It’s been roughly six and a half weeks since Variety editors threw longtime critic Dennis Harvey under the bus by posting an apology for his 1.26.20 review of Promising Young Woman, which had been edited by Variety‘s Peter Debruge and had sat on the Variety website for 11 months without anyone saying boo.
Variety grovelled because Carey Mulligan had complained about a certain paragraph in the review to N.Y. Times columnist Kyle Buchanan on 12.23.20.
“I read the Variety review because I’m a weak person,” Mulligan told Buchanan. “And I took issue with it. It felt like it was basically saying that I wasn’t hot enough to pull off this kind of ruse.” And so Variety rushed right in, apologized to Mulligan (and by inference to Focus Features) and posted the following above Harvey’s review:
A few of us (myself, The Ankler‘s Richard Rushfield, Collider‘s Jeff Sneider, author and former Variety critic Joseph McBride, The Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw, World of Reel’s Jordan Ruimy, “Across the Movie Aisle” podcasters Sonny Bunch, Alyssa Rosenberg and Peter Suderman) have tweeted, written and podcasted about Variety‘s appalling behavior over the last few weeks, but today — today! — the National Society of Film Critics finally stepped up and did the gutsy thing.
Okay, so they could’ve done it sooner. Okay, so they needed to think about about the ramifications and consider all the angles and dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s for the last five or six weeks. But at least they grew a pair and manned up. HE salutes their courage, and so does Pike Bishop in heaven. Here’s their statement:
FROM THE NATIONAL SOCIETY OF FILM CRITICS REGARDING VARIETY’S APOLOGY FOR ITS PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN REVIEW (dated 2.9.21)
“We, the members of the National Society of Film Critics, wish to register our alarm at Variety’s shabby treatment of our colleague Dennis Harvey.
“On Jan. 26, 2020, Variety published Harvey’s review of the movie Promising Young Woman from the Sundance Film Festival. (Full disclosure: The review was edited by Peter Debruge, Variety’s chief film critic and a member of the NSFC.) While praising the film, Harvey wrote that Carey Mulligan, “a fine actress, seems a bit of an odd choice” as the movie’s “many-layered apparent femme fatale” protagonist, noting distancing aspects of the character’s costuming, hairstyling and vocal delivery. He went on to praise Mulligan’s performance as “skillful, entertaining and challenging, even when the eccentric method obscures the precise message.”
“On Dec. 24, 2020, almost a year later and in the thick of awards season, Mulligan noted her objections to Harvey’s review in a New York Times profile: ‘It felt like it was basically saying that I wasn’t hot enough to pull off this kind of ruse.’
“Mulligan, like any artist, is within her rights to respond to criticism of her work, just as we are within our rights to assert that nothing in Harvey’s review — which focuses on the actor’s stylized presentation, not her attractiveness — supports her claim. But differences of opinion in the evaluation of a film or a performance are not at issue here.
“What concerns us is Variety’s subsequent decision to place an editor’s note at the top of the review: “Variety sincerely apologizes to Carey Mulligan and regrets the insensitive language and insinuation in our review of Promising Young Woman that minimized her daring performance.”
“If Variety felt the language in Harvey’s review was insensitive and insinuating, it had the option of working with him to fix that in the editing process before it ran. There are also ways Variety could have acknowledged and responded to Mulligan’s criticism, rather than simply capitulating to it and undermining its own critic in the process. The imposition of a subjective value judgment (‘her daring performance’) as a flat editorial perspective, as if it were a matter of inarguable fact rather than opinion, is particularly inappropriate.
“We believe the editor’s note should be removed.
“Like any journalism, film criticism often displeases those being written about. And, like any journalists, film critics must have the support of their publications when that displeasure, usually coming from people far more powerful than any journalist, is made known — especially when that publication claims to report on the industry those powerful people inhabit. It is appalling that, in this instance, Variety chose to side with that power rather than supporting its writer.”
The current NSFC chair is L.A. Times critic Justin Chang. The executive Director is Liz Weis.