Thursday, January 24, 2013

Meta-Review: The Review Must Go On

This is as good a time as any to admit that I am fan of the webshow channel/ review site This site was probably most famous for creator Doug Walker's beloved character, the Nostalgia Critic. Over the years, people watched the character evolve from a gleeful, psychopathic man-child who ripped apart bad movies, generally children's films, to a character who's obsession with  films and popular culture masked deep reserves of self-loathing.  Last year, citing a desire to do something new, Walker "killed"  (it's complicated) off the Critic at the end of That Guy with the Glasses and began a new show called "Demo Reel".

However, this week, Walker revealed that he was ending "Demo Reel" after a handful of episodes and bringing the Critic back in a shot film entitled "The Review Most Go On." I have to say, that Walker sets out to tell a narrative story he manages to do it surprisingly well. Despite the lack of Hollywood-level talent or production values, his films somehow manage to be more satisfying then a lot of the stuff that winds up the theaters.

The story starts off in the world of Walker's  show "Demo Reel." There, the show's central character, Donny DuPre, (played by Walker), watches helplessly  as the other members of the "Demo Reel" cast begin to vanish one by one. What's more once they vanish, Donny is the only person who remembers that they existed in the first place. (Yes, this was the plot of an episode of the Twilight Zone and yes, this is intentional. Movie  and television references are kind of Walker's trademark).

And then things takes a turn into left field. Just when Donny's story about to reach a climax, the film cuts to Doug Walker (played by Doug Walker) writing the script for the film we have just seen. The focus of the story then shifts to Walker's debate over whether or not to revive the Nostalgia Critic. This debate takes physical form when the Critic (played by Christoph Waltz-- oh, all right, it's Doug Walker again) appearing to Walker, urging him to revive the show.

I must admit that I am not convinced by the  reasons Walker ultimately give for the Critic's return. The reasons he give might all be valid but I think the decision came down to economic realities rather then any artistic vision. From my understanding of the situation, "Demo Reel" just was not as popular as the Nostalgia Critic which is important when the show sole source of income is advertising from page view. Furthermore, "Demo Reel" was shot in a studio and had a larger cast of actors who were presumably expected to be paid for their work. Meanwhile, an average episode of The Nostalgia Critic was shot in Walker's home and often featured no actor aside from Walker. This leads me to believe that "Demo Reel" simply did not generate enough money to justify its continued existence and Walker is returning to his original character.

However, in my opinion, this actually works to the film's advantage. In the film,  it's not so much that Walker is trying to convince the audience that the Critic's return is for artistic so much as he is trying to convince himself. This puts an interesting meta-narrative to the film which is not so much a triumphant return of the Critic so much as Walker dealing with the fact that he is going to be stuck playing the Critic for the foreseeable future.

SPOILER ALERT! To me the film's most powerful moment is not when the Critic returns but when the film admits that the main character of "Demo Reel" is (in more ways then one) a retread of the Critic. That's what really makes the movie for me. It's an artist doing one of the hardest things in life for everyone, admitting failure. That alone makes this film, whether or not you disagree with this review, worthy of respect.

NOTE: While you could probably watch this movie and get the gist of it,  the ending especially requires some knowledge of previous Nostalgia Critic episodes to be fully understood.

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