Starring: Jamie Kennedy, Criss Angel, Dave Attell, Lewis lack, David Cross, Mike Ditka, Craig Ferguson, Judah Friedlander, Kathy Griffin, Christopher Hitchens, Jamie Kennedy, Bobby Lee, Jon Lovitz, Bill Maher, Andy Milonakis, Patton Oswalt, Paul Rodriguez, Joe Rogan, and Nick Swardson.
Running Time: 1 hr 20 mins
Plot Synopsis: How do stand-up comedians deal with hecklers? That’s the question posed by popular actor/comedian Jamie Kennedy in this documentary, which offers a close-up view of the relationship between fan and performer. Kennedy speaks to comedy greats such as Lewis Black, Henry Winkler, and Roseanne Barr in his quest to document coping strategies.
“Everyone’s a critic!” That statement is becoming more true each day. We live in the internet age, where anyone with a computer and 5 minutes of free time can put their opinions out there for the world to see. It doesn’t matter what you say, or how you say it. There is no longer any skills required to let your favorite comedians, tv stars, or Hollywood films actors/actresses know exactly how you feel about what they do. As a result of that, more and more “celebrities” are “suffering” from a nearly endless amount of bashing who they are or what they do. Have you ever considered how that makes them feel? Probably not, and that appears to be the reason why Jamie Kennedy (Malibu’s Most Wanted, Kickin it Old School, Son of the Mask) made Heckler, a documentary featuring a slew of big showbiz names talking about hecklers, critics, and bloggers. The documentary is aimed at showing people how their favorite “stars” respond to criticism, and what they think about their “critics.” The movie was shocking to me, and it has changed the way I will review films for the rest of my movie blogging life. It really made me think, which meant I had to watch it twice, because the first time through I just couldn’t stop laughing out loud (no matter how much I wanted to catch the message that hit so close to home for me). The film was funny, sure, but that wasn’t the point. It posed some very real questions that most of us haven’t truly considered. If you are a print-media critic, a movie blogger, a heckler, or even just a big fan of showbiz, Heckler is a must see.
The film itself started out with stand up comedians discussing hecklers at stand up comedy shows. This part of the film features commentary from some of the biggest names in stand up comedy, including some movie stars that got their start telling jokes at dirty clubs for next to nothing. I thought it was great to hear how all these different people dealt with the hecklers. There were some really funny stories, varying from quick jabs against hecklers to a comedian going nuts and smashing a guitar over the head of someone who was heckling them! You’ll find some great comedians, like Andrew “Dice” Clay (who went nuts on live tv!) and the eternally angry Lewis Black. I loved hearing their stories about personal experiences with hecklers. I was actually impressed with how these comedians dealt with the hecklers. Most of the comedians interviewed for the film, while bashing hecklers in general after the fact, they all seemed to maintain composure and all of them seemed to have the same opinion about hecklers/heckling in general. All of them felt that it was a natural part of the business, and they all stressed having “thick skin.” Really, not letting hecklers (essentially critics) get to them was the best way to handle it. That will come into play later in this review.
Heckler quickly moved to critics. At this point, the film really started hitting home to me. The film went on to discuss what it takes to be a critic, how people criticize everything, and how that makes them feel. There were many things to consider from the rest of the film. While watching Heckler, I think it’s pretty important to pay close attention to how the “celebrities” react to what has been said about them. There were some big names like Bill Maher and film maker Joel Schumacher, as well as some “B and C-List” actors and actresses. They all reacted the same way, in stark contrast to the “thick skin” reaction stand up comedians had to hecklers. It seemed as though so many of these stars took the criticism to heart. Sure, the critics featured seemed shockingly harsh, but they still displayed an air of arrogance (with a few exceptions, like David Wain) about their work. Things along the line of “these people have no business criticizing films.” Not an exact quote from anyone, but more of a general thing. No one seemed able to let the criticism roll off their back. The directors in the film seemed to insist that no one has the right to judge their work, and that anyone who speaks negatively about it simply misunderstands it. It shows a complete lack of consideration for the audience. It’s like they don’t care about the people that make them what they are. Let’s face it, if people don’t come out to your movies, no matter how talented you are, you won’t be working (at least in mainstream media) for very long. Why shouldn’t we be allowed to criticize the things we pay to see? Why is it that we just misunderstand it? And that is where I will start with the real stuff, the important stuff, that this film made me think about.
As a member of the movie-blogging community, everything in this documentary hit home to me. I found myself surprised that so many of these stars were so upset with critics. My thought is that if you put yourself out there, in any way, shape, or form, you are putting yourself in the line of fire. If you make movies, go on tv, or put your opinions on the web as a member of the blogging community, you should expect to be criticized for it. That’s just the way the world is right now. Everyone has an opinion, and they all have a right to share it, regardless of how ignorant their opinions may be. Yes, there are some dumb, mean, rude people on the web. But even the ignorant ones have a right to be heard. If you charge people hard earned money to see your work, people are going to complain if they don’t like it. Here’s an idea: If you don’t like the criticism, why don’t you just stay away from it?!? You don’t have to go and google your own name. You don’t have to read the reviews of your work if you don’t want to. It’s a little ridiculous.
But it is also equally ridiculous to criticize some of these stars and their work in the way that some movie bloggers do. This film really made me take a hard look at how I criticize films. I am absolutely guilty of being overly hard on movies, actors, and directors. So watching these stars pick apart critics really made me feel guilty. Though, at the same time, I felt a little better about myself and how I review things I don’t like. Confusing? It was confusing to me too. See, some of the individual reviews and reviewers that were singled out in this documentary were far more harsh on the things they disliked than I would ever even think about being. I was so surprised to hear the way some people criticised Kennedy and his films. I wasn’t exactly a fan of some of Jamie Kennedy’s movies, particularly Son of the Mask, and I would review some of them negatively. But these guys were insane! The way they broke down Kennedy in ways completely unrelated to the film they were reviewing or the performance Kennedy gave in said movie, it was terrible. The best part? These “critics” were defiant and adamantly defended their “opinions” even when faced by Kennedy and questioned for their true motivation in writing what they wrote. Some of these “critics” even thought that they were actually HELPING Kennedy! They thought that by bashing him relentlessly, they were motivating him to be a better comedian and a better actor. There was one story told by actor/comedian Harland Williams (Half Baked) about a review of one of his films. The reviewer scrapped the idea of reviewing the movie and went on to review Williams’ appearance. What the hell does that have anything to do with the movie? These critics are more focused on humiliating and embarrassing the actors/actresses than actually providing a quality review filled with actual critique of the film and information that will allow the reader to form an opinion about a movie they may want to see.
Even though a large majority of internet critics (myself included) are overly harsh on things they dislike, the reactions from some of these people come across as whiney. We’ve already established that you should have thick skin if you are going to be in show business, surely all of actors and directors interviewed for this documentary know this. Some of them really have no business complaining. Guys like Joel Schumacher, who’ve made a ton of money making movies, seem so offended by getting the occasional poor review. You’ve made a ton of money dude! Get over it! At times, for some of the stars interviewed for the documentary, I was just getting upset at their insistence on complaining about getting negative reviews. Do they have any idea how good they have it? So some people insult you and your movies. You still get to go home in a car nicer than that of the people criticizing you, to a home nicer than anything most critics could ever dream of. I’d trade places any day. Think about what you have and what you have to go through to do it. It’s just being a fussy whiner. But, of all the actors featured during the later half of the movie, none came across as whiney and childish as Jamie Kennedy. He is genuinely offended, sometimes to the point of near tears. He actively seeks criticism of his work, then gets extremely upset over it.
It is frequently demonstrated throughout the film that Kennedy is unable to take the slightest criticisms of his work. Kennedy confronted a critic, Peter Grumbine, who seemed to find Jamie’s overreaction to one of his reviews rather funny. Jamie actually called Grumbine evil. Really? Evil? So, Peter Grumbine is going to share a room in hell with guys like Hitler, Charles Manson and Osama Bin Laden? This is a little ridiculous. I get that Jamie is offended, as Grumbine truly offered a review that only featured unwarranted bashing of who Kennedy is, with little to no substance or quality information. But to take it so personally that you’re going to call someone evil just feels wrong. Maybe in the world of the common man/woman, people like you and I, criticism like that may warrant a reaction like Jamie Kennedy’s reaction to Grumbine’s review. But for a guy who makes movies, tv, and gets to travel the States doing what he loves, not to mention making more money than most of us ever could, it all seems childish. Especially since Kennedy seeks these reviews, they don’t just happen to come before his eyes; he put them there. I highly recommend you watch the deleted scenes on the DVD, as they provide some quality examples of my point. Take this for example: Kennedy freaks out on a friend who merely said one of his comedy bits didn’t work. One of his friends!
Or look at when he was confronting two teenage hecklers. He doesn’t seem to care about his show being disrupted; his only concern seems to be that they didn’t find it funny. “What do you know about comedy? Who are you to decide what’s funny?”. Well, just because you don’t know much about comedy doesn’t mean that you don’t have the right to decide what is funny. If you pay good money to go see a comedy show, you have every right to dislike it, no matter how funny the performer thinks the jokes are. He completely missed the point. The thing to focus on isn’t that people don’t think you are funny. It’s about the way people express their disdain for your work.
The film also proudly boast a story about the infamous Uwe Boll, a man who is universally known as a film maker whose films typically are “not good.” I’m sure we’ve all heard the story by now: Boll got upset with having his work (and his abilities) constantly being criticized, so he challenged critics to come and throw on some boxing gloves, and get in the ring with him to settle their differences. Three actually showed up, and proceeded to get their asses kicked by Boll. These men, interviewed moments before the fight, continued to mock the man and his film making. In all of that shines a very important point I think should be discussed. They talked about disliking Uwe Boll’s work, but they hadn’t even finished the movies they claim to dislike! How can you fairly criticize a film you’ve never seen before? How do you know a director “sucks” if you won’t take the time to finish his movies? Now, I haven’t exactly been kind to Uwe Boll or his movies. Like I said before, I’ve been guilty about being overly critical on films and their makers/stars. But I’ve actually taken the time to sit down and watch the films I say are bad. Why would they bash Boll if they hadn’t ever finished one of his movies? The term “jumping on the band-wagon” comes to mind. It’s the popular thing for bloggers to do; bash Uwe Boll and all of his movies because everyone else says he stinks. Well, he may not be a great director, but everyone should respect writers, directors, and actors for their intentions. No one sets out to make a bad movie. Sometimes they end up being different from what they were originally intended to be. Maybe the idea was just bad. But you have to respect the time and work put into making every film. If you don’t want to watch it, that’s fine. But don’t review it if you’re not gonna watch it. Make sure you are informed before you make yourself look like an ass. Boll, to his credit, never seems to complain about people critiquing his movies, just people getting personal. As much as I dislike his movies, Uwe Boll seems to just “get it.”
In closing, I said earlier that this film has changed the way I will review films for the rest of my movie-blogging life. It really opened my eyes to some things. Sometimes, the film had the effect on me that it was intended to have; other times it sent me off in the other direction. But it did “show me the light” so to speak. It really made me think about being a better critic. A few of the people interviewed actually provided me with some insight into how to be a good critic, and how to help my career in the business. It showed me, first and foremost, that stars do stay in touch with even the smaller communities of fans and critics. Secondly, it really made me consider my stance on negative reviews. The fact that some of these directors/actors actually appreciate the negative reviews, if done in a well thought out manner, shocked me. I really never thought that anyone in the business actually considered the opinions of anyone not working for the USA Today, the NY Times, or any other major publication or website. It’s occured to me that maybe, if you take the time to do it right, writing a negative review actually could help make movies better. In the past, I’ve destroyed films I didn’t like. It was brought up in the film that some of the more harsh reviews are done simply to further one’s own personal interests; that we write super-negative reviews because people always seem to remember the crazy guys who write ridiculous things about movies and tv shows they don’t like. That was me, and I can admit that. Some people in the blogging business only care about making themselves more famous, or more popular, or richer. So those people will never change, even after watching a documentary like Heckler. But reviewers like me, those of us who actually care about being the best at what they do, should take the messages in the film to heart. So that we can be the best possible bloggers/critics that we can possibly be.
No matter what you do, no matter what your stance on reviews or blogging, I highly recommend you watch Heckler. While I was very serious about what I saw in the film, it’s not to say that this film is serious at all. It is all very tongue in cheek, and very very funny, something you should expect from a documentary filled with comedians. It was fun and very entertaining. If you like stand up comedy, if you like movies, if you like tv, I recommend Heckler in a big way. This was very entertaining. If you are a heckler, a critic, or a blogger, you’ll feel like everything in the film hits close to home, and it should. This documentary is a must see for anyone who puts their opinions out there for the world to see. You’ll look at things in a whole new light, and despite the films intentions, you may find yourself surprised at the way you feel when you walk away from screen after watching Heckler. It’s a can’t miss, buy buy buy on DVD. The special features are great, and you’ll find great stuff that expands on all the funny stories told in the film. Do yourself a favor, and go pick up a copy of Heckler.