“I was lucky enough to be able to write about movies in a way that people were willing to pay for,” Pauline Kael says in the opening of What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael when asked why she decided to become a critic; finding her calling happened rather by chance. Though she later ended up writing for the New Yorker, Kael’s early work was mostly done for free, and she faced plenty of opposition as a female critic among her primarily male peers.
Kael’s driving force was always her love for movies – and Rob Garver’s documentary reflects that. Biographical facts are threaded in almost casually while capturing the story of Kael’s career. Carefully illustrated by countless movie scenes spanning the entire history of cinema, much of the 95-minute runtime is dedicated to her writing (read in voiceover by Sarah Jessica Parker). Witty and acerbic, Kael honed her writing style to sound like a casual conversation rather than an academic analysis, shaping film criticism as an expressive art form.
Kael became a defining voice for American cinema, both “funny and lethal”, and often going against the stream whatever the cost. Perhaps unlike anyone else in the business, she could build up directors (the documentary credits her for ushering in the American New Wave by championing films such as Bonnie and Clyde) but take them down just as easily with her reviews.
The impact of Kael’s work is reflected in the stunning cast of directors, actors, and critics who speak of their own varied experiences with her. While her personality was divisive, her legacy unquestionably lingers. What She Said is truly a film for cinephiles, who can delight in the many clips and trace the careers of some of today’s most well-known directors back to Kael’s criticism.
CAST: Sarah Jessica Parker, Quentin Tarantino, David O. Russell, Paul Schrader
DIRECTOR: Rob Garver
WRITER: Rob Garver
SYNOPSIS: Pauline Kael was undoubtedly one of the greatest names in film criticism. Rob Garver has crafted in his feature documentary a remarkably captivating portrait of a tough grande dame of cinema.