We Give Thanks for 2022, the Year of Colin Farrell

In Slate’s annual Movie Club, film critic Dana Stevens emails with fellow critics—for 2022, Bilge Ebiri, Beatrice Loayza, and David Sims—about the year in cinema. Read the first entry here.

How do you do, fellow kids,

David, your expert breakdown of Barbarian reminded me of just how many movies we got this year about parenting, including some of 2022’s most acclaimed titles: Saint Omer, Everything Everywhere All at Once, Aftersun, Murina. The “Mother” in Barbarian might be the film’s monster, but she’s also, as you write, a “straightforwardly sympathetic creation, someone whose need to nurture has been irreversibly warped by forces beyond her control.” I daresay, that’s perhaps a more sympathetic portrait of parenting than the one we get in Laura Poitras’ excellent All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, whose primary subject is the artist Nan Goldin’s career and her activism against the Sackler family, but whose secret subject turns out to be the ghastly treatment of Goldin’s sister by her parents many years ago.

A lot of filmmakers, like many artists—like many humans!—are burdened with tons of parental baggage, and it can be fascinating to watch them work it out. Dana, you talked earlier about The Fabelmans as a movie about “the making of a master manipulator.” That was probably my favorite part of the picture. But his personal emotional excavation left me a little cold. I’ve written in the past about how the first half of Steven Spielberg’s career is all about being a child (even when the characters are, technically speaking, adults) and that the second half (from about halfway through Hook onwards) is all about being a parent. Now Spielberg is back to making a movie from the perspective of a child, but I couldn’t help feel that the movie wanted to be from the perspective of the parents. (This, by the way, is why Catch Me If You Can is such a masterpiece. It’s ostensibly Leonardo DiCaprio’s movie, but as you watch, it becomes Tom Hanks’ movie.) James Gray’s Armageddon Time, which I liked better, has a similar sensibility, but it feels more purposeful: It portrays the world of 1980 Queens through a young boy’s eyes, but you can sense, in the film’s odd little folds, its strange emphases and elisions, the mind of the older man who made it.

Some of this is obviously just me: When you’re a parent, everything’s about parenting. One of the reasons I liked Darren Aronofsky’s highly-divisive The Whale so much is because I saw in it a movie about the extremes to which a parent will go to see just one glimmer of hope about their child’s future. I thought the parts of She Said about actual reporting were ham-handed and dull, but I found it an inspired decision to also make that a movie about parenting—not just in its portrayal of these women’s ability to keep these personal balls in the air while going about their jobs, but also in the way it raises the question of what kind of world we leave our kids. Meanwhile, Avatar: The Way of Water is all about Jake Sully’s attempts to keep his kids in line, in regimented military fashion, and about how they grow beyond his ability to control them. Those scenes where they’re in the village of the Metkayina reef people, and Jake is anxiously trying to get his kids to be quiet and not embarrass them in front of their hosts? I felt that in my bones. And I could tell that James Cameron did, too.

Oh, and Top Gun: Maverick? Parenting! Maverick as substitute secret father to Rooster, and the way that complicates the way he treats the young man as a soldier. And…

Given all this, I’m kind of shocked that The Banshees of Inisherin was not in any way about parenting—but maybe that’s why it felt so refreshing and unique amid this year’s bounty of family psychodramas. Beatrice, as something of a Colin Farrell scholar myself, I too was excited by his funny and moving performance in Banshees. Farrell had a remarkable year in general. I mean, talk about range. You noted his turn in After Yang (which by the way is also about parenting). Of course, he was also in The Batman, hilarious and unrecognizable as the Penguin. And let’s not forget Ron Howard’s Thirteen Lives, a suspenseful depiction of the notorious 2018 Thai cave rescue. Starring Farrell, Viggo Mortensen, and Joel Edgerton, Howard’s film was an MGM/United Artists production that apparently tested historically well. Then Amazon bought the company, and this wonderful content was given the exciting opportunity to be optimized across all our platforms. (Translation: It got a cursory week in theaters and then went straight to Prime Video, and now it’s basically been wiped off the memory map of the world.)

But back to Our Colin. Beatrice, you said something that reminded me of an incident from earlier this year that I’ve been unable to shake, and it also ties into Nadira’s intriguing interruption about Don’t Worry Darling. You said that at the time Farrell made Phone Booth, he was “a relative unknown.” You’re not wrong. In 2002, when Phone Booth premiered at Toronto, he was still a newcomer. But by the time the movie actually opened in the U.S. in the spring of 2003 (its November 2002 release was delayed due to the D.C. sniper attacks), Colin Farrell had chased Tom Cruise in Minority Report (another Spielberg movie about parenting), had co-starred with Al Pacino in The Recruit (a terrible movie in which Colin Farrell wears a very nice coat), and had stolen the extremely-stealable Daredevil right out from under soon-to-be-newlyweds Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner.

The reason I bring all this up is that Colin Farrell himself does not appear to remember these movies. At the Venice Film Festival this year, at the press conference for Banshees, Farrell was joking around with his co-star Kerry Condon and recalled that they had co-starred in John Crowley’s 2003 film Intermission, and that he had punched her in that movie’s opening scene. “I gave you a right instead of a left,” Farrell giggled. But he also referred to Intermission as “the first film I ever did.” He insisted on this a couple of times, and only after an awkward pause and some stunned stares did he realize his gaffe: Intermission was, in fact, Colin Farrell’s eleventh movie. He then tried to recover, charmingly, by saying, “It felt like the first film I ever did!”

What was interesting about this whole exchange was that the Banshees premiere and press conference happened on the same day at Venice as the infamous Don’t Worry Darling premiere and press conference. It was fascinating to watch how the bad juju following Don’t Worry Darling seemed to poison the most mundane aspects of that day, even before the reviews dropped. Despite what you may have heard, the Don’t Worry Darling press conference (which I watched live) was totally uneventful, even boring. But it still set off a million memes, including Harry Styles’ inane answer to an even more inane question. The world premiere later that night was even more uneventful. And yet, dissecting video of the event, an entire planet of the Extremely Online somehow imagined a crazy spitting incident that, based on all available evidence, simply did not happen. It was a perfect storm of ill will, with Olivia Wilde’s (in my opinion) not-very-good-but-not-entirely-irredeemable film itself becoming mere collateral damage in its own spiraling public relations catastrophe.

The Banshees of Inisherin world premiere was also uneventful. I was there for that, too, and I happened to shoot some video of the stars walking to their seats. As they walked, Colin Farrell and Kerry Condon spotted the film’s script supervisor, Jeanette McGrath, sitting in the audience. Farrell’s face immediately lit up, and he went and hugged her. I thought this was a charming little moment, and posted it on Twitter. Before I knew it, the video was all over the place, as people were enraptured by Farrell’s huge, wide-eyed smile and his genuine fondness for his colleague.

Again, it was all very sweet. But I couldn’t help but feel like these two movies were ships passing each other in the Venice night, each powered by its own vortex of energy—a dark cloud for one, an endless rainbow for the other. (As an intellectual exercise, just try to imagine what might have happened had someone at the Don’t Worry Darling press conference done what Farrell did: joked about a previous role in which he hit a woman, and then completely blanked out on the first five years of his highly notable film career. I’ll tell you what would have happened: It would have fueled a million self-righteous tweets and indignant headlines.)

Now, obviously, The Banshees of Inisherin is a beloved movie, and Don’t Worry Darling is, uh, not. But there’s a part of me that believes that such phenomena are largely irrelevant to the quality of the movies in question. We sort of need these heroes and villains, and will sometimes conjure them out of thin air. Art, like God, works in mysterious ways. We need a Don’t Worry Darling to tear down, a blood sacrifice to the pop culture gods. But we also need a Banshees of Inisherin to hold up, to remind ourselves that we’re good people after all. I’m sure that at least some of the people who looked at a simple smile on Colin Farrell’s face and saw the world shining back in all its glory also saw Harry Styles taking his seat at a public event and imagined him inexplicably hurling a big old spitball into Chris Pine’s lap. Over and over one sees this happen to certain movies—a poor review, a nasty tweet, a tone-deaf interview, a quote taken out of context, and we’re off to the races. And others just seem to be pure Teflon. I can remember a time not long ago when Colin Farrell was the king of abortive press tours. And I can also remember a time, again not long ago, when it seemed Olivia Wilde could do no wrong. Plus ça change…

Yours, until my inevitable press tour from hell,


Read the next Movie Club entry: What We Learned From 2022’s Onscreen Beasts of Burden, from EO to Cow

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We Give Thanks for 2022, the Year of Colin Farrell

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