Two weeks ago, Brent Bozell and I noted The Washington Post failed to offer a review of the pro-life movie Unplanned -- except for a "Common Sense Media" review for parents. It was pointed out to me that last Friday, Post chief movie critic Ann Hornaday reported that Pure Flix, the movie's producers, did not provide a review copy and did not invite the Post to an advance screening in New York:
The Post didn’t get a chance to see Unplanned in time for a staffer or freelancer to file a review before it arrived in theaters. In most cases, studios or publicists reach out to us a few weeks in advance of a film’s opening, offering either in-person screenings or computer links. In the case of Unplanned, we received no such correspondence. Indeed, we considered ourselves lucky that we at least had the benefit of the Common Sense Media review — even if it focused mostly on the content of the film, rather than its formal strengths and weaknesses.
After hearing from more disappointed readers, I contacted the distributor of Unplanned and was put in touch with the film’s public relations consultant, Alfred Hopton, who explained that he conducted screenings in New York and Los Angeles, where he made the film available to members of critics’ associations in those cities....No one at The Post received notice that Unplanned was available for advance consideration, even by link.
This is a worthy point. There is an obvious rejoinder: why not buy a ticket for the Friday debut and review it on Saturday? In fact, the Post has failed to file any movie review in the three weeks since the debut. Washington Post Writers Group columnist Marc Thiessen praised the film, so that was on the Post website. But the movie critics were silent.
Hornaday noted that cultivating a conservative and/or religious audience can benefit from being overlooked by the media. The headline in the paper was "Did faith-based film find salvation in grievances?" She insisted the grievances were someone false:
This kind of smart grass-roots outreach is what can make films like Unplanned big hits, with or without traditional reviews (it worked for God’s Not Dead as well). And such a shrewd and responsive marketing achievement should be celebrated or a least grudgingly admired — but not twisted into a false notion of victimhood. It’s difficult to imagine that the rollout of “Unplanned” hasn’t gone even better than its makers originally planned. If anything, they deserve kudos for identifying and activating an enthusiastic audience within a hypercompetitive marketplace.
But the idea that the film has been unfairly treated by critics is less a function of biased media or our increasingly bellicose culture wars than good old-fashioned ballyhoo.
"Ballyhoo"? Not from the media. A peek at Metacritic.com counts only six reviews of the film, and only two from newspapers. The Los Angeles Times filed one on April 10. The overall score of the critics was 14 out of 100, or "Overwhelming dislike." Users on the site overwhelmingly liked the film -- 166 positive, and 31 negative.
One could argue that a pro-life movie can claim "victimhood" whether it's ignored or savaged by reviewers. But it remains obvious that a movie in over 1,500 theaters nationwide went unreviewed while smaller art-house films were evaluated.