Swell Fella

I recently horrified Deeky by saying I sorta fancy Justin Long. Cute, I said, but mostly strikes me as a nice guy. Rightfully, Deeks nonetheless protested with evidence like those atrocious Mac commercials and Exhibits A-L (at least) He's Just Not That Into You. And I totally know. The closest thing to a movie I've liked that he's been in is probably The Sasquatch Gang (oy). But I find him diggable anyway.

And seemingly, it turns out, deservedly so.

His last film, Going the Distance, was not well-received (I didn't see it), and one reviewer, Michelle Orange, not only savaged it, but included in her review a nasty comment about Long's appearance: "How a milky, affectless mook with half-formed features and a first day of kindergarten haircut might punch several classes above his weight is a mystery, as my colleague pointed out in her review of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, we are increasingly asked to accept on screen."


Long happened to see Orange's review, and recited, from memory, the scathing line on Jimmy Fallon's show, calling it, with begrudging admiration, "so bad it set the bar […] for insults."

Orange, who says she had regretted publishing the line almost immediately, later wrote this self-reflective essay about criticism generally and her role in it, in which she recounts the incident and her remorse over it. The piece ends thus:
[T]he task-oriented, deeply professional part of me is fulfilled by nailing my response to a film or book to the table. In the moment I feel no compunction about anything but getting it right, which is its own satisfaction. The second part is finite and expendable, I am finding, while the first will go only when I do.

Am I a critic? Certainty #1: I am a writer who needs to make a living and is allergic to half-assing, which means if I have to write about your bad movie, you better duck and cover. Certainty #2: I worry more about what I do than how I do it. I don't know if I'm really that busted up about hurting an actor's feelings, although, as my colleague Stephanie Zacharek pointed out when I whinged to her about the incident, it can be helpful to remember that they have them.

Before he recited from memory the very sentence that I dithered and fretted over as an example of the way he internalizes negative criticism, Justin Long set the stage: "I actually kind of appreciate this woman—Michelle Orange, wherever you are, at Movieline. I remember it. I remember the quote, and this is word for word."

I mean, I remember it too, Justin. I do.
The fifth comment in response to the piece is from none other than Justin Long, who leaves what is, as described here by Jenna, "what must be the kindest, humblest comment in an Internet fight, ever."
Michelle, since stumbling onto your article during a narcissistic and regrettable search, I've been following and really enjoying your articles (and not to worry, not only the film-oriented ones – I now know better than to categorize you that way). Of course it's difficult to read hurtful things about yourself (though my skin is getting thicker by the movie), it makes it a lot easier when the article is so eloquently composed and genuinely insightful.

And there's also considerable truth in what [previous commenters] wrote (again, as damaging to the ego as it may be) – I did choose to put myself in that position, therefore relinquishing any immunity to attack – whether it's about my acting or my face. I brought it up on Jimmy's show because I thought it was somewhat amusing just HOW harsh it was (again, in a very well-articulated way) – and I meant what I said, it really did set the bar. I've heard a lot of negative things about myself over the years but rarely are they said with such a thoughtful and insightful tongue. Now I'll be able to withstand more slings and arrows thanks to the armor of humility you've forged for me. Please know too, I'm in no way being sarcastic – the fact that I read this piece should be testament to that.

Michelle, I never in my wildest dreams thought I'd get to be in one movie, let alone several over the course of the last ten years – never had any delusions of grandeur. I always wanted to be a theatre actor like my mom, always assuming the movie roles were relegated to the good looking people. Which is not to say my Mom's not good looking – she's beautiful (though clearly it's all subjective – you are not a fan of our gene pool so you might not agree) – she just had kids and never got that "lucky break". Then I started idolizing guys like Dustin Hoffman, Gene Hackman, Sam Rockwell, Woody Allen, and Philip Seymour Hoffman – I found myself relating (I hope you're not wincing at my use of that word now) to them and formulating some wild fantasy of one day pursuing a career in movie acting – if guys that looked like that could do it, I thought, maybe this milky mook could role the dice.

So while there's no defense for my performance in the movie (everyone is obviously entitled to their opinion), I have to say, I'm surprised by the amount of stock you seem to invest in my looks. I absolutely agree with you too, I'd be hard-pressed to hold a candle to even a fraction of Drew's beauty – in my humble opinion, she's the most beautiful girl in the world. Is that a message you want to proliferate though? That people of higher aesthetic echelons should stick to their own? Maybe you're frustrated because it so rarely works the other way – I don't remember the last time I was asked to accept a female romantic lead who was "punching above her weight class" – though it does happen (I just don't want to name names at the risk of offending – I leave that to the experts). I suppose if it were more commonplace though you, as a woman, wouldn't be so offended and might have taken it a bit easier in pointing out the disparity of our looks in "going the distance".

Regardless, I really meant what I said about your writing – I love film too and I love reading about it – so keep up the good work and I'll try to pick better projects (though I did love filming that one) but short of some reconstructive surgery, unfortunately there's nothing I can do about my mug (blame god and/or my parents on that one). Take care and hopefully one day our paths will cross so I can compliment you in person. Until then, best wishes and be proud and confident in your role as a film critic – you're a damn good one.
-Justin Long

ps I swear to god it's me and I swear (as emphatically) that I'm not being sarcastic.
There's a lot I love about that comment, and only one thing with which I disagree: I don't believe people who choose a career in entertainment (or any other public career, for that matter) "relinquish their immunity to attack" at the door. Certainly criticism is part of the deal, but there is a not remotely difficult to distinguish difference between criticism and attack; that line, and crossing it, is what this entire incident is about, really. No one should be expected to bear the burden of unfair and unjustifiable personal attacks as "just part of the job," no matter how fat their paychecks or vast their privileges.

I understand why Long argued otherwise, however. We expect as evidence of humility submission to the idea that celebrities exchange privacy and dignity and basic kindness for fame and fortune. With adoration comes excoriation, and, if you don't like it, no one's making you be a star, we sneer.

Well. That's one way of looking at it. But I've never quite understood why we want to impose such a heavy emotional burden on people we admire or whose work we enjoy (or even on unpleasant people whose celebrity is a downright mystery, for that matter). Expecting people to weather a constant onslaught of personal attacks, as if money or popularity insulate them from emotional damage, is to expect of them a superhumanness that robs them of their real humanity.

Justin Long, you have a right not to be attacked. And not that it really matters what the fuck my opinion (or any other stranger's) is of your appearance, but in the interest of balance, I think you're adorable.

And I hope you make a movie I really want to see the fuck out of someday.

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus