all sweetness and light–not to mention every worthy adventure-turned-disaster film–every war-is-hell movie–every anthropomorphized-animal film–every epic end-of-world-because-of-our-stupidity flick, etc. etc. That’s not to say I’m so cynical I believe there’s nothing new under the sun to make a film about. It IS to say that it takes a good critic to point out how a familiar theme has gotten nuanced in a particularly rivetting way, either by the direction or script or acting or camera work or (rarely) all of the above, which warrants trading a wad of cash for an experience which is moving and mesmerizing.

    Personally, I have come to admire Woody Allen not just for his tenacity and trust of actors to finally pull off what he knows in his heart he’s striving to finally achieve through his writing and directing, but also because here is an artist who knows better than to read his film’s reviews. Honestly, if one’s makeup is such that hearing what has been said about one’s work is going to result in open wounds which fester and create huge bar tabs, it is better by far to simply confine one’s attention to the creative project du jour and go on oblivious to what has been said by others. And in Allen’s case, he is far and away more critical of himself than any critic could possibly be, so why bother tuning into an echo?

    We need critics. For one thing, they are often much more entertaining than the piece itself. My favourite was one of those one sentence reviews I found in The New Yorker many years ago. It was summing-up the then-current film “Aliens” this way: “This movie is akin to hunting for a giant cockroach in your basement.”

  • Sillstaw

    Did you read that Seanbaby column on Cracked about disastrous video game marketing? Apparently, Jamie Kennedy presented for Activision at E3 and decided that the best way to win over the audience was to make fun of them for being virgins and losers. Obviously, it didn’t go over well. Even now, whenever people bring it up to him on Twitter, he mocks them again.

    Finding out he thinks just as much of critics as he does about video game lovers isn’t shocking at all.

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