What's it like to have work that you have poured your heart and soul into trashed by the critics? I've been wondering that while reading the reviews of Beautiful, the first feature film ever directed by Sally Field.
I spent a few days with her before the release of the film, and asked her what would happen if the reviews were bad. Her response was that she wouldn't, couldn't pay attention to them. "It just doesn't serve me right now," she explained. "My part of me that is a director now is very young and it needs to be nurtured and cared for. So that part of Sally that's older and wiser is caring for her."
O.K., that comment does sound a bit like it might be uttered by Sybil, the multipersonality character for which Field won an Emmy many years ago. And really, Field doesn't usually talk about herself in the third person. But when you read the reviews you really understand how a fledgling director might want to distance and protect herself from the crabby, carping critics.
In the film Minnie Driver plays a would be-beauty queen, convinced that the only way to escape from her tawdry life on the wrong side of the tracks is by becoming Miss American Miss. The problem is that neither Minnie, nor her character, have the classic looks or personality of a pageant winner. The other problem is that early on, Minnie makes a little mistake: getting pregnant. How this all resolves itself is the guts of the movie.
Well, the critics hated it. They didn't like the actors. They didn't like the script. They didn't like the directorial style.
But guess what? I, nonfilm critic and frequent movie goer, enjoyed it. So did my 22-year old daughter and the 25-year-old producer who saw it with us. Now admittedly, when you are doing a story on someone, and you go to see the work they're flacking, you kind of hope you'll like it. But lots of times you don't. That's when you put on a nice smile and tell the star, or the writer or the director, "It was really interesting."
But this time I wasn't trying to be tactful. I told Sally, "I liked it, really liked it." (You knew I wasn't going to get through this column without that, didn't you?). It wasn't perfect, but it made me laugh. There were true-to-life touches that any woman who's had to display her looks and charms for any reason could identify with. There were heroes and villains and some people, including the Minnie Driver beauty queen who were a bit of both.
If you've read the reviews of Beautiful in the mainstream press, you probably won't want to see the film. ut remember, these were the same people who urged you to see Pulp Fiction.