Highlights from the week in criticism.
Feb. 4 1999 3:30 AM




She's All That (Miramax Films). A clichéd high school Pygmalion story is enlivened by some witty writing: "not a great movie, but it has its moments" (Roger Ebert, the Chicago Sun-Times). Freddie Prinze Jr. plays a smart, rich, popular jock who (on a bet) transforms Rachael Leigh Cook, an earnest, morose art nerd, into prom queen material. Critics take note of both stars, especially Cook, who is likened by many to a young Winona Ryder. Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times gives the film a glowing review, saying it "puts a priority on intelligence" and is a "special delight for anyone for whom high school was something less than nirvana." (Visit the official site.)

The 24 Hour Woman (The Shooting Gallery). Rosie Perez fast-talks her way through this drama of a woman torn between her career and new baby. Most critics call it flat: "a homey compendium of feminist talking points laced with awkward satire" (Janet Maslin, the New York Times). The film's breakneck speed, mostly showing Perez being pulled in six directions at once, is "a scream--not because it's funny, but because screaming is about all anyone does" (Jack Mathews, New York Newsday). A few enjoy the high-decibel/high-speed film, such as the Village Voice's Amy Taubin, who says it's "a tour de force of barely controlled hysteria that's as funny as it's insightful." (Did you know Rosie Perez cut a woman's throat at age 12? Find out more about her at CelebSite.)

Still Crazy(Columbia Pictures). Nice but unenthusiastic reviews for this account of a fictional 1970s rock band's present-day reunion. While comparisons to This Is Spinal Tap are inevitable, critics say this is much more a straightforward feel-good comedy than a satire. Written by The Commitments' authors Ian La Frenais and Dick Clement, the film isn't about making fun of aging rockers as much as it is about rekindling old friendships: "winsome if entirely predictable" (Eric Brace, the Washington Post). (Download the trailer here.)

My Name Is Joe (Artisan Entertainment). Critics praise director Ken Loach's departure from agitprop filmmaking: "a pleasant surprise--there's no overt political content" just "a delightful, heartwarming, grown-up love story" (Jonathan Foreman, the New York Post) about a recovering alcoholic in Glasgow, Scotland, putting his life back together. Peter Mullan won the best actor award last year at Cannes for this "raw, emotionally charged" performance (Mathews, New York Newsday). (Loach talks about his previous work in a RealVideo clip and an interview here.)



What Our Mothers Didn't Tell Us: Why Happiness Eludes the Modern Woman,by Danielle Crittenden (Simon & Schuster). The conservative writer and commentator offers a solution to the modern woman's problems: Marry young, put career after kids, get comfortable with the idea of being supported by hubby. The critics don't buy all of it. The Weekly Standard predictably doles out praise: "This wonderful, breezy book reads as easily as all the women's magazines the author uses for her evidence. But it bravely faces what those magazines, steeped in feminist ideology, steadfastly avoid" (Carolyn Graglia). But others note that despite Crittenden's claim that "feminism has failed women," it "does not seem to have failed the author, a married mother of two who is building her own career based in the subject" (Elizabeth Glieck, the New York Times Book Review). Conservatives and liberals alike agree that Crittenden oversimplifies both the nature of the contemporary workplace and women's choices. (Read the first chapter here, courtesy of the New York Times [free registration required].)

Amy and Isabelle, by Elizabeth Strout (Random House). Raves for this first novel about a mother warring with her teen-age daughter, whose blossoming sexuality and questionable relationship with a teacher upset the careful balance of their existence together. Alice Truax calls it "an excellent novel about enduring the banalities of ordinary life" (The New Yorker). Suzanne Berne in the New York Times Book Review agrees: "one of those rare, invigorating books that take an apparently familiar world and peer into it with ruthless intimacy, revealing a strange and startling place." (Read an excerpt from the book.)

Heavy Water, by Martin Amis (Harmony Books). Critics agree that Amis is one of the most talented writers of his generation; they disagree as to whether this collection provides fresh evidence. A.O. Scott marvels at Amis' ability to write stories that "seem to have been written on a dare, or as entries in a contest to see who could get the best results from the worst ideas" (the New York Times Book Review). But some are unimpressed with these tossed-off tales. Michiko Kakutani seems downright irritated: "The volume is basically a case of a skilled writer lazily using his sleight of hand to toss off what (with two or three exceptions) are pure exercises in craft" (the New York Times). (Find out more about author Amis on the New York Times' "Featured Author" page.)


Recent "Summary Judgment" columns

  • Movie--Gloria;
  • Movie--Playing by Heart;
  • Movie--Another Day in Paradise;
  • Book--Reporting Live, by Lesley Stahl;
  • Book--Face-Time, by Erik Tarloff;
  • Book--Miss Nobody, by Tomek Tryzna.


  • Movie--Varsity Blues;
  • Movie--At First Sight;
  • Movie--In Dreams;
  • Book--Duane's Depressed, by Larry McMurtry;
  • Book--The Intuitionist, by Colson Whitehead;
  • Theater--Fosse: A Celebration in Song and Dance (Broadhurst Theatre, New York City).

  • Movie--Affliction;
  • Movie--Hilary and Jackie;
  • Movie--The Hi-Lo Country;
  • Book--The Haunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America--The Stalin Era, by Allen Weinstein and Alexander Vassiliev;
  • Book--Note Found in a Bottle: My Life as a Drinker, by Susan Cheever;
  • Book--Glamorama, by Bret Easton Ellis.

  • Movie--A Civil Action;
  • Movie--The Thin Red Line;
  • Movie--Down in theDelta;
  • Movie--Hurlyburly;
  • Movie--Theory of Flight;
  • Book--Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley, by Peter Guralnick;
  • Book--The Jew of New York, by Ben Katchor.