Today is the six-month anniversary of the death of film critic Roger Ebert. To mark the occasion, RogerEbert.com is hosting a series of tributes; Roger’s wife Chaz introduces the collection, which includes staff picks of favorite Roger Ebert articles (here’s editor-in-chief Matt Zoller Seitz on Roger’s review of Stormy Monday), a short history of Siskel & Ebert, and perhaps most surprisingly, an essay by Rob Schneider, who was the target of one of Roger’s funniest and meanest reviews, for Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo.
The background for the review: Schneider and Los Angeles Times columnist Patrick Goldstein got into a bit of a feud over European Gigalow; Goldstein slammed it as an example of everything wrong with modern movies (sight unseen); Schneider retaliated by taking out full-page ads in the Hollywood trades slamming him right back and joking that it was unfair to mock him (Schneider) for not winning an Oscar since he (Goldstein) had never won a Pulitzer. And that was where Ebert hilariously inserted himself into the feud:
“Schneider is correct, and Patrick Goldstein has not yet won a Pulitzer Prize. Therefore, Goldstein is not qualified to complain that Columbia financed Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo while passing on the opportunity to participate in Million Dollar Baby, Ray, The Aviator, Sideways and Finding Neverland. As chance would have it, I have won the Pulitzer Prize, and so I am qualified. Speaking in my official capacity as a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks.”
The review became the stuff of legend—Ebert even named a collection of pans after the last line—but Schneider didn’t hold a grudge. When Ebert got sick and was in the hospital, he sent a bouquet of flowers and a note of support. So Chaz Ebert asked Schneider to write something for RogerEbert.com for this occasion, and he was gracious enough to do so.
It’s actually a very personal and candid letter. Among the more revealing portions: Schneider concedes that, yeah, maybe Deuce Bigalow: European Gigalow wasn’t very good, and talks a little about his real feelings about it:
“As Roger once said, ‘Nobody starts out to make a bad movie!’ But it happens. I think every movie is difficult to make but a sequel even more so. The movie I made just ended up being a series of jokes that really didn't hold up as a story or a movie frankly and I have to live with that. Sometimes a movie actor falls for the studio notion of ‘Well, YOU can make it funny!’ And the next thing you know you are standing in the middle of the street in Amsterdam with a bunch of male gigolos trying to figure out how the hell you got into this mess! Mr. Ebert’s review was mean but fair. Truthfully, it was not a good picture.”
Schneider also talks about his beliefs as a Zen Buddhist and why, even though he was “sore” about the “Your movie sucks!” review and the eventual book, he still cared enough about Ebert to send that gift and that note while he was sick in the hospital.
In a world where the instinctive reaction to almost every piece of writing on the Internet, positive or negative, is to lash out at the author with cruel, anyonmous comments, it is nice to see someone take ownership of something they made that wasn’t so great and to be a big enough man to bury the hatchet. It’s worth remembering sometimes that there are more important things in life than negative reviews.