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Wednesday, August 11, 2004

I Didn't Hate It
I’ve never seen worse reviews for an important director’s movie than Spike Lee got for She Hate Me.* (Slate’s “Summary Judgment” rounded them up here. An example: Entertainment Weekly called it "racist, homophobic, utterly fake, and unbearably tedious.")

I saw it last night, and while there’s no doubt it is deeply, deeply flawed, I certainly didn't hate it. First, the movie’s problems: At two hours 20 minutes, it’s at least 50 minutes too long. There are about eight big themes, which is about six more than it needed and could handle. Similarly, there are WAY too many characters (just because you can get big stars to do cameos, it doesn’t mean you should). Some of the acting was atrocious (Woody Harrelson should be banned from movies on the basis of this performance). The political content was laughably lame and tin-eared (though, predictably, it was very well-received by the Seattle audience). And, I swear, I would’ve walked out if they’d inserted one more absolutely unnecessary explanatory clause along the lines of (NOT verbatim; the real thing was even worse) “Watergate, a break-in that revealed massive corruption at the very highest levels of government and brought down a president” or “The XFL, that lame-ass fake National Football League rip-off.”

The highlight was very definitely Kerry Washington, who played the “she” of She Hate Me: the main protagonist’s former girlfriend, now a lesbian who brings him some serious cash by introducing him to 18 rich, successful, and mostly glamorous Sapphists who want his sperm for $10,000 a sex act. It’s a ridiculous role, but she manages to turn a character written as a two-dimensional ball-buster into a sympathetic, loving person we’d all be overjoyed to spend the rest of our lives with. For a young actor, she’s done some amazingly good work, apparently under the radar. She was the lead in the underappreciated movie Lift (which also starred SHM actor Lonette McKee, who doesn’t seem to get much work even though she’s always wonderful). She was also outstanding in The Human Stain, where for my money she outshone Nicole Kidman and Sir Anthony Hopkins, which is no small feat. (She was also excellent in the very hot girl-on-girl action in She Hate Me.)

Spike Lee does something intangible very well. Even when I dislike the characters, the setting, and the plot, I almost always end up being emotionally overwhelmed by his films. For all its many faults, that was definitely the case with She Hate Me, and it counts for a lot.

*OK, Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut got even bigger pans, but c’mon, it deserved them.