Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

The Blurbs

October 9, 2009

No Lie: Ricky Gervais's Latest Film is Flawed

In this week's edition of The Blurbs—the feature in which we take a close look at those critic blurbs that are a fixture of ads for movies—see breakdowns of blurbs for 'The Invention of Lying,' 'Whip It,' 'Surrogates,' and more.

David Goldenberg

The critic blurb is a staple of arts advertising. Yet if you look behind some blurbs, you'll find quotes out of context, quote whores, and other questionable ad practices. Blurb Racket exposes the truth behind critics blurbs in movie ads from the New York Times. Movie titles link to, which compiles movie reviews in a far-more honest way than do movie ads. See the inaugural Blurb Racket column for background and useful links, and find out what critics think of the racket.

"The Invention of Lying's premise is simple and fun but stretched to the limit."—USA Today's Claudia Puig

The Invention of Lying (Warner Bros.)
Metacritic Score: 58

Richard Corliss, Time: "Ricky Gervais is at it again."
Actual line: "Ricky Gervais must know he's cute. Cute like the grinning kid in the back row of a sixth-grade classroom, smiling at the teacher as he mutters a rude observation about how she looks from behind. He's cartoon-animal round and ingratiatingly impish. Yet Gervais, in films and on TV, keeps harping on his diminutive stature and lack of a heroic jawline. He might almost be begging for the viewer to reply, 'No, you're not at all tremendously unattractive. The word for you, Ricky, would be cute.' In his funny, agreeable, airily subversive parable The Invention of Lying, on which he shared writing and directing chores with Matthew Robinson, Gervais is at it again. His character, Mark Bellison, describes himself as a 'chubby little loser.' "

Corliss didn't mean the blurb as a compliment, as its context makes clear. He's criticizing Gervais for the tired routine of deprecating his own looks. It's just about the only negative note in an otherwise positive review, which makes it an odd choice for the blurb.

Claudia Puig, USA Today: "Flat-out hilarious."
Actual line: "While some of the gags are flat-out hilarious, others, however, falter."
Not quoted: "… not as bleakly humorous or edgy as Gervais' cable series—the original The Office and ExtrasInvention's premise is simple and fun but stretched to the limit. When Mark invents the notion of an afterlife and a supreme being, the potential for humor revives and then peters out. By adhering to the romantic-comedy formula, The Invention of Lying stops short of being truly inventive."

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times: "Jennifer Garner gives an inspired performance."
Not quoted: "I saw the trailer for 'The Invention of Lying' and expected to dislike it. It's a much better movie than the trailer dares to admit. Today's trailers would make 'Sophie's Choice' into a feel-good story. Watching the movie, I thought—oh, yeah, that's right: It's October. Good movies are allowed again."

A Serious Man
A Serious Man (Focus Features)
Metacritic Score: 79

A.O. Scott, New York Times: "Hilarious."
Actual line: "The story is at once hilarious and horrific, its significance both self-evident and opaque."

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "A spellbinder!"
Actual line: "That sound you hear in this profane spellbinder is the Coens—chuckling in the dark."
Not quoted: "No doubt the Coens will grin at accusations of stereotyping, self-loathing and box-office suicide. They march to their own mischievous drummer."

Whip It
Whip It (Fox Searchlight)
Metacritic Score: 67

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times: "Intelligent, funny and exciting."
Actual line: "Yes, the movie has cliches. Yes, it all leads up to a big game. Yes, there is a character's validating appearance near the end. Yes, and so what? The movie is miles more intelligent than most of the cream-of-wheat marketed to teenage girls. Funnier, more exciting, even liberating."

Adrienne Johnson Martin, Raleigh News & Observer: "At its heart, 'Whip It' is about a mother-daughter relationship that is handled with both care and realism."
Actual line: "The film, at its heart, is about a mother-daughter relationship, and that's handled with care and realism."
Not quoted: "Nothing all that surprising happens."
This blurb edits the actual review in an oddly detailed way. Did the word "both" really have to be added?"

The Boys Are Back
The Boys Are Back (Miramax)
Metacritic Score: 56

Claudia Puig, USA Today: "A lovely and emotionally resonant film."
Actual line: "This lovely and emotionally resonant film about a family shattered by grief deserves better than a forgettably glib title that conjures up images of beer brawls or gangster affiliations."

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "A funny, touching and vital film. Clive Owen gives a heartfelt, award-caliber performance."
Actual line: "OK, it sounds like a tear-jerker, and sometimes it drifts dangerously close. But Owen, in a heartfelt, award-caliber performance, never goes soft. It's his core of toughness that makes the movie so funny, touching and vital."

Rex Reed, New York Observer: "A rare film. It's explored with intelligence, humor and a refreshing absence of sentimentality."
Actual line: "A lot of movies have shown how women survive a devastating loss to face the struggles of single parenting. This is one of the rare ones about the same demands from a man's point of view. … The ways remorse grows into compassion and strength—and the ways Dad learns to parent himself in the process, while building the broken pieces into a family—are explored with intelligence, humor and a refreshing absence of sentimentality."
Not quoted: "It might not be a great movie, but it's nice to see Clive Owen in a serious role for a change, interacting with children, with something in his arms besides a machine gun."

Couples Retreat
Couples Retreat (Universal)
Metacritic Score: 24

No blurbs here, in a full-page ad. That's a smart move, given the uniformly negative reviews. Here's how a blurb from the New York Post's Lou Lumenick review would have read: "A schmaltzy, smutty and mean-spirited quasi-satire."

Surrogates (Touchstone)
Metacritic Score: 45

Matt Goldberg, "High-octane action."
Actual line: "I'm not sure if there can be a quality science fiction film with a massive budget. When I think of the best sci-fi films in the last ten years, the two that immediately come to mind are 'Primer' and 'Moon'. There's hardly any reliance on special effects and action scenes are non-existent. It's about character, drama, and using scientific reality to address a fundamental question about humanity. 'Surrogates' is more about giving you the answer up front and then just giving you some high-octane action mixed with some brief moments of contemplation leading to the answer we already have."
Not quoted: " 'Surrogates' is science fiction the way that Hollywood does science fiction–with no subtlety whatsoever. … the surrogates are never creepy, but satirical (which is rarely the film's intent). This simplistic approach to the cinematography matches the obnoxious commentary of the screenplay."
For using blurbing alchemy to convert a disdainful reference to "high-octane action" into seeming praise, this ad wins Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week Award.

Trucker (Monterey Media)
Metacritic Score: 60

The Hollywood Reporter: "Monaghan's star-making performance assures that it will be remembered."
Actual line: "The story might not be earth-shaking, but Monaghan's star-making performance assures that it will be remembered."

Good Hair
Good Hair (Roadside Attractions)
Metacritic Score: 71

Variety: "Fresh, funny and altogether fascinating. Audiences will wig out."
Actual line: "Chris Rock is in typically sharp but unusually sensitive form in this fresh, funny and altogether fascinating HBO project, which could prove a mildly provocative crowd-pleaser in theatrical release. Black audiences will wig out, but pic should also gel with viewers who have never even heard of a relaxer."

St. Trinian's
St. Trinian's (NeoClassics)
Metacritic Score: 39

Ella Taylor, Village Voice: "A loony High School Musical with posher accents and a lot more going on upstairs."
Actual line: "One thing's for sure: Oliver Parker and Barnaby Thompson's remake of the famous 1950s black comedies—based on the immortal Ronald Searle cartoons about a girls' boarding school whose inmates take over the asylum—will neither achieve the cult-classic status of Frank Launder's joyously creaky original, The Belles of St. Trinian's, nor secure the reputation of Britain's freshly revived Ealing Studios. That said, even without the great Joyce Grenfell (England's Ruth Draper) to prop it up, with the right attitude this cheerfully calculated effort to update the old girl for a tween market can be enjoyed in all its endearing awfulness, as a loony High School Musical with posher accents and a lot more going on upstairs."
Not quoted: "… moderately entertaining …"

The Damned United
The Damned United (Sony)
Metacritic Score: 81

David Edelstein, New York Magazine: "Hugely enjoyable!"
Actual line: "… quite enjoyable …"

The Yes Men Fix the World
The Yes Men Fix the World (Shadow Distribution)
Metacritic Score: 71

Stephen Holden, New York Times: "Great fun! It takes some nerve, not to mention diabolical intelligence … to pull off the elaborate pranks devised by the Yes Men."
Actual line: "It takes some nerve, not to mention diabolical intelligence and financial resources, to pull off the elaborate pranks devised by Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno (who are in real life Jacques Servin and Igor Vamos), the antiglobalization activists and satirical performance artists known as the Yes Men. … Whether their high jinks accomplish much beyond momentarily embarrassing the corporations and government agencies they misrepresent at business conferences and public forums is an open question. But it is great fun to watch them do their dirty work."
Not quoted: "Their failure to shame companies like Dow Chemical into doing what the Yes Men believe to be the right thing brings up the question of why they bother."

More Than a Game
More Than a Game (Lionsgate)
Metacritic Score: 61

Clay Cane, "A 2009 version of 'Hoop Dreams'."
Actual line: "… for every young kid who sees More Than a Game and thinks they are the next LeBron James—it should be mandatory to watch 1994's Hoop Dreams."
The review said exactly the opposite of the blurb: The new film has a happy ending, but most hoop dreams don't. Still, it is a positive review.

Bronson (Magnet)
Metacritic Score: 72

Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out New York: "A mighty film."
Actual line: "… a bizarre and mighty prison film …"

David Goldenberg

David Goldenberg is the co-founder and editor of Gelf, and the host of Geeking Out, Gelf's monthly science speaking series.

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Article by David Goldenberg

David Goldenberg is the co-founder and editor of Gelf, and the host of Geeking Out, Gelf's monthly science speaking series.

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