The enthusiasm with which this movie was received shouldn’t have surprised me; what did though was how reliable skeptics like Stephanie Zacharek and A.O. Scott willfully chose to forget the candy apple liberal sentiments that it espouses. In the first third, writer-director Thomas McCarthy (who played the Jayson Blair wannabe in “The Wire”‘s last season) and lead Richard Jenkins (of “Six Feet Under”) remind us of their background in the Corduroy Elbow Pad School of Television Realism, whose values force you to project to thirty million people as if you were John Barrymore at the Old Vic: every miserable thing about depressive Jenkins’ life is pinned down with plastic scissors. When he learns to play African drum in time, or gratefully receives his first Fela Kuti album from illegal alien Haaz Sleiman, it could be Jack Nicholson’s Midwestern loser Schmidt writing letters to his East African pet pal. But the warmth of Sleiman’s performance – his smile defines “infectious” – and some understated writing in the last two-thirds redeem the picture, with big help from Hiam Abbass as Sleiman’s mother. A superb camera subject, Abbass pulls the impossible trick of being at once stoic and sexy. I’m once again frustrated by the writer-director’s decision to concentrate on the wrong character. How much more vivid The Visitor might have been with Abbass at its center – the tragedy of an educated, mildly Westernized Syrian woman who has to live with the fact that she played a role in fucking her son up for life.
Zoolander, fifteen minutes longer. Down-low jokes (including Lance Bass cameo), expected riffs on “the industry,” Tom Cruise “expanding his range,” Ben Stiller constricting his, Robert Downey, Jr. deepening his.