It's an open secret in indie Hollywood that no one wants Manohla Dargis to review their movie, fearing that the outspoken critic will tear their film limb from limb. It's the ultimate backhanded compliment, since what they really fear is Manohla's persuasiveness -- that she'll write a review whose combination of vitriolic snarkiness and intellectual heft will actually persuade high-brow moviegoers to drop the film from their must-see list. (To be fair, she can be equally passionate about films she loves; for example, "Synecdoche, New York," or anything by David Lynch.) The production chief of one indie studio once was so infuriated by a string of negative Dargis reviews that he vowed to keep Manohla away from all of his future screenings, even if that meant stopping all our critics from seeing his movies. I told him it was a bad idea, since it would simply make Manohla a hero to critics everywhere, further increasing her clout.
What causes so much fear and loathing in the filmmaking community about Manohla's work as a critic isn't her blunt appraisals but her seeming lack of empathy for the challenge of tackling difficult material. No one blinks an eye when a critic eviscerates a dumb summer comedy -- that's a fair target. It's the filmmakers who've aimed high and been brought to their knees by a Dargis pan who feel as if they've been gored for sport.
Her skewer today of "The Reader" is the peg for the post.