Critic’s cameo

“I thought I told you critics, get off my lawn.”

“I thought I told you critics, get off my lawn.”

For all the movies they watch, film critics rarely see themselves onscreen.

Too universally despised to be the good guy, too powerless to be the bad guy, critics are typically cast as wish-fulfillment victims (Theatre of Blood), amoral intellectuals (All About Eve), artistic parasites (Stardust Memories), or lonely “schoolmarm” drunks (Citizen Kane). Only that last one rings of truth.

Critically wounded filmmakers with an ax to grind often resolve it by grinding an ax into a critic’s head. In The Dead Pool, Clint Eastwood avenged Pauline Kael’s Dirty Harry dismissal by having stand-in “Molly Fisher” stabbed in her presumably existent heart. M. Night Shyamalan struck back by making the critic neighbor from Lady in the Water a self-described “unlikable side character” who gets devoured by a magical wolf.

Critic bashing was made palatable for kiddies by Ratatouille, in which tough food critic Anton Ego gets “reformed” by a great meal. In his farewell column, he self-flagellates, “The average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism,” which explains the public’s predilection for average pieces of junk.

There have been a few qualified positive portrayals of critics—Woody Allen’s movie reviewer is the hero of Play It Again, Sam, but he’s a socially maladroit loser; the theater critic from Hamlet 2 displays both professional integrity and encouragement for the talentless protagonist, but he’s also a small child.

It seemed things might be changed in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds by Lt. Archie Hicox (Michael Fassbender), a film critic serving the British in World War II. Hicox is handsome and suave, holds his liquor, nails his movie references and becomes a key to the success of the Basterds’ mission.

He’s shot dead minutes later, because a filmmaker as aware as Tarantino understands that you have to give the audience what it wants.