May 23, 2011
I suppose I am going to have to see this
Critics have been falling over themselves in their efforts to make Terrence Mallick's Tree of Life sound as unappealing as humanly possible. " A transfixing odyssey through time and memory that melds a young boy's 1950s upbringing with a magisterial rumination on the Earth's origins," proclaimed Variety's Justin Chang, with heroic lack of persuasiveness. "The greatest expression of heady Malickian concepts, which usually involve humanity adrift in the chaos of the universe and the meaning of everything (or lack thereof)," decided Eric Kohn, his tone tugged between urgent recommendation and weary dismissal. "A cosmic-interior epic of vainglorious proportions, a rebuke to realism, a disavowal of irony and comedy, a meditation on memory, and a gasp of horror and awe at the mysterious inevitability of loving, and losing those we love," concluded the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw, remaining silent on the question of what those of us dullards who remain wedded to comedy and irony and realism ought to do with ourselves. (Thats some disavowal). Anthony Lane came the closest to spilling the beans. "The Tree Of Life remains not just a joke-free zone but nervous of bodies that misbehave," he noted. "The whole tale is bent upon the flatlining of desires." Viewers "may find it increasingly lonely and locked, and may themselves pray for Ben Hecht or Billy Wilder to rise from the dead and attack Malick’s script with a quiver of poisonous wisecracks." Put that way it sounds dreadful, but Lane bit his notoriously quick tongue at the last minute, leaving the reader with the lurching, interrupted feeling you get when critic lands a film on the ropes, prepares his killer upper-cut, only to seize up with respect. His review is a masterclass in how to smuggle the most number of negative hints into a review (humorless, solipsistic, erotically flatlined, monotone) and still wind up registering a 90+ score at Metacritic. Lane even went soft on the dinosaurs. "You can call this entire passage overblown, or diversionary, but what it is not is incoherent or mad. It strikes me as a straightforward account of creation." Some beautifully faint praise: overblown, diversionary, yes but definitely not certifiable. Steers clear of actual lunacy. Not dribbling soup down it's tie. When did our standards get so low? What I find interesting is that every critic is building these big caveats into their reviews — this isn't for everyone, it's going to divide folks, its a case of love it or hate it, etc, etc — but not one of them thus far has dared to articulate that opposing view, one that makes a case of storytelling and humor and irony, and why they might be, you know, good things*. They just hint darkly that not everyone is going to love the film and then they cave, respectfully.
*Except for Mr Edelstein, as beautifully multi-valanced as ever.