There should be a new ratings system for movies called “BC.” This would not keep teens out of movies, like the “R” system, but specifically invite us to see a movie “Before Critics” write up their opinion about a film and ruin it for everybody.
Often, American film critics don’t find the same things funny as high school students. And they want everything to have some hidden English elective film class meaning, while we just want to laugh.
I suspect that is part of the reason that comedic actor Ricky Gervais is one of the first big name stars to release his movies directly to Netflix in the US instead taking the usual movie theater route. His newest film is “David Brent: Life On the Road” (2016), about his character on “The Office” TV series becoming a rock star. Gervais is going to put it on Netflix first in the US, while it premieres in British theaters for the UK audiences.
This the second time he is going with Netflix first for his American audience. Given the way the American critics unfairly ravaged his other Netflix film, Gervais is wise to give his movies over to the populist home viewing movie fan, who is willing to select something that catches his/her eye, without consulting the critics.
A few months ago, I saw the premiere of Gervais’s new film, “Special Correspondents” at the Tribeca Film Festival. It’s about two radio journalists who lose their plane tickets and passports on their way to cover a war in Ecuador. In an attempt to fake their news coverage, they set up a makeshift recording studio in the upstairs room at an Ecuadorian restaurant in New York and, with the help of some computer-generated war sound effects, they pull it off.
The Tribeca audience loved the film and laughed straight through, which is why I was gobsmacked when I read the intensely negative reviews from US film critics.
“Ill-conceived satire marks a career low for writer-director-star Ricky Gervais,” said the Hollywood Reporter.
“Gervais offers up a plot as contrived as his toothy ‘savage grin,’” and, “Gervais to drop one of his biggest bad-taste bombs yet,” said Screen Daily.
Worst of all… just one tomato from Rotten Tomatoes.
Were we watching the same film?
Clearly, there is a disconnect between the viewer response to the film and the critics. The press gets behind Gervais’ acerbic wit when it is directed toward celebrities and corporate America. But there is a “dish it out but can’t take it” quality to the American media and they simply don’t like a movie that seems to criticize them.
Ironically, after the movie, Gervais was asked by a journalist if he was making a statement about the lack of authenticity in the American press. He assured her that the media connection was just a backdrop for the story. He said his true message is that people are getting too desperate for fame and that the line between famous and infamous has been erased, claiming that, “People will display an open sore just to get media attention.”
Gervais wasn’t out to complain about the press, after all. He just wanted to make people laugh. Though that is quite enough for the likes of me, a worn-out student taking a break for a week, and though it was enough for the Friday night goodtime audience at the Tribeca Film Festival, the press needed this movie to be something more than it is intended to be.
Surely, they jest.
Check out “Special Correspondents” on Netflix and let me know what you think.