Bart & Fleming: On PC Apologies, O&A, Kim Jong-Un, And Melissa McCarthy

Peter Bart and Mike Fleming Jr. worked together for two decades at Daily Variety. In this weekly Sunday column, two old friends get together and grind their axes on the movie business.

Bart: Has there ever been a moment when there were more mixed messages out there about political correctness? Films like Tammy or 22 Jump Street all but burst with in-correctitude, yet the moment a celebrity or politician utters anything remotely off-color, the cadre of ‘crisis managers’ materializes with their ritual apologies. I don’t need Pharrell Williams’ ‘regrets.’ Permanently pre-pubescent Justin Bieber spends more time apologizing than performing. There’s even a new book out titled Sorry About That, recounting history’s most infamous apologies. My favorite is South Carolina congressman Mark Sanford’s eloquent statement when his adultery became public — “an affair that which has caused the stir that it has.”

AnthonyFleming: I found myself on the business end of a Deadline comment cadre when I suggested restraint on the summary firing of radio host Anthony Cumia for his nasty, sexist and borderline racist Twitter comments. I believe in second chances. To me, Cumia’s angry outburst was worth a suspension at most. Like Gary Oldman and Jonah Hill, each of whom fell on their swords a few weeks ago, Cumia did not commit a crime. Despite that, the PC knee-jerk instinct is to string people up quickly. A slippery slope. What a dull world this will be if people are terrified of saying anything remotely provocative.

Bart: If SiriusXM is getting jittery about its vast maze of radio talkers, where will it draw the line? It has donated a complete channel to the porn practitioners of Vivid Media — from the intellectual level of their on-air remarks, it’s clear their mouths are normally used for something other than talking. Another channel belongs to Dr. Laura Schlessinger, the Tea Party’s favorite on-air advice giver who finally gave up gay bashing but now accuses the Girl Scouts of being a propaganda agency for contraception and women’s rights. Anything goes at SiriusXM — until it gets media attention.

Fleming: In one paragraph, you combined fellatio, the Girl Scouts, gay bashing, the Tea Party, contraception and Laura Schlessinger. You might have the PC police knocking on your door by lunch time. Your SiriusXM comment made me recall when Chris Russo was half of the top-rated afternoon drive-time radio team in New York. He left WFAN for a Sirius deal and it was like he went into witness protection, never to be heard from again. Same happened with Cumia and his radio partner Opie. Only Howard Stern maintained public awareness, helped by his current tenure as vaudeville act judge on America’s Got Talent. You’d think Sirius would want its talent to say as many provocative things as possible, to let the public know they are alive.

Bart: In the face of all this, I am proud of James Franco and Seth Rogen for their non-apology to Kim Jong-Un. Their satiric scenes about the North Korean nut case were denounced as a “blatant act of terrorism” by that country’s’ foreign embassy. Franco and Rogen parodied North Korean propaganda that claimed, among other things, that Kim smokes missile-sized joints and that neither Kim nor his top leaders ever defecate. Their film, The Interview, will be released in October, but not in North Korea.

Fleming: At least Kim did not target those actors with one of those Fatwas that sent Salman Rushdie into hiding. You mentioned Melissa McCarthy‘s film Tammy. Let’s switch gears and spend a moment on that. Though McCarthy is the most talented physical comedienne I have ever seen, Tammy concerned me, and not just because it is mediocre at best. This was a movie directed by her husband Ben Falcone, one they wrote together. I cannot imagine it possible they could have made Tammy less attractive than she appears in this film, particularly at the start when she looks like she tumbled out of a low-rent trailer park. Does her husband hate her? You can see critics and writers struggling to figure out a PC-acceptable way to describe her without being insulting.

Bart: The reaction to Tammy should be instructive for Melissa McCarthy on a couple of counts. One lesson: Never do a comedy directed by your husband. Julie Andrews learned that when she made Darling Lili, the famous 1967 flop directed by husband Blake Edwards (though Melissa’s husband should study Edwards’ better movies). Second, don’t get caught up in over-hype. Melissa adorned the cover of every magazine in America prior to Tammy‘s opening. Journalists raved about the movie even before they saw it (they soon changed their minds). Neal Gabler, the respected film historian, wrote “She may be Hollywood’s biggest female star and may also be the most revolutionary since Barbra Streisand.” If I were Streisand I’d unleash a few f-bombs at Gabler.

Fleming: Boy, did Edwards do the elegant Julie Andrews no favors when he had Mrs. Von Trapp and Mary Poppins doff her top in his film S.O.B. Did Andrews and McCarthy piss off their filmmaker husbands the days some of these unwise scenes were shot? One serious thought about McCarthy: Hollywood tried forever to remake the brilliant British miniseries Prime Suspect, but could never find the formula. Helen Mirren shone as Inspector Jane Tennison, subtly using her smarts to overcome workplace sexism and alcoholism. She solved crimes and earned respect and authority in most believable ways. How about McCarthy in the remake? Each of her movies introduces her in an increasingly unflattering visage, until her true self shows through. Then, she shines like a new penny, and we get a glimpse of how good an actress she really is. Imagine her as Tennison, overcoming disrespectful underlings who marginalize her appearance and gender. Did we just find Melissa her Oscar role? I’d rather see her in that than another formulaic comedy that will stereotype her if she is not careful.

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