You may have heard that Quentin Tarantino's new interview at Vulture is entertaining, and that's because it is. He discusses “The Hateful Eight,” perceptions about his career and influence, and his opinion of other filmmakers. He's especially keen on David O. Russell. Many Twitter users have said that the Q&A is filled with “truth bombs,” and that's sort of true, but it's also filled with tired old biases disguised as brave stances, and one particular quote caused me to twinge in agitation and boredom.
“I don”t know if we”re going to be talking about The Town or The Kids Are All Right or An Education 20 or 30 years from now. Notes on a Scandal is another one. Philomena. Half of these Cate Blanchett movies – they”re all just like these arty things. I”m not saying they”re bad movies, but I don”t think most of them have a shelf life. But The Fighter or American Hustle – those will be watched in 30 years.”
Earlier in the interview, Tarantino also made the following note comparing “The Town” to “The Fighter.”
“As an example, I really liked The Town, which also came out in 2010. It was a good crime film. However, next to The Fighter, it just couldn”t hold up, because everybody in The Town is beyond gorgeous. Ben Affleck is the one who gets away with it, because his Boston accent is so good. But the crook is absolutely gorgeous. The bank teller is absolutely gorgeous. The FBI guy is absolutely gorgeous. The town whore, Blake Lively, is absolutely gorgeous. Jeremy Renner is the least gorgeous guy, and he”s pretty f*cking good-looking. Then, if you look at The Fighter, and you look at those sisters, they”re just so magnificent. When you see David O. Russell cast those sisters, and you see Ben Affleck cast Blake Lively, you can”t compare the two movies. One just shows how phony the other is.”
First of all, it's weird to discredit “The Town” for casting Blake Lively and then defend “American Hustle,” which cast adorable Jennifer Lawrence in a role that should've gone to a thirtysomething actress. That struck me at the time as pretty phony too.
But back to the top graf: What do “The Kids are All Right,” “Philomena,” “An Education,” “Notes on a Scandal” and — I guess — the entire oeuvre of Cate Blanchett have in common? “Artiness,” he says? I disagree. “Philomena” is a straightforward narrative. “An Education” is a traditional bildungsroman. “The Kids are All Right” is a relatable family drama in the vein of James L. Brooks' best work. “Notes on a Scandal” is a melodrama with outsize comic flourishes. These films have nothing in common except that they're unassuming movies compared to more violent, salacious fare. Oh, and they also star women in complex, emotional roles that have nothing to do with literally kicking someone's ass. No wonder Tarantino thinks they have no shelf life; they're just too wimpy.
For what it's worth, I like all of the movies he listed in that first quote better than “American Hustle,” and it's precisely because they actually present something to talk about. What can be said about “American Hustle”? It's glossy? It's hard to follow? The makeout between Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams makes little sense? The soundtrack is a random sampling of a Baby Boomer's iPod? “Philomena,” “The Kids are All Right,” and “An Education” provide insight about the sorts of realistic, conflicted characters — i.e. women with inner lives — we rarely see in movies. “The Fighter” and “American Hustle” are well-acted, high-octane cartoons. Well-acted cartoons are fun, but it's disingenuous to pretend they're socially provocative. If you don't find “The Kids are All Right” worth discussing, you probably aren't discussing those types of characters in the first place. And whose fault is that? Lisa Cholodenko's? Doubt it. I wish Tarantino also named some female-led dramas that he thinks will stand the test of time. Calling Jennifer Lawrence “a little Bette Davis” (an odd metaphor considering Lawrence's characters are often whimsically weird while Bette Davis' were downright pugnacious) doesn't exactly suffice.
I look forward to “The Hateful Eight.” I also look forward to the great Jennifer Jason Leigh getting a chance to pick up her first Oscar nomination, but I won't be surprised if Tarantino considers that kind of award-ready role too “arty” for the sort of narrative he tends to favor. For a director who has praised actors like Pam Grier and Sue Shiomi as two of his favorite movie protagonists, he'd do well to remember that the concept of a “kickass female character” doesn't have to be literal.