by Byron BixlerHeckler is probably the worst documentary I’ve ever seen. Unfocused, one-sided and almost completely lacking in genuine insight, the film is misleading in both its title and premise and fails to adequately confront any of its topics.
The first 20 minutes or so are — appropriately enough — about hecklers, their effect on the comedian, and the comedian’s methods of dealing with these rude interrupters. From there, it takes a sharp left turn into the Jamie Kennedy self-pity hour. Now, personally, I can’t say that I have much of an opinion on Kennedy, as my only familiarity with him is through his appearance in the game ESPN NFL 2K5. I haven’t seen any of his films or watched any of his stand-up. That being said, he doesn’t come off well here.
After the short bit on heckling (which one would think would be the subject of a film called Heckler) it becomes one celebrity talking head after another ripping apart all those meanies out there who insensitively criticize their work. The talking heads are interspersed with scenes of Kennedy sitting down with a fellow comedian or filmmaker and reading them excerpts of their nastiest reviews while the listener sits uncomfortably, eventually reaching the basic conclusion of, “Yeah, that isn’t very nice. You’ve gotta have a thick skin. They’re just looking to bring you down, etc.” When he isn’t crying on a sympathetic shoulder, Kennedy is sitting down with a critic of his own work, reading their harsh reviews and then asking why they said those things, usually with Kennedy eventually belittling the critic (asking one when the last time he had sex was and asking another if he likes Star Trek and lives at Comic-Con). It’s all rather pathetic. When the film ends up glorifying Uwe Boll’s beating the snot out of his critics in a boxing ring, you get the full picture.
A heckler is not the same thing as a critic. Many of the excerpts Kennedy brings up clearly cross the line and become personal and unnecessarily vicious, but those don’t characterize what film, music or other criticism have to offer and it’s hard to empathize with someone who is just as childish in their response to nasty criticism as some critics are in their reaction to someone’s work. At the end of the film, Kennedy acknowledges his whining about the issue and says that through the “journey” of making this film, he’s become a better person… right before dumping a heap of his negative reviews on the ground, pouring on lighter fluid and sending them up in flames (Because that response shows such growth in maturity, doesn’t it?).
Heckler fails to meaningfully question and explore the relationship between the entertainer and the audience, neglects the background and viewpoint of the critic, and chucks potentially insightful questions away, favoring simplistic generalizations. Yes, there are limits to criticism and room for common decency, but dehumanizing the entirety of the offending group due to the sharp tongues of a few and throwing a pity party for the offended is not the way to address this.
I try to be fair in my reviews. Honest, but fair. I wish no harm upon actors who aggravate me or directors who make films I dislike. I don’t attack your appearance or threaten your life. I don’t write reviews for attention, I write them because I enjoy it and find the process mentally stimulating. And if doing this can open the door to discussion with others about a medium I love, then I’ll be satisfied. If I write a bad review, you can call me on it. If entertainers mess up or deliver a poor product, are we unjustified in calling them on it? One of the arguments in the film can be summed up as “You’re not in the business, you haven’t made a movie — what do you know?” What do we know? Seeing hundreds or thousands of films and studying them closely isn’t enough to justify any vocalized displeasure? That’s where this difference between hecklers and critics comes in. Both have opinions. Both voice them and both can hurt your feelings. However, one does not set out to disrupt. One doesn’t always attack the subject, and one doesn’t make the decision to vocalize unhappiness for strictly self-pleasing reasons. Coincidentally, self-pleasing is exactly what Heckler, in all its biased, shallow, uninformative glory, is.