Manohla Dargis, Ever the Contrarian, Is About the Only One Who Likes ‘The Happening’

Photo: Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

So, we now totally love Manohla Dargis. The Butcher of Beverly Hills*, the New York Times' L.A.-based hatchet woman, is justifiably resented by studios for the angry, agitating reviews she writes of their pieces of crap. And now — as if to cement her position as the critical world's biggest contrarian — she's given a positive review to the one movie that pretty much everyone had already agreed was terrible, M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening. (She's not the only one — Roger Ebert also liked it.) Her piece definitely feels like an "It's not as bad as you think" review rather than an "It's legitimately good" review, though; in fact, it's kind of illuminating to point out all the really terrible things she says about the movie in a review that's theoretically pegged as a positive one:

• She describes Shyamalan's filmmaking as full of "manufactured sincerity and cornball messages."

• "Mr. Shyamalan’s words consistently fail him, as they have in the past."

• She describes Zooey Deschanel as "oddly miscast" and "loony-looking" and says her scenes with Wahlberg are "witless marital shtick."

• "Mr. Shyamalan’s bag of tricks is awfully familiar — the camera races forward, the characters stand locked in place, a child’s empty swing sways in the wind, eyes widen, mouths gape."

• "It’s a shame he doesn’t know what to do with [his premise] other than mow people down."

The final verdict is best summed up in this shrug of praise: "There is, after all, real pleasure to be had from watching a magician pull even a mangy rabbit out of a battered top hat." And for that, Metacritic gave this review a 70! We guess The Happening really does defeat the laws of math.

• "Something is happening, all right, but Mr. Shyamalan, who certainly appears to enjoy playing God, doesn’t seem to care much."

The final verdict is best summed up in this shrug of praise: "There is, after all, real pleasure to be had from watching a magician pull even a mangy rabbit out of a battered top hat." And for that, Metacritic gave this review a 70! We guess The Happening really does defeat the laws of math.

Something Lethal Lurks in the Rustling Trees [NYT]

*Note: We are pretty sure Manohla Dargis doesn't live in Beverly Hills. We just needed an L.A. neighborhood that started with B.