As I began to read Peter Debruge’s Variety review of Licorice Pizza, I knew he’d be giving it a pass. Not just because 95% of the the critics are dropping into Paul Thomas Anderson‘s lap, and not just because it’s a half-decent film that doesn’t warrant dismissal. My own view is “good enough, not bad, great ending.” I can’t imagine anyone saying it’s no good.
The critics know they have to show love or the PTA fanatics will slag them on social media. And we know that they know. Because when it comes to certain major directors, the fix is pretty much in. (The Hollywood Reporter‘s David Rooney is the only one who held back and gave it a mild, yes-and-no assessment.)
But I knew Debruge would go easy on it either way. First and foremost because you can’t pan a major auteurist director’s film unless it really fucking stinks. But the bottom line is that Debruge knows the Hollywood waterfront and all the ins and outs. He’s a very sage and seasoned critic. And there’s something in his basic nature that likes turning the other cheek. When push comes to shove he tends to lead in the direction of “noblesse oblige.”
So when a major award-season film has been screened and I see that Debruge (rather than the occasionally scrappy Owen Gleiberman) has written the Variety review, I have a pretty good idea of what’s coming. Which isn’t to say that Debruge doesn’t write the occasional pan. He’s no Scott Mantz, nor is there anything “wrong” in being mellow and mild-mannered and accepting, etc. What matters in the end is how good a writer you are, and Debruge certainly qualifies as one of the best.