Highlights from the week in criticism.

Highlights from the week in criticism.

Highlights from the week in criticism.

Highlights from the week in criticism.
Sept. 27 2002 4:54 PM

Reese's Teases

Memo to Ms. Witherspoon: Get a new role!

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To most critics, Reese Witherspoon's "plucky effervescence" in Sweet Home Alabama (Touchstone) doesn't redeem this "dismal, wrongheaded romantic comedy." In the Chicago Tribune, Mark Caro makes an exasperated plea to Witherspoon: "Look, you have two choices: You can use your newfound clout to take more chances, or you can cash in. ... The rest is just whistling 'Dixie.'" (Buy tickets for Sweet Home Alabama.)


The Holden Caulfieldization of America continues with Moonlight Mile (Touchstone). Great reviews (again) for Jake "Furtive Tenderness" Gyllenhaal—though in Entertainment Weekly, Owen Gleiberman begins the backlash with complaints of "studied elfin moroseness." On the film's exploration of grief, critics are split, most finding it "too honest and from the heart to totally dismiss but too slick and contrived to completely embrace" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times). (Buy tickets for Moonlight Mile. Read David Edelstein's review in Slate.)

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"A buttery tune is one thing, but these melt into ooze as you listen to them," writes Entertainment Weekly's David Browne of "Before Your Love" and "A Moment Like This" (RCA), American Idol ingénue Kelly Clarkson's first singles. On Epinions, the masses agree, praising Clarkson's voice but burying her songs. Or do they? This week, Clarkson's album made the biggest sales leap in the history of the Billboard chart. ("Before Your Love" and "A Moment Like This.")


In "West Meets East Again: The New Orientalism," Andante's Paul Mitchinson defends Yo Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble from New York Times critics' charges of Orientalism. Asian music "has captivated, inspired, and changed Europe and North America for centuries, has now become as essential a part of Western culture as the symphonies of Mozart and Beethoven. Maybe it's time to stop feeling guilty about it."

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The New York Times' Janet Maslin calls bawdy Dickensian doorstop The Crimson Petal and the White (Harcourt) a " big, sexy, bravura novel that's destined to be surpassingly popular." But some critics find too many notes: "The meticulous edifice he has constructed here strains under its own bulk," writes Thomas Wharton in the Globe and Mail. (Meanwhile, it seems author Michel Faber has taken revenge on an agent who refused to read the book because of its length, naming a brothel visitor after the slacker!) (Buy The Crimson Petal and the White.)

In the Independent, John Lichfield smartly eviscerates "classic French literary 'poseur' " Michel Houellebecq, calling his most recent sex tourist apologia Platform (Heinemann) "at once disgusting and a tour de force" and arguing that "If you wish to understand the forces which have driven the rise of populist movements in Europe in recent years, read Houellebecq." While Houellebecq himself is not a fascist, "The problem (a problem deliberately created by Houellebecq) is to decide how much he regrets and how much he shares the nihilism and desolation of his fictional world. Does he really despise the commercialisation of sex and violence? Much of his work seems cynically content to exploit it." (Platform has not yet been released in the United States.)

The Emmys inspired both shvitzing and yawning, with Tim Goodman in the San Francisco Chronicle writing, "How about on 'The Sopranos' when Meadow got up in Tony's face and called him 'Mr. Mob Boss'? Come on, you know you were watching. In fact, we could make up a bunch of fake winners for the Emmys and you'd never know any better." Ken Tucker in Entertainment Weekly paid closer attention, pinpointing flaws in the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award: "Bob Hope doesn't smile like that—his greatness has always been his snarky sneer. Hire another sculptor, please."

Following viewer complaints, Eric Fischl's "Tumbling Woman," astatue of a naked woman falling from the World Trade Center, was removed from Rockefeller Center. A few defenders have emerged, with a New York Sun editorial arguing that " 'Tumbling Woman' ... is an extraordinary rendering of a woman in one of the most gripping poses we can imagine in art. It captured a moment that will live in the imagination of New York forever, and it deserves a place in the city." In the Daily News, Nick Monteleone asks, "Would we ask Goya to lighten the reds of his Spanish battlefields?" Others call the location the central problem: "In a proper 9/11 memorial setting, the piece would be able to exist as an honest monument. In the food court of Rockefeller Center it doesn't stand a chance."