And we mean “hated his face” quite literally.
It’s the dream of every professional critic: You say something unkind about someone, they read it, they thank you for how well-written it is, and then you become friends. NewsFeed certainly keeps writing meaner and meaner things about people (just last week we compared Justin Bieber to Richard Nixon!) in hopes that such a thing will happen to us, but to no avail. Still, we can take heart in the story of Michelle Orange, a writer for Movieline whose critical barbs were the start of an internet friendship with actor Justin Long.
The fracas started with a quip in Orange’s review of Long’s Going the Distance, in which she opined of the actor’s face, “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 … we are increasingly asked to accept on screen.” Ouch!
A few weeks later, Long appeared on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and revealed that the remark had particularly struck him. As he told Fallon:
“The nice [reviews], they’re good to hear but you never really internalize them — it’s the bad ones. I read one in particular, that — it was so bad that it set the bar I think for insults for me. 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.
“Michelle Orange called me — and you hear things about yourself and you think you develop a pretty thick skin — this woman called me, this is word for word, a ‘milky affectless mook’ — it keeps going — ‘with unformed features and a kindergartner’s haircut on the first day of school.’”
Long’s shout-out brought out a fit of soul-searching in Orange, who last week posted a wonderful essay on The Rumpus called “And This Is Word For Word: The Theory of Relatability and Rethinking Justin Long’s Face”:
After filing the review my editor replied immediately, singling out that line for some editorial snaps. This had the opposite of its intended effect, and sent me wobbling. I lay awake that night, not wondering so much if I had been fair but if I could have found a way to be less glancing and harsh, or alternately if I have the stomach to be as unsparing as someone who considers themselves first and foremost a critic must be.
That, of course, should have been the end. It would have been a familiar tale: Person is mean on the Internet, person is called out for being mean on the Internet, person feels bad about being mean on the Internet. Except that Long had been following Orange’s subsequent career with great interest, and on Thursday posted a gracious comment on the essay:
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. … 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.
Score one for people being nice on the Internet!