I’m not alone in saying this, as I believe every worthwhile film critic should be a solemn devotee, but Pauline Kael is a personal hero. She elevated film criticism to an art form, rather than just mere commentary, and she did it on her own terms. She was one of the first women to work as a film critic for a major publication, and definitely the first one to write the way she did without much regard as to what readers may think. Especially if those readers were the makers of a film in which she gave a negative review.
Director Rob Garver seems to be one of many Kael enthusiasts that are still out there and for What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael, he was able to find many more to talk about her greatness. Including but not limited to Alec Baldwin, John Boorman, Paul Schrader, Quentin Tarantino, and David O. Russell. There are also a few people who have had something to say about her negative reviews who don’t necessarily love Kael present in the film as well. Which is exactly the way Kael would’ve wanted it, I believe.
“She elevated film criticism to an art form, rather than just mere commentary…”
She was never one to stray away from a fight, championing movies that other critics derided and vice versa. She even got fired from McCall’s for her scathing review of The Sound of Music, which is one of the most beloved films of all time (by most, I’m kind of on board with Kael on this one). After getting fired from McCall’s she worked for The New Republic who changed her copy without her knowledge or consent which resulted in her quitting. Sarah Jessica Parker, who speaks as Kael when reading some of her personal writings or reviews, reads this entirely relatable passage “I quit the magazine in some despair and no idea what to do. I had come to the conclusion that it was just about impossible to make a living as a movie critic.” Oh My God, Pauline/Sarah can you please say that again louder this time for the people in the back? But, I digress.
What She Said is presented as a series of Kael’s writings read aloud, interspersed with interviews from many of the people in her life including her daughter Gina James and countless writers. Some of whom were referred to as “Paul-ettes” because she got them jobs and told them which films she was championing in hopes that they would as well. Paul Schrader was one of them and it’s safe to make the connection that if Schrader wasn’t a Paul-ette, he may have never written his first screenplay or became a director in the time or fashion in which he did.