Highlights from the week in criticism.

Highlights from the week in criticism.

Highlights from the week in criticism.

Highlights from the week in criticism.
May 23 2003 12:19 PM

Bruce All Righty

If Jim Carrey were God, he'd send critics to hell.

The In-Laws (Warner Bros.). "Perhaps the oddest thing about The In-Laws is that it's aimed at an audience old enough to remember not only the original, but also how much funnier it seemed at the time," remarks the Onion's Scott Tobias. A.O. Scott notes that this remake's remakers appear to have "set out to make a movie that would be mediocre in every respect. If so, they have completely succeeded." Others lament the loss of the original's "pinpoint-Borschty dialogue," a wasted Albert Brooks, and an undercurrent of "all that enlightened parenthood crap" (Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly). A faint defense arrives via the LA Weekly's John Patterson, who calls the comedy "more than passable, often extremely funny." (Buy tickets to The In-Laws.)

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Bruce Almighty (Universal). A split decision, with many critics focusing less on the comedy than on Jim Carrey himself. The New York Times'Stephen Holden marvels, "All this star has to do is stand there and grin to convince you that once the layers of civilization have been peeled away, what's left is an insatiable, rampaging id." The Chicago Tribune's Mark Caro rages against the comic's egotism: "OK! OK! OK! We're sorry The Majestic and Man on the Moon didn't work out, and we respect your comedic skills!"Premiere's Glenn Kenny agrees that the film is "Carrey's own flash on Sullivan's Travels, with a soupcon of Jerry Lewis–style self-regard/self-pity thrown in." And in EW, Owen Gleiberman praises the comic as "an id, a tornado, a rubber-limbed punk jester"—although he notes that "even the star's rowdiest antics now feel less as if they're breaking a mold than fitting snugly into it."

(If critics are taking the actor's work personally, the feeling's mutual: At the Bruce Almighty junket, Carrey commented that if he were God, "First of all I'd send anybody who didn't like The Majestic to the fiery pit of hell and then I'd start a new Utopian society. People made out of Nerf material so that I could cave the critics' heads in and then they would pop right back out. No one would be hurt and I'd get my rocks off. ...") (Buy tickets to Bruce Almighty.)

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Jazz Critics. In The Nation, Adam Shatz defends provocateur Stanley Crouch, recently fired from JazzTimes—arguing that if at times Crouch is over the top, he's also aesthetic top dog. Shatz also confirms Crouch's slams of his paler peers: "The typical jazz critic is a white man in his 50s who feels underappreciated by the publishing world, a state of affairs he mistakenly blames on jazz's marginality—or on more prominent critics like Crouch—rather than on the quality of his prose." The real scandal in jazz criticism "isn't race—it's bad writing."

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The Clinton Wars, by Sidney Blumenthal (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux). Score-settling and self-importance aside, Robert Dallek finds this memoir a "powerful and generally persuasive defense of Bill, Hillary and Blumenthal." Almost everyone else disagrees. In the New York Review of Books, Joseph Lelyveld suggests that Blumenthal has Clintonian Stockholm syndrome, calling the book a rough draft of the Clintons' upcoming memoirs. "It's difficult to imagine that either Clinton will defend the president's record more enthusiastically or unwaveringly than Blumenthal," cracks the Los Angeles Times' Ronald Brownstein, who complains that "ultimately [Blumenthal] is too much the believer to be believed." And in the New York Observer, Blumenthal's ideological enemy (and former editor at the New Republic) Andrew Sullivan paints the author as a lovable dupe, suggesting that the Clintons "used him for his propagandistic skills and his fawning loyalty. They used him to drape their own modest but defensible record with the patina of world-historical significance. And they used him to lie to one another. Some people would find that demeaning. It tells you a lot about Sidney Blumenthal that he regards it as an achievement worth recording for the ages." To read Michael Isikoff's take on the book, click here, and click here for Timothy Noah's reactions, both in Slate. ( The Clinton Wars.)

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The Quality of Life Report, by Meghan Daum (Viking). "Daum manages the near impossible: to make fun of people without judging them," delights Karen Karbo in the New York Times. Others agree that this Manhattan-Gal-Goes-Midwestern saga transcends typical Chick Lit: "In the midst of the laughs, the author tells a serious story of addiction and recovery, not of the usual suspects from inner-city ghettos, but educated, well-fed, middle-class whites," the Boston Globe's Dan Wakefield writes (somewhat mysteriously—are we really short on middle-class addiction stories?). And Publishers Weekly begs to be blurbed, calling this a "confident first novel, full of wit and deft social criticism, often very funny and frequently wise" and Daum herself "a rising star." But a snitty Amazon reviewer—suspiciously located in Lincoln, Neb.—delivers this pot/kettle slam: "Daum seems only to want to impress us with her lack of brevity and conciseness." (Buy The Quality of Life Report.)