There was a minor story in the news last week which reminded me of perhaps my favorite line I’ve read in a movie review. Previous to it, my favorite line came when I was growing up in Chicago, and Roger Ebert was the reviewer for the Chicago Sun Times. He was reviewing the 1973 movie of Jesus Christ Superstar, and recapping the plot – at which point he stopped and wrote that he wouldn’t say any more because he didn’t want to give away the ending.
But the line I was reminded of, which came along in 2005, probably tops that for me because all the stars aligned to make it perfect, and therefore was something that probably couldn’t ever be repeated in any other context. It helps, too, that I know one of the people involved. The only thing holding it back for absolutely being my absolute favorite is because it requires a long story to fill in the background, so it’s not something you can easily quote at a dinner party.
I should add here, just for whimsy’s sake, that the person who wrote the later line was…again, Roger Ebert.
Not just what Ebert wrote, but that he wrote it. This is the tale of that.
What prompted the memory was a tweet from far-right host Glenn Beck that had a two-minute video attached with part of his interview with actor Rob Schneider. And noted that in their talk, Schneider explained why he's "ABSOLUTELY" willing to lose everything for what he believes, quoting him: "I DON'T CARE about my career anymore. I care about my children and the country they're going to live in." For myself, I didn’t have the heart to watch the video, in part because I have a very low limit of how much Glenn Beck’s far-right performance art I can take. And in part, because that heart-rending quote from Schneider had enough angst on its own, and I DON’T CARE to hear more. From user comments, though, I’m told that he had a respectable amount of self-pitying, along with a World War II story. So, I’m well covered.
(For those interested, you can watch it here.)
As for the background, I’m longtime friends with journalist Patrick Goldstein. When I say “longtime,” I not only went to the same Camp Nebagamon summer camp with Patrick, but we were in the same cabin for four years. In fact, one year after camp before returning to Miami, he had a sleepover at our house. (My mother always called him “Pat” from that point on.) And the only White Sox baseball game I ever saw live was at Comiskey Park with Patrick and his grandfather, who lived in Chicago (and why he was visiting there before going home.).
But that’s not it either, when I say longtime friend. Because we both went to the beloved Northwestern University, as well. And – he later moved to Los Angeles, and lives about three miles from me. So, when I say “longtime friend,” I mean it.
Patrick’s career began writing a music column, “Pop Eye,” in Chicago, which he continued in Los Angeles, until morphing into writing a column and excellent feature articles about movies and entertainment in general, and occasionally writing movie reviews.
One of his articles concerned the 2005 Best Picture nominees, which Patrick noted sadly overlooked Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo that starred Rob Schneider. He reasoned that this was because “apparently nobody had the foresight to invent a category for Best Running Penis Joke Delivered by a Third-Rate Comic."
Admittedly, this was a harsh line – though in fairness, the movie has a negligible 9% critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which is even more harsh. Even audiences only gave it just 33%. So, the bluntness of the line was in good company. (And well-deserved, when you know the “running joke,” more on that later.)
It will not shock you to learn that Rob Schneider did not like the criticism. What might surprise you is that he took out a full-page ad in both Hollywood trade papers, Daily Variety and the Hollywood Reporter, writing an open letter to Patrick. It’s important to quote from that full-page ad because there are specifics that relates to the tale. Schneider wrote –
“Well, Mr. Goldstein, I decided to do some research to find out what awards you have won. I went online and found that you have won nothing. Absolutely nothing. No journalistic awards of any kind ... Maybe you didn't win a Pulitzer Prize because they haven't invented a category for Best Third-Rate, Unfunny Pompous Reporter Who's Never Been Acknowledged by His Peers."
And there the story would have stayed. In large part because Patrick has a massively thick skin and laughs off such things. (I should note, a couple of things to add perspective. Once, Patrick was interviewing a producer who got a phone call and asked him to step outside. He did – and could hear every furious word the producer was screaming. But because he’d been asked to leave, he felt obligated not to write about it. Another time, he wrote a critical look at Billy Crystal hosting the Oscars, which Crystal didn’t enjoy. But years later, Patrick revisited that article, believed he’d been wrong, and admirably wrote a column taking himself to task. Which Crystal reciprocated in appreciation.)
But as I said, the story doesn’t end here, because this is where Roger Ebert comes in.
Two things are important to know. The first is that Ebert belatedly got around to review Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo. And the second is that this is where all the stars aligned in perfection. You see, when Patrick worked in Chicago, he began at the Daily News, which was the afternoon sister paper to the morning Sun Times, where Roger Ebert worked, both publications owned by Field Enterprises, and they regularly crossed paths at screenings and neighborhood bars. (Until Ebert gave up drinking, Patrick says.) And they would always see each other at the Toronto Film Festival. In fact, their relationship goes back even earlier – all the way back to Northwestern, where Patrick ran an arts festival (Orgy of the Arts). And for one big event had invited Roger Ebert to be a featured participant, to great acclaim. And so Ebert knew Patrick, and liked him.
And hated Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo. I mean, really hated it. How much did he hate it? His first paragraph included a passage – “’Deuce Bigalow’ is aggressively bad, as if it wants to cause suffering to the audience. The best thing about it is that it runs for only 75 minutes.”
And no, that’s not the favorite line I’m not referring to. It’s not even Ebert’s most scathing in the review.
Just one example. After summarizing the plot (in which he describes that running “penis joke” Patrick referenced – one so gross I won’t repeat it here, though I’ll include a link to it below), Ebert got personal. Though not about Schneider. Instead, he went after the filmmakers, writing – “Does this sound like a movie you want to see? It sounds to me like a movie that Columbia Pictures and the film's producers (Glenn S. Gainor, Jack Giarraputo, Tom McNulty, Nathan Talbert Reimann, Adam Sandler and John Schneider) should be discussing in long, sad conversations with their inner child."
And then it was at this point that Roger Ebert changed direction and, without needing to, without even being asked, just because he wanted to and knew it was the right thing to do – and was clearly angry, both at the story and the movie – came to the defense of his former fellow-worker who he not only liked, but long-admired. And “came to the defense” doesn’t do it justice, because Ebert went into spectacular over-drive. And took out his fisherman’s knife, sharpened it, and deboned Rob Schneider.
First, in the midst of the review, Ebert broke off his criticism and told the history in full detail of Patrick Goldstein’s article and Rob Schneider’s open-letter slam, quoting it all.
And then –
And then, Roger Ebert finished his review this way. With three magnificent paragraphs – and a final two sentences that may well-be my favorite I’ve read in any movie review.
What Ebert wrote at the end was:
“Reading this, I was about to observe that Schneider can dish it out but he can't take it. Then I found he's not so good at dishing it out, either. I went online and found that Patrick Goldstein has won a National Headliner Award, a Los Angeles Press Club Award, a RockCritics.com award, and the Publicists' Guild award for lifetime achievement.
“Schneider was nominated for a 2000 Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actor, but lost to Jar-Jar Binks.
“But Schneider is correct, and Patrick Goldstein has not yet won a Pulitzer Prize. Therefore, Goldstein is not qualified to complain that Columbia financed ‘Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo’ while passing on the opportunity to participate in ‘Million Dollar Baby,’ ‘Ray,’ ‘The Aviator,’ ‘Sideways’ and ‘Finding Neverland. As chance would have it, I have won the Pulitzer Prize, and so I am qualified. Speaking in my official capacity as a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks.”
And that’s it. It doesn’t get better than that. The stars don’t get more aligned in a way that this couldn’t be written for any other movie. That Roger Ebert had worked in the same city and at “sister papers” with Patrick decades before. That he knew Patrick, from even before that, and liked him. That Rob Schneider took out those full-page ads. That Schneider specifically singled out the Pulitzer Prize, when he could have named any award. And ultimately, that Roger Ebert could write, “As chance would have it, I have won the Pulitzer Prize, and so I am qualified.” It’s perfect. And even then concludes with Speaking in my official capacity as a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks.”
And Ebert’s shredding is all the better when he takes the extra step to list all the awards Patrick has actually received. Sort of a “Shut up and sit down, sonny” moment.
Yes, it’s helps that I’ve been friends with Patrick since I was 11. (He was 10, a kid.) But while I’m biased, I’m also right. It’s a great line.
If you want to see the full Roger Ebert article (and description of the infamous crude running-joke), you can read it here.
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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