Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times has sent movie bloggerdom buzzing with his recent piece, "Film Critic's Notebook: When an actor is also a friend." Turan writes of being a long friend of the Kazan family, and how he's known rising actress Zoe Kazan, on screen and stage (even high-school stage). He explains how he usually avoids reviewing films when he knows the participants personally, however, he just couldn't help but share:
Watching Zoe's beautifully modulated work as the shy, quiet 20-year-old Ivy made me feel that knowing her was an advantage in this case because it gave me additional insight into how good a performance this is. Since what she does plays out with perfect naturalness, it would be tempting to hypothesize that, after all those other, busier movies, Zoe at last has the chance to be herself. Except that knowing her makes it unmistakable that this is nothing of the kind, that this is the kind of highly controlled, delicate work that is some of the hardest kind of acting to pull off.
Movieline, for example, calls the post "epically misguided," noting, "if you spend more time rationalizing the ethics of the act you set out to do in the first place, then you are in all likelihood doing something wrong." They, of course, have a point. When we really hem and haw over an action, it's usually because there's something questionable about it. For me, the post is most iffy in the door it opens. While this might be a wholly genuine critique and editorial, it's the sort that can inspire a sea of posts not so genuine -- ones inspired by PR rather than the struggle of ethics.
This is particularly worrisome when matched with fandom. When I first read Turan's article, I was in full agreement and appreciation; the reaction was emotional. I became an instant fan when I saw Kazan's all-too-brief scene-stealing in Me and Orson Welles, and hearing such praise for her tapped into my own appreciation. Unfortunately, that also opens the door for careful manipulation to take over critique -- subtle manipulation through friendship, and through fandom. Just as Turan could be affected by his behind-the-scenes ties, it's easy for a reader and fan to not think critically for themselves, and go along with the writing that tugs at their own fandom. (This is something made worse by a world where many movie/entertainment sites rely on the PR train -- the set visits, interviews, and personal connections with filmmakers and talent.)

It's unfortunate that this is bubbling up around Kazan, whose work deserves to be praised outside of the muddy river of critical discontent. I can understand Turan wanting to praise her work, even if he does know her. As much as it's questionable for the business, it's a Catch-22 to not be able to fully praise work you really admire, no matter what the source. Even in the strings of friendship, there are creations we love, and others we don't.

And this is where decision-making comes in. While there are times that truly knowing a person might be able to reveal immense subtleties in a performance, it's not a vantage point the reader can trust (or relate to). Is there any other way to express these opinions? While it might be too questionable for criticism, there's always getting the word out to other critics who can offer reviews, and helping behind the scenes, and through social networking. Or, of course, the quite popular friends/colleagues talking with and interviewing each other for magazine profiles.

Does criticism have any room for friendship? Are there times you just have to let appreciation go? Thoughts?
categories Movies, Cinematical