How do you write about “Heckler”? If you trash it, aren’t you just like the people they’re complaining about? If you praise it, aren’t you just trying to not be like the people they’re complaining about? “Heckler” falls into the category of being “critic-proof” in that regard, because anything written about the film could easily be summarily dismissed by points A and B above, you know, if the creators or audiences feel like doing so. Does this mean it can’t be critiqued? No, but it means this is a Hell of a lot harder than you’d imagine it should be.
“Heckler” is a documentary by director Michael Addis, though the man who will get most of the attention when the film is discussed is going to be actor Jamie Kennedy. The film utilizes Kennedy as a kicking post, and it is his experiences in stand-up comedy and his position as the object of critical ridicule due to some of his lesser film projects (most notably “Son of the Mask”) that allows him to be the glue holding the film together as he confronts those that heckle and work as critics. Beyond Kennedy’s bits throughout the film, we also get to see some classic stand-up meltdowns (Michael Richards, anyone) and we get numerous anecdotes and opinions from actors, comedians, artists, musicians and even the occasional heckler or critic.
First off, the movie is extremely entertaining. Having a bunch of comedians bitch about hecklers is hilarious when you get to hear their anecdotes and see the way they cope with the public nuisances. Even seeing Kennedy confront reviewers of his films by reading their own words is fun as, for as many instances where the reviews could be considered unprofessional or aimed more at the person than the piece, they are also quite funny (as are Kennedy’s reactions to the reviews).
I do have an issue with the overall thesis equating the loud, public place performance heckler with the current state of professional criticism. While I do see the parallels to a certain degree, I also think it is very large stretch to connect the two on equal ground. I also would’ve preferred a few more insightful responses from online critics worth their salt than the few chosen, it seemed, to embody that “live in the parent’s basement, no sex, jealous at the world” stereotype that, while I won’t say doesn’t exist, is like none of the many reviewers I know. That said, not all the examples of critics and criticism are poor ones, and Devin Faraci from Chud.com is even given a very well-thought out, and competently expressed, coda to the entire film which I really appreciated.
As far as documentaries go, this is less of an overall “everyone has their say” and more of a one-sided affair, but understandably so. Where the film succeeds is that it starts a larger conversation about criticism in all its forms from primarily the perspective of those being criticized, and allows for the audience to have that conversation amongst themselves. Had the film presented the full debate, contrasting good and poor criticism with the perspectives and points of the artists, it’d definitely be a more leveled academic affair, but likely not a very entertaining one (because even though I and many that saw the film have spent the past few days passionately talking nonstop about the opinions expressed in the film, I don’t necessarily think our conversations have been something worth seeing on a big screen). I guess I just viewed this as an opportunity to see the other side of the debate, when folks see the critical side every time they read a review.
In the end, is this movie worth seeing? Yes. Will you agree with everything said onscreen? Probably not, but who knows? The point is, you can’t necessarily judge a documentary based on the opinions the people being interviewed expressed (you can critique the director’s choices regarding which statements to include, however) and I don’t think a review of the film as a whole is the place to argue the individual opinions of the many, many participants (as I’ve said to many friends, “Heckler” inspires both a review and a blog entry, and the latter will be a much longer affair). To that point, I will end with this: “Heckler” is funny and entertaining, and regardless of whether you agree or disagree with what is said, the film inspires conversations long after its running time is through, which is a lot more than can be said of most films.