Longtime Simpsons writer and world-class hilarious person Mike Reiss responds to critical reaction to his latest movie:
I wrote a sweet little romantic comedy called My Life in Ruins. It was about a bus tour of Greece, and had big laughs, gorgeous scenery, and a simple message: don’t judge others too harshly.
One critic called it “execrable.”
I was fully prepared for bad reviews, but nothing quite this vicious. An actor friend, who’d been in a critically trashed play, tried to spin it: “Execrable can mean ‘deserving to be excreted.’ See? ’deserving.’ That’s good! Or it can mean ‘of poorest quality.’ Ok, see? ‘quality.’ That is also very good!”
I was surprised because my film was the highest-testing movie in Fox Searchlight history. Audiences liked it more than, say, Little Miss Sunshine and Slumdog Millionaire. But not the critics. They called it “one big fat Greek disaster”; “wretched”; “thuddingly bad”; “a film that will kill Greek tourism”; and “a steaming pile of stereotypes and sitcomery, a pathetic excuse for a comedy.” That last review sent my wife to a sickbed for three days, with what Victorian doctors used to call “the vapors.”
Several critics singled me out, calling me “an idiot,” “an imbecile,” and “sub-literate.” Now, I opened the film with an allusion to Voltaire – a sign reads “Pangloss Tours: ‘The Best of All Possible Worlds’.” In Candide, Dr. Pangloss utters these optimistic words before his group sets out on an utterly disastrous journey. Just like the tourists in my film! Get it? The critics didn’t. Not one caught the allusion. Otherwise, they’d have called me a “sub-literate moron who reads Voltaire.”
At least half a dozen reviewers asked, “Did we need this obvious retread of If It’s Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium?” I’ve never seen that film. It came out forty years ago, when I was nine. And while I don’t recall the critics of the time deeming it a classic, it’s clearly the ne plus ultra of travel films. There have been gangster movies since The Godfather and space movies since Star Wars. But don’t try setting a movie on a tour bus. It’s been done. Once. Two generations ago.
In the end, I guess life evens out. I created a show once that the public simply hated. The critics adored it. It was about a critic. It was called The Critic.