ReelThoughts: March 06, 2004

"Thoughts of Passion/Smith the Hypocrite"

Commentary by James Berardinelli


When it comes to The Passion of the Christ's box office performance, I was right and I was wrong. I correctly predicted that it would capture at least $100 million in its first 5 days, but missed when I said that repeat business was unlikely (too brutal to watch more than once for the average movie-goer); consequently, there would be a big drop-off between week #1 and week #2. However, the movie is still going strong, well on its way to at least $200 million, and possibly headed for as much as $300 million.

So what, if anything, does this mean for the movie industry as a whole? Will this result in a major upswing in "morally correct" and/or religious features (as some conservative pundits are predicting)? Such a scenario, although not impossible, is unlikely. I think Hollywood is aware that Gibson's film is a one-off aberration. The Passion story has greater power to stir Christians than any other Bible episode, and an adaptation of (for example) Job's travails isn't going to generate the same intensity of interest. It might do okay, but it isn't going to get the kind of grass-roots support that occurred for The Passion of the Christ. In terms of the big picture, I don't think this will mean much. A third X-Men movie is not going to be pulled off the production slate to make way for a cinematic adaptation of Paul's epistle to the Galatians.

But, at least amongst the throngs who have expressed undying admiration for The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson's name is gold. If Gibson's next project is Bible-related, it will do well. He and his film are forever linked. While that may limit his ability to star in another Lethal Weapon movie (if he had the desire, which he apparently does not have), it has opened other doors. Gibson is now seen as the man with the Midas touch, and a lot of producers are interested in talking to him.

Will The Passion of the Christ stand a chance to earn a few Oscar nominations? Probably not. Its release date (February) is against it, and, although it has played well with the masses, this is not the kind of film that the Hollywood establishment embraces. The Academy can be unpredictable at times, but any significant recognition of The Passion of the Christ (Picture, Director, Actor, etc.) is unlikely to be in the cards.


Smith the Hypocrite

It pains me to make this observation, since Kevin Smith is a Jersey boy made good and I once held him in high esteem, but this recent example of hyprocrisy is too blatant to ignore. Smith's latest film, Jersey Girl, is a feel-good, mainstream mess that bears little resemblance to his edgy, earlier efforts. This is the kind of movie that will play well to multiplex crowds who dislike challenging cinematic fare and instead prefer insipid melodramas with occasional bursts of humor. (I'll leave the specifics for the review.) I won't use the phrase "sold out," because I don't like it, but this is damn close.

Still, Smith has the right to make any kind of film he wants, and, if his desire is to broaden his fan base, that's understandable. Or so I thought until I came upon a certain quote. Before I present the actual words, a note about the attribution. This is from Peter Biskind's controversial book Down and Dirty Pictures, which has drawn some fire for inaccurate quoting. So, my apologies to Kevin if he didn't actually say this...

Discussing Edward Burns' success with The Brother McMullen, Smith remarks, "It had as much edge as vanilla ice cream, no name brand. Everyone wanted to get a Brothers McMullen underway. 'Cause everyone wanted that cheap but softshell picture that fuckin' reaches into the warm and fuzzies of the fuckin' average multiplex moviegoer while still being able to call it an independent... It made me heartsick for a year."

The pot calling the kettle black? It seems to me that a director who makes a softshell melodrama going after the average multiplex moviegoer while still being called an independent production (the distributor is Miramax) shouldn't be so quick to criticize those who have trodden the same path. Apparently, the Kevin Smith who made us laugh until tears rolled down our faces with Clerks, mixed comedy and pathos with Chasing Amy, and scandalized the Catholic Church with Dogma is well and truly dead. Some directors can weather a major shift in style and tone and emerge the better for it (Almodovar comes to mind). Unfortunately, if Jersey Girl is anything to judge Smith by, that's not the case in this instance.


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