A.O. Scott vs. Roger Ebert: ‘Seven Pounds’ of Separation

Finally, some long-overdue Will Smith backlash has begun to hit the Internet, in a way. Reviews are in forSeven Pounds, his annual plea for Academy consideration, and they’re pretty god awful (but fun to read). Variety’s Todd McCarthy was particularly hard on Smith, writing that his performance “proves disturbing as an indication of how highly this or any momentarily anointed superstar may regard himself.” But no critic spews more giddy venom than the Times’ A.O. Scott, who calls the film “the most transcendently, eye-poppingly, call-your-friend-ranting-in-the-middle-of-the-night-just-to-go-over-it-one-more-time crazily awful motion pictures ever made.” Wow. If that’s really the case, then how is it that Roger Ebert, a critic even more distinguished than Scott, and one whom Scott himself so admires, gave the movie a positive review?

A.O. Scott and Roger Ebert are good friends. Scott filled in for Ebert when the latter was recently forced off TV airwaves because of health problems. He also published an extensive piece in the Times earlier this year praising Ebert for, among other things, his “unequaled grasp of film history and technique, and formidable intellectual range.” How then, will he react when he reads Ebert’s three-out-of-four star review? Betrayal? Confusion? Rage? Certainly, all taste is relative, and Ebert in no way grants the film masterpiece status, but how is he able to find pleasure and craft in the same disorder that Scott finds so repulsive? Let’s let him explain it! He writes:

“I like movies too much. I walk into the theater not in an adversarial attitude, but with hope and optimism (except for some movies, of course). I know that to get a movie made is a small miracle, that the reputations, careers and finances of the participants are on the line, and that hardly anybody sets out to make a bad movie. I do not feel comfortable posing as impossible to please. Film lovers attend different movies for different reasons, all of them valid; did I enjoy ‘Joe vs. the Volcano’ more than some Oscar winners? Certainly … If my admiration for a movie is inspired by populism, politics, personal experience, generic conventions or even lust, I must say so. I cannot walk out of a movie that engaged me and deny that it did. I must certainly never lower it from three to 2.5 so I can look better on the Metacritic scale.”

And no, that is not in response to my imagined beef with A.O. Scott. It comes straight from Ebert’s blog, where he responded to accusations that he gives out way too many stars. From that explanation, Ebert’s review makes sense, especially when he ends it with “Some people will find it emotionally manipulative. Some people like to be emotionally manipulated. I do, when it’s done well.” Clearly, emotional manipulation isn’t A.O. Scott’s thing.