Stop embarrassing yourselves by writing about the nonexistent 'Norbit' effect

Posted by · 10:55 am · February 6th, 2015

There is a strange, altogether idiotic subset of people who actually believe Eddie Murphy lost the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for “Dreamgirls” because the raunchy, critically reviled “Norbit” hit theaters right in the thick of Academy voting. Nevermind that eventual Oscar winner Alan Arkin won the BAFTA prize for his “Little Miss Sunshine” performance, indicating industry support at the right time (surprisingly few of us picked him to win the Academy Award), or that “Dreamgirls” was obviously not held in the expected esteem by AMPAS, witnessed by a lack of major category presence in fields like Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Film Editing. They couldn't understand Murphy's apparent fall from grace, and so they falsely contextualized it and a nonsensical myth was born.

This year, “The Theory of Everything” star Eddie Redmayne is bearing the brunt of this stupidity. It has even spilled onto the pages of The Washington Post, of all places, where Stephanie Merry penned a piece headlined “Eddie Redmayne is ridiculous in 'Jupiter Ascending.' Can he still win an Oscar?” I don't know if that was Merry's headline or an editor's, but whoever wrote it, I hope they didn't do it with a straight face. Merry then goes on to lay out the same tired argument that a critically-panned, over-the-top film opening just as ballots are arriving could spell doom for the presumed Oscar frontrunner.

Yes, Redmayne is pretty bad in “Jupiter Ascending.” Some strange choices were made, to say the least. But there should be an understanding that a film set is a place where wild risks are often taken. In the end, there's a level of trust in how one's work will be represented in the final mixture. I'm not offering excuses; it's a bad, empty performance. Nevertheless, there are a million ways to get to that place and not all of it rests on the actor's shoulders. But who's looking for nuance when it's so much fun to take broad swipes at the work and ask thoughtless questions?

“So what will the Academy do with this information,” Merry ponders. “Is 'Jupiter Ascending' doomed to be Redmayne”s 'Norbit?' … It depends: Do the voters think of themselves as jurors – the courtroom ideal, anyway – agreeing only to take into account the pertinent data presented by the nominated performance?” Julianne Moore is also perceived as on thin ice here because of the doozy that is “The Seventh Son.”

Merry goes on to make the case, finally, that no, the Academy isn't necessarily so petty as this. And she lays out examples of past Razzie winners that went on to win Oscars, as if the idea that people contain multitudes is an epiphany. But then she closes with a facile Harvey Weinstein joke and it becomes all too apparent that this is just media theater, and the damage is already done by so breathlessly asking the question in the first place.

Over at The Daily Beast, Kevin Fallon jumped into the muck as well. “As Eddie Murphy taught us, one bad movie can ruin an actor”s shot at Oscar,” he writes. No, that's not what Eddie Murphy taught us, Kevin. See above.

What's worse about Fallon's piece is a staggering misattribution of a quote that sort of makes my point about how these myths takes hold. “Every time I pass that billboard [for 'Norbit'], it makes me sick,” an Oscar consultant says in a Los Angeles Times piece from 2007. Fallon, however, misreports it as an Oscar voter's quote. So there's a nice window into what I'm talking about, folks. A consultant – noted as not part of a rival campaign, but whatever – offers up a saucy line and it takes hold. Then eight years later, someone looking for a juicy angle chalks that opinion up as an Academy one. In fact, the only Academy member actually quoted in the Times piece states outright that his ballot was not at all impacted by the presence of “Norbit.” The whole thing was a media fabrication then and continues to be to this day.

This seems to happen every year. An Oscar-contending actor or actress has a dubious broad comedy or genre movie out around the time of final voting and people wonder aloud, “Could this be their 'Norbit?'” Fallon, for his part, makes the point that Natalie Portman's “Black Swan” run was unblemished by the release of “No Strings Attached” in the final analysis. But again, the damage of a headline like “The Oscar Curse of the 'Norbit' Effect: Are Julianne Moore and Eddie Redmayne at Risk?” is done.

The worst part of all of this is, if Redmayne does manage to lose the Oscar, people will point to “Jupiter Ascending” and these ridiculous pieces and say, “See?” Which will be even more hilarious when Moore eventually steamrolls to her victory. They'll fail to realize that this is a very competitive Best Actor race, objectively the most competitive of all the year's acting races. They'll also fail to recognize that Bradley Cooper is coming on strong for his “American Sniper” work (not nominated at either the SAG Awards or the Golden Globes, where Redmayne won the two prizes that make him the frontrunner in many observers' eyes).

If you want something of substance to chew on, ponder whether Cooper, in a prestigious drama, is siphoning votes off of someone like Redmayne, Ralph Nader to the “Theory” star's Al Gore or John Kerry. That's a very real circumstance, potentially allowing for someone like “Birdman's” Michael Keaton to slide up the middle, not the idea that professionals (who can certainly empathize with their colleagues more than the media) can't distinguish between a quality Oscar-nominated performance and a performance in a risky genre movie that simply didn't work.

There is no “Oscar Curse of the 'Norbit' Effect.” Stop. Just…stop.

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