Highlights from the week in criticism.

Highlights from the week in criticism.

Highlights from the week in criticism.

Highlights from the week in criticism.
April 18 2003 1:43 PM

Tear-Jerkers 4-Ever

The movie that made Anthony Lane cry.

Lilya 4-Ever (Newmarket). This "haunting and incandescent" Swedish heartbreaker turns hardened critics everywhere into weepy basket cases. "A quarter of an hour ago, we had never encountered this girl, and, if we had been told her story, we would have filed it away as another dismal statistic," writes The New Yorker's Anthony Lane. "Yet here we are, sitting in the dark and worrying, to a quite insane degree, about Lilya's fate, and begging that it will not brim with harm." The New York Times' Stephen Holden calls it "both an archetypal case study and a personal drama whose spunky central character you come to care about so deeply that you want to cry out a warning at each step toward her ruination." The Village Voice's J. Hoberman terms it "the season's most piercingly feel-bad movie." (Buy tickets to Lilya 4-Ever.)

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A Mighty Wind (Warner Bros.). The "sweetest and funniest of [director Christopher] Guest's true-life fake-umentaries" is widely praised as "more strangely and elementally touching than its predecessors." In Entertainment Weekly, Owen Gleiberman marvels that the folk-music flick "re-creates its object of satire with such pitch-perfect flair that it all but erases the line between derision and love." Many reviewers single out Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara, finding something "almost shockingly poignant about the way they portray former lovers who have drifted far from stardom, and from each other, and who are drawn back together by the power of music." (Buy tickets to A Mighty Wind.) (Read David Edelstein's review in Slate here.)

World Without Tears, by Lucinda Williams (Lost Highway). Near-universal raves for this "album filled with appetites and their consequences."Billboard calls the critic's darling "simply magnificent."Entertainment Weekly's Will Hermes thrills that the new album is "a perfectly imperfect set, it's looser, blowsier, and more what-the-hell? than anything she's done." The lone dissenter: Rolling Stone's Karen Schoemer, who complains that the album's bleakness is too much to bear. "Where's the sweetness that she always gave us to offset the suffering? Where's the wounded innocence, the child within always believing in something better?" (World Without Tears.)

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The Good Old Days. In the Toronto Star, Philip Marchand takes a hilarious look at the days of effete critics in '40s movies, characters whose "most obvious characteristic, besides their sharp tongues, was their monstrous egotism." (His examples: Waldo Lydecker in Laura, Addison De Witt in All About Eve, Sheridan Whiteside in The Man Who Came To Dinner, and J.J. Hunsecker in The Sweet Smell of Success.) What these characters had in common was a coded homosexuality—which Marchand brilliantly dissects—and utter confidence in the superiority of their own impeccable tastes: "The style said: I own this town. If you bore or annoy me, you will be sorry."

The Devil Wears Prada

The Devil Wears Prada, by Lauren Weisberger (Doubleday). How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless assistant! Panning this Vogue-bashing roman à clef, New York critics shred Anna Wintour's former gofer into tiny, elegant bits. The New York Times' Janet Maslin calls the book's narrator "sour, sarcastic, self-involved." Also in the Times, former Harper's Bazaar Editor in Chief Kate Betts suggests that Weisberger wasted her time at Condé Nast: "She had a ringside seat at one of the great editorial franchises … but she seems to have understood almost nothing about the isolation and pressure of the job her boss was doing."Newsday's Jennifer Krauss is more sympathetic, noting that Weisberger is "certainly no Shakespeare, but she's got guts." Krauss also points out who didn't review the book, namely all the women's glossies. And in Gawker, Elizabeth Spiers skips the book and reviews Betts' review: "There's no discussion of the novel as a piece of literature. It's really just an ethical analysis of Weisberger's decision to trash her ex-boss in print and it should be noted that Betts probably feels some solidarity with Wintour, having likely terrorized a number of potentially-book-writing underlings herself." (The Devil Wears Prada.)

W.C. Fields: A Biography

W.C. Fields: A Biography, by James Curtis (Alfred A. Knopf). This "comprehensive, even-handed biography" is widely praised for its depth but faulted by a few as heavy-going. The San Jose Mercury News' Charles Matthews says it's "not a lot of fun, but biographies rarely are—life tends not to have a happy ending." But the San Francisco Chronicle's Tom Nolan praises the book as "a joy to read, a masterful biography, perfectly paced and full of fine surprises." In the New York Times, Richard Schickel calls Curtis "a sober, careful but no more than workmanlike writer, who doesn't know quite where the laughs are" but admires him for writing "by far the fullest, fairest and finally most touching account of this sad, solipsistic life." The Los Angeles Times' Donald Fanger is more frustrated by the book's flaws: "Can it be that biography, at least of artists, is a perverse genre, doomed by some kind of original sin, some set of common-sensical misassumptions, to swamp the reader with details that offer only a fraction of the illumination they promise?" (W.C. Fields.)