The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Peter Bart: Variety's closet film critic

July 23, 2009 | 12:03 pm

Variety is usually very careful about when it puts up its reviews of big studio fare -- as a rule, the trade paper doesn't run its reviews until a film has been shown in a public setting (for example, at a film festival) or until a studio starts using critic's blurbs in its ad campaign. Newspapers like the L.A. Times customarily wait until the day a film opens in theaters. Bart But when it comes to former Variety editor Peter Bart, now the paper's editorial director, an entirely different set of rules apply, which if you boiled them down to their essence would read as follows: "Once I've been to a screening and feel I have something to say, I run it on my blog, though I make a point of claiming that it's not actually a review."

That's what Bart has now done with this piece about "Funny People," Judd Apatow's upcoming drama about a stand-up comedian (played by Adam Sandler) who thinks he is dying of a rare blood disease. (Universal hasn't been especially eager to show me the film yet, but in certain industry circles the movie is becoming known as "Unfunny People.") Bart has just weighed in with what certainly looks to me like a review of the movie, in the sense that he makes judgments about its aesthetic value, its portrayal of key characters and its comic tone, even though he claims "I'm not going to pre-review the movie here."

Except it sounds like he's done exactly that. He calls the movie "a smart and surreal meditation about death, except that it's not very meditative and no one dies." He takes a dim view of the film's "scatology and scrotology"-based humor, saying that it's not that Apatow's characters "have to talk dirty; it's their only lexicon." Bart also describes Sandler's portrayal of a stand-up comic as being "persuasively egotistical and manipulative," though he complains that while the film is being marketed as a funny movie about funny people, it's actually "a poignant movie about sad people."

Actually, Bart has some interesting points to make, especially about Apatow, and how difficult it is to separate the real-life person from his comic persona. But if I were one of Bart's regular critics at Variety, I'd be awfully grumpy today, since it seems as if the trade's longtime editor is stealing my thunder, sneaking in his own review of a movie before the paper's official critic has had a chance to have his say.


Photo of Peter Bart by Shea Walsh / Associated Press