Critical Condition, by Tyler Smith
Hernan Guerschuny’s The Film Critic is something of a mess, but it’s a very endearing mess. So, despite the tone being all over the place and major characters going almost completely undeveloped, I frequently found myself smiling. This is likely due to the filmmaker’s general sense of optimism and a solid performance from Rafael Spregelburd. Without these, the film would go spiraling off into several different directions, but Guerschuny somehow manages to pull it all together, albeit not in the most satisfying way.
Our protagonist is a lonely and cynical film critic whose outlook on life mirrors his outlook on film; it’s just the same recycled garbage over and over again, waiting to be eaten up by idiots. As the critic goes about his business, he looks desperately for those rare moments of drama and passion that he has been lacking for so long. These moments are seen so often in movies, surely they must reflect real life occasionally. However, whenever an opportunity presents itself, the critic soon finds that there is a big difference between expectation and reality.
So far, so good. But soon the critic meets a quirky young woman as he searches for apartments. He is immediately enamored with her, and seeks to find out more about her. Before long, they embark on a romantic relationship, and the critic finds that his life is starting to resemble the horrible romantic comedies he so despises. As his outlook begins to change, the critic’s cynicism starts to melt away and he is soon giving glowing reviews to even the most pedantic of films.
This isn’t a bad story to hang a movie on, and Rafael Spregelburd plays the critic convincingly, never overplaying the “sad sack” quality of the character. He seems like a man that is sad and frustrated, but not yet completely closed off from the possibility of love and redemption. Were Spregelburd to play the character too much one way or the other, the arc of the character wouldn’t work as well as it does. And the director is so eager to dive into the themes of the film that it’s hard not to get swept up in his excitement.
However, once the young woman shows up, the tone of the film starts to go off the rails. The director seems to want to go off on flights of fancy, while also being post modern. He wants to ground us in the reality of the darker emotions of love and disappointment, while also celebrating the syrupy sweetness of vapid romantic comedies. I’m sure such a thing is possible, but not in The Film Critic.
What we get instead is a film that feels at war with itself. And, indeed, perhaps this is the point, as the character himself is conflicted. However, the tonal conflict doesn’t seem intentional. It can be so jarring from one scene to another that I found myself constantly being pushed away from a story and character I was actually invested in so that I could appreciate what the director was doing.
But perhaps the biggest problem of the film is the lack of development of the young love interest. For a film that seems to want to put a new, post modern spin on the romantic comedy, it sure isn’t interested in who this woman is. As so often happens in mediocre films, she seems to exist primarily as a function of the main character. She is there to challenge or reward. Despite the extensive explanation of her backstory, I never really got a sense that she actually exists. I don’t know who she is or what she wants, and that can be death for a romantic comedy. The two leads must be largely equal, with the audience equally invested in the outcome and welfare of both.
These are big problems, and they kept me from really embracing the film. Nonetheless, I still found myself partially swept up in the director’s desire to explore the nature of art and the impact it has on our lives and outlook. It can be easy to criticize a film for not reflecting reality, but it’s important to remember that not every film is aspiring to that. Instead, some are more interested in reflecting not what life is, but what we so desperately wish it were. That can be just as important as depicting the world we know, maybe even more so.
I respect Hernan Guerschuny’s motives and his enthusiasm. They are present even when the film is close to falling apart. The result is a deeply uneven film that I found to be enjoyable nonetheless. Hardly a ringing endorsement, I know, but not bad for a director’s first film. I am interested to see what he does next.