I've written here often about my friend Nell Minow, whose remarkable, albeit odd worlds overlap between being a leading world expert on corporate governance and a film critic, and many things in between, most of which involve her giving her informed and always-pointed opinion.
This past week, her always-pointed opinion has riled the group Focus on Family over her politely-scathing review of the documentary they produced, Irreplaceable, ostensibly about the importance of a mother and father raising a family together.
I'm sure that when Focus on Family saw that a review was being published by the "Movie Mom" (the title Nell writes her film criticism under) and on the Beliefnet website, the organization was probably already celebrating the glowing A+ they were sure they'd get and popping the champagne corks. What they didn't understand is that Nell's reviews are rock-solid honest, insightful, and profoundly thoughtful, laced with a rich sense of culture and history, and have nothing to do with Beliefnet other than they made a good offer to her to park her long-time, thoroughly independent column there -- and that she'd just as soon to give a giddy rave to Assault on Precinct 13 if it's well-done, as pan a family film like Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return if she finds it treacly. If a movie is violent or adult-oriented, she'll just give a "family warning" about a movie's appropriateness for different members of that family. What Focus on Family and many others most likely tend not to realize is that to Nell Minow, "family" doesn't mean G-rated, it means what the word actually says, all members of a family -- from parents to adolescents to teenage children to those in college to grandparents and all in-between.
Always fair-minded and deeply polite, Nell rarely gives an A+ or an F. So, it must have come as a shock to Focus on Family when The Movie Mom gave Irreplaceable -- an F.
While noting her points of agreement, Nell's overriding problem with the film (in a review that is as even-handed and gracious as any scathing review you will likely ever read) is that it "uses the rhetoric of support for family as a thin and increasingly cynical and specious cover for a pernicious agenda disguised as a 'conversation.' It’s so smug, constricted, and phony that it does not even qualify as one-sided." By the end of the review, after carefully explaining her points in meticulous and interesting detail, Nell writes that "With this cynical, meretricious and hypocritical film, Focus on the Family has dug a moat and burned the drawbridge." And she concludes by adding that in the spirit of the film's parent organization, "I will forgive Focus on the Family for this shoddy, hateful, and dishonest film." You can read the whole vibrant review here.
Needless to say, Focus on Family was taken aback, They wrote a long defense of the film, and criticism of the review, which was posted on Beliefnet. How polite is Nell Minow? She begins her own reply by writing --
"I am most grateful to Focus on the Family for their very courteous response to my review of their film “Irreplaceable,” one of the harshest I have ever published. I strongly encourage everyone who wants to understand our disagreement to read their response carefully, along with the extensive exchange of comments following the review with people who had a variety of reactions to the film and which have a great deal more detail about what I found offensive."
-- and then precedes to graciously take apart the Focus on Family criticism with a smile and a scalpel. And in return, I strongly recommend everyone interested in this subject to read all of Nell's wonderful reply here, which includes a link to the Focus on Family rebuttal.
But then, I strongly recommend that everyone link to Nell's Mom website and read her reviews that are among the best you'll come across. (I don't tend to read reviews until after I've seen a film myself, wanting to formulate my own opinion first, but as Nell and I have discussed, it's scary and closely we so often agree down to details she singles out. Nell's tastes as a Sci-Fi Fan Girl Geek run wider than mine, but other than that, we have remarkable overlap.
Anyway, having said all that, and since we're talking about families here, and I've spoken at length so much about Nell Minow in the past, I figured it would be nice to let you see a picture of Nell and her family of Minows, growing up, when she and I first met back in Glencoe, Illinois.
That's Nell, second from the left. My guess is that she was already opinionated on most things by that point. To her right is her sister Martha, currently the dean of Harvard Law School, whose former students include Barack Obama, who she recommended at the time that her father hire him at his Chicago law firm, since he was the smartest student she'd ever had. (He did hire him at the firm...where the new attorney met his wife Michelle.) And that's Nell's father, Newton Minow, second from the right, Chairman of the FCC, appointed by President Kennedy. It's a lovely family picture, unfortunately photo-bombed by some guy between Nell and her dad.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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