WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 3, 2022
Funnymen gone wild: In fairness to Steven Spielberg, major critics agreed:
The Post, his Oscar-nominated 2017 film, was highly entertaining.
In the paper which gave the film its name, Ann Hornaday described The Post as "a fleet, stirring, thoroughly entertaining movie in which Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks play [the leading roles] with just the right balance of modesty, gusto and expertly deployed star power."
The film was thoroughly entertaining! In Hornaday's view, Spielberg had once again displayed "that instinctive sense of what it takes to connect with a mass audience—so often snobbily dismissed as 'middlebrow.' ”
We aren't necessarily saying that any of that is wrong! Meanwhile, in the New York Times, Manohla Dargis cited the entertainment factor too.
"Like many movies that turn the past into entertainment," Dargis wrote, "The Post gently traces the arc of history, while also bending it for dramatic punch and narrative expediency."
Should films which treat deeply serious issues "turn the past into entertainment?" Presumably, opinions on that will differ.
That said, what sort of "entertainment" did this film provide? Later, Dargis specifically cited the slapstick elements which struck us as very strange when we watched The Post last weekend:
DARGIS (12/21/17): Mr. Spielberg, a shrewd entertainer who can be waylaid by moralism, rarely lets virtue drag this movie down. He lightens the heaviness with humor, physical comedy (fumbling, stumbling) and a perfectly synced cast that includes the funnymen David Cross, Zach Woods and a terrific Bob Odenkirk.
In theory, The Post is a film which recreates an important episode in our nation's modern history. Luckily, though, Spielberg—"a shrewd entertainer"—brought a trio of funnymen on board, refusing to let serious issues drag his movie down.
More specifically, Spielberg lightened the heaviness with the physical comedy—quite literally, with the "fumbling [and] stumbling" we mentioned in yesterday's offering. According to Dargis, that's where the funny came in.
Over at Vox, Alissa Wilkinson completed the rule of three about this entertaining film. At a dangerous time in our modern history, the film revisited an earlier such episode—but at the multiplex, we the people would be allowed to enjoy a rollicking time:
WILKINSON (12/6/17): The Post is a humdinger of a historical journalism tale that manages to be about many things—women and power, competition, friendship, and most of all the First Amendment—while also being a rollicking, enjoyable time at the movies. (Following the first New York screening, star Tom Hanks called it “rock-’em-sock-’em two hours of grab-yer-ass entertainment,” and he wasn’t wrong.)
In Wilkinson's assessment, The Post is a genuine humdinger, one which lets us shlubs enjoy a rollicking time at the movies. The film was straight-up "grab-yer-ass entertainment,” this fellow named Hanks had said.
In the literal sense, we don't necessarily disagree with a word of this. But as we watched the entertainment unfold as we watched The Post last weekend, we actually put the film on pause to see who had been its director.
We were surprised to see that Spielberg, the Homer of our age, was responsible for all the rock-em sock-em entertainment. We found the rollicking fun disconcerting—but also, perhaps and possibly, it seemed to us that it might be providing an unintentional portrait of a rapidly failing age.
In fairness, let's be fair. This film, which was made with unusual speed, appeared in late December 2017. (Principal photography began in May of that year.) Many critics noted the fact that its deeper journalistic strain—about political threats to our glorious press corps traditions—were intended as a commentary on the emerging Age of President Donald J. Trump.
We wouldn't blame Spielberg, or anyone else, for failing to see, even at that late date, how far our political culture was destined to fall over the next few years. But the relentless parts of the film which serve to lighten the heaviness—in particular, the persistent "stumbling and fumbling" to which Dargis specifically alludes—struck us as extremely strange as we watched and rewatched The Post.
We wondered who had put this "middle-brow" entertainment together. We were disappointed, and somewhat alarmed, after we'd put the film on pause and learned the director's name.
Why in the world? Why would a film about several serious topics choose to include so much fumbling and stumbling? Why in the world would some such film seek to become a pleasing example of "grab-yer-ass entertainment?"
Why would a person as decent as Spielberg feel he needed to insert three funnymen into the mix to create a rollicking time at the movies? Then too, there was the specific nature of the fumbling and stumbling which relentlessly appears in the film, which almost seemed to define a new genre we might call Stumblebum Chic.
For today, we're going leave it right here. We'll ask you to ponder the observations made by those major major critics, then by Hanks himself.
Can it possibly say something about us when the Homer of our time chooses to "represent reality" in the way Spielberg does in this Oscar-nominated film? When even a film about such a serious topic seemingly has to be saved from itself by the insertion of funnymen with their physical humor?
On its face, The Post seems to deal with several serious topics. That said, three funnymen had to be called to the scene—and for ourselves, we were especially struck by the nature of the physical comedy, in which our nation's journalistic elites fumble and stumble their way along as they try to create a discussion of a war which ended up taking the lives of an estimated 58,000 Americans and vastly more Vietnamese.
What would Erich Auerbach say about the way this film "represents reality?" As of this rather recent year, had the capacity for serious conduct and reflection perhaps and possibly disappeared from our own war-ravaged land?
Tomorrow: The hippie girl and the hapless reporter. One of the funnymen spills all his change, and The Girl With the Lemonade Stand.