Naïveté you can believe in

Posted by · 8:54 am · September 9th, 2011

Guy has already covered George Clooney’s  “The Ides of March” for us out of Venice. It’s too bad I couldn’t get into any pre-Toronto screenings (due to not attending the festival), since I was anticipating liking it more than Guy and it could have been nice counter-balance. But then again, maybe not.

I’ve been reading a lot of reviews and Tweets out of Toronto screenings yesterday from the less-than-enthused. “There isn’t anything shockingly new in this political thriller,” Kyle Smith of the New York Post asserted. “[I]t was pretty much all in ‘Primary Colors’ 15 years ago.” His colleague, Lou Lumenick, Tweeted something similar (while nevertheless praising the cast).

Similarly, eFilmCritic’s Erik Childress Tweeted that the film “is tremendously disappointing. No more than a watered down version of ‘Primary Colors.’” It’s beginning to sound like the film is going to be saddled by comparisons to that 1998 Mike Nichols effort (which was to Bill Clinton what “The Ides of March” is to Howard Dean). That film, by the way, only wound up with nominations for Best Supporting Actress (Kathy Bates) and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Variety’s Justin Chang was equally harsh toward the film, while The Hollywood Reporter’s Deborah Young seemed to be vacillating half-way through.

Even Jeff Wells’s positive assessment (headlined “Does The Job”) seemed incredibly measured. “[I]t’s a high-end, thoroughly adult popcorn movie, and that’s totally fine,” he wrote, almost apologetically. “There’s nothing to bitch about or put down here. Well, you can but why? To what end?”

Naturally, festival co-director Cameron Bailey saw it all a little differently. “Much more positive response than across the water,” he Tweeted. I guess I have read this or that note about how the room seemed to be more accepting to the naïveté of the drama than European audiences.* And this morning I did stumble across Erik Kohn’s semi-rave, which again invokes the Nichols film, calling it “a leaner, more outwardly aggressive version” of it.

Regardless, the lack of real passion for the film makes you wonder if Dave Karger was a bit generous by proclaiming it a “slam-dunk Best Picture nominee.” Maybe at the end of the day, “The Ides of March” will be thankful for a field that allows for more than five nominees.

I’m just guessing here. I’d love to see and, you know, gauge for myself. Which I look forward to. Whenever that happens. I find myself wondering if a showing in Telluride, which would have likely been positively received (as it is from much of the general audience in Toronto), might have made for a better press reveal, since the vibe of the town is so intimate and kind of takes over the overall perspective. And with Clooney in town, it would have just made sense. Just thinking out loud.

I’ll leave it with Guy’s ultimate takeaway:

For a film that affects a jaded, it-was-ever-thus air about the reality of dirty politics (that title isn’t exactly rich in ambiguity, either), the way it stares earnestly aghast at the characters’ hypocrisies and double-crossings is itself naïve at best, and downright disingenuous at worst.

Then again, maybe lowered expectations is the way to go this year. For instance, I think the worst thing for perfectly fine films like “The Artist” and “The Descendants” is for them to be pegged as sliced bread-level triumphs. We have a long way to go, and that kind of thing can unexpectedly fester.

*A friend over the weekend quipped that, when foreign audiences get a load of an American piece that essentially says, “Wow, corruption in politics,” the general response is, “How cute.”

[Photo: Columbia Pictures]

→ 12 Comments Tags: , , , , | Filed in: Daily

12 responses so far

  • 1 9-09-2011 at 9:01 am

    Jack said...

    I’d be surprised if it doesn’t produce more #1 votes than, say, Frost/Nixon. Then again I was surprised back then that Frost/Nixon was as safe of a top 5 slot contender as it was.

  • 2 9-09-2011 at 9:02 am

    James said...

    Something tells me I’ll be perfectly content with Clooney providing a solid popcorn political drama/thriller with Shakespeare overtones. Probably won’t give any new insight and it appears Clooney is playing it safe with no political party agenda, but that might not a bad thing. Actually its not a bad thing at all.

  • 3 9-09-2011 at 9:07 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Yeah, I should note, all of these kind of “meh” reactions don’t really phase me that much. I expect to like it, however on the nose or even rote its philosophy may ultimately be.

  • 4 9-09-2011 at 9:13 am

    Danny King said...

    Do you give Emanuel Levy’s word much credit? He seems very enthusiastic about the film, and also echoes Karger’s confidence in the film’s Oscar potential.

  • 5 9-09-2011 at 10:36 am

    Cade said...

    Gleiberman was also really positive about the film:

  • 6 9-09-2011 at 11:38 am

    The Other James D. said...

    Karger insisted for the longest time Star Trek would get in, and I believe is in the HP7-II camp as well.

    Just saying that there’s cause for being a bit skeptical with his early predix, as opposed to his during-the-season picks.

  • 7 9-09-2011 at 12:10 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    I’d say it’s vastly different in tone from Primary Colors, and quite a lot better.

  • 8 9-09-2011 at 3:41 pm

    Liz said...

    I’m glad you said that, Guy. I’ve only seen the trailer for “Ides,” but when I started reading all the “Primary Colors” comparisons, I just thought, “Wow, that trailer must be quite misleading.” It really doesn’t seem anything like “Primary Colors,” at least in tone.

    Not that I have a dog in the race or anything. Just an oversavation.

  • 9 9-09-2011 at 10:36 pm

    Jack Pig said...

    Well, Star Trek deserved to get in. It was certainly a better film and more accomplished entertainment than some of the nominees in 2009. Harry Potter is being overrated.

  • 10 9-09-2011 at 10:52 pm

    The Other James D. said...

    I agree. Star Trek was actually in my personal Top 10 of 2009.

  • 11 9-10-2011 at 8:07 pm

    Fitz said...

    Have some of those critics actually seen Primary Colors?

  • 12 9-10-2011 at 10:00 pm

    Rashad said...

    I’ve come around so much on Star Trek. I used to hate it, but now I pretty much love it. Definitely agree it was better than the majority of nominees that year.