For snobby liberal film critics, few match A.O. Scott of The New York Times. I remember giggling at this puff on PBS for a George Clooney message movie: "I liked 'Syriana.' I thought it was very hard to follow in a way that I found very engaging and bracing. I felt like the arguments it was making and the connections it was making were very interesting."
So it’s no shock that Scott would slam the new pro-life movie “Gimme Shelter” on Friday as “a crude, earnest parable that uses some of the techniques of indie filmmaking to deliver a culturally conservative message.” Then he slammed it as ideologically ferocious:
In a Newark hospital, she meets a priest played by James Earl Jones. He arranges for her to live in a shelter for pregnant teenagers run by Kathy DiFiore (Ann Dowd), a warm no-nonsense woman who lives surround by her charges and by signs of her religious and political commitments. There are banners with Bible verses on them, pictures of Kathy with Ronald Reagan and Mother Teresa [horrors!], and a bumper sticker that reads "Chastity Is a Lifestyle."
In its eagerness to proclaim her goodness and the transformative effect she has on Apple [Vanessa Hudgens], “Gimme Shelter” shifts from strident melodrama to vague, fuzzy warmth. At times, its ideological ferocity is almost comical, as when Apple’s mother declares (more than once) that she should have the baby so they can receive more welfare money. By the time her infant is born, Apple has let her hair grow out again and traded her androgynous street wear for dresses and cardigans. The piercings on her face are closing up, and her guarded, angry manner has softened, allowing an occasional smile and tear.
But the internal change she has undergone is not credibly conveyed, and the film is more of a pageant than a convincing drama. It’s so determined to deliver its moral that it loses its grip on the reality of its characters.
Notice that the Times critic can't stand a film that might suggest it's only an ideologue who would portray a drug-addict mosubsisting on welfare payments. Even if it's a reality, putting it on screen makes you a ferocious ideologue. Scott has to go there because there's no abortionist or abortion-advocate villain in this movie.
Washington Post film critic Michael O’Sullivan didn’t sprout fangs like Scott. He focused on the lead actress, Vanessa Hudgens: “As with her bad-girl performance in last year’s campy, cult-y “Spring Breakers” — which garnered more critical praise than viewers, but also a few outright pans, including mine — it’s unclear whether middle America is ready to embrace this newly serious actress. That’s a shame, because she’s quite good.”
O’Sullivan wrote the film “has a strong antiabortion message but mostly avoids religiosity. That doesn’t mean it’s areligious. James Earl Jones plays a kindly Roman Catholic priest who leads Apple to the shelter. At one point the camera zooms in, significantly, on a book, lingering on the words 'Holy Bible.' It isn’t especially polemic.”
Inside the Friday edition of the Times, the "Gimme Shelter" slam is right across the fold from a huge ad for "Philomena," which any conservative critic can certainly slam for crude evil-nun stereotyping and ferocious ideology.
For a conservative's take on "Syriana," by the way, see JamesBowman.net.