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Critics at Large | The New Yorker

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Critics at Large is a weekly culture podcast from The New Yorker. Every Thursday, the staff writers Vinson Cunningham, Naomi Fry, and Alexandra Schwartz discuss current obsessions, classic texts they’re revisiting with fresh eyes, and trends that are emerging across books, television, film, and more. The show runs the gamut of the arts and pop culture, with lively, surprising conversations about everything from Salman Rushdie to “The Real Housewives.” Through rigorous analysis and behind-the-scenes insights into The New Yorker’s reporting, the magazine’s critics help listeners make sense of our moment—and how we got here.
32 Episodes
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“Civil War,” Alex Garland’s divisive new action flick, borrows iconography—and actual footage—from the America of today as set dressing for a hypothetical, fractured future. Though we know that the President is in his third term, and that Texas and California have formed an unlikely alliance against him, very little is said about the politics that brought us to this point. Garland’s true interest lies not with the cause of the carnage but with the journalists compelled to document it. On this episode of Critics at Large, the staff writers Vinson Cunningham, Naomi Fry, and Alexandra Schwartz debate whether the film glamorizes violence, or whether it’s an indictment of the way audiences have become inured to it through repeated exposure. The hosts consider Susan Sontag’s “On Photography,” which assesses the impact of the craft, and “War Is Beautiful,” a compendium that explores how photojournalists have historically aestheticized and glorified unthinkable acts. From the video of George Floyd’s killing to photos of Alan Kurdi, the young Syrian refugee found lying dead on a Turkish beach, images of atrocities have galvanized movements and commanded international attention. But what does it mean to bear witness in the age of social media, with daily, appalling updates from conflict zones at our fingertips? “I think all of us are struggling with what to make of this complete overabundance,” Schwartz says. “On the other hand, we’re certainly aware of horror. It’s impossible to ignore.”Read, watch, and listen with the critics:“Civil War” (2024)“Ex Machina” (2014)“Natural Born Killers” (1994)“The Doom Generation” (1995)“War Is Beautiful,” by David Shields“On Photography,” by Susan Sontag“Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold” (2017)New episodes drop every Thursday. Follow Critics at Large wherever you get your podcasts.
Since the turn of the millennium, HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” has slyly satirized the ins and outs of social interaction. The series—which follows a fictionalized version of its creator and star, Larry David, as he gets into petty disputes with anyone and everyone who crosses his path—aired its last episode on Sunday, marking the end of a twelve-season run. On this episode of Critics at Large, the staff writers Vinson Cunningham, Naomi Fry, and Alexandra Schwartz discuss the show’s “weirdly moving” conclusion as well as its over-all legacy. Then they consider other notable TV endings: some divisive (“Sex and the City”), some critically acclaimed (“Succession”), some infamously rage-inspiring (“Game of Thrones”). What are the moral and narrative stakes of a finale, and why do we subject these episodes—which represent only a tiny fraction of the work as a whole—to such crushing analytic pressure? “This idea of an ending ruining the show is alien to me,” Cunningham says. “I won’t contest that endings are different—distinct. Are they better? I don’t know.”Read, watch, and listen with the critics:“Curb Your Enthusiasm” (2000-24)“Seinfeld” (1989-98)“Sex and the City” (1998-2004)“Succession” (2018-23)“The Hills” (2006-10)“Game of Thrones” (2011-19)“Breaking Bad” (2008-13) “Little Women,” by Louisa May Alcott
In her 1955 novel, “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” Patricia Highsmith introduced readers to the figure of Tom Ripley, an antihero who covets the good life, and achieves it—by stealing it from someone else. On this episode of Critics at Large, the staff writers Vinson Cunningham, Naomi Fry, and Alexandra Schwartz discuss the long tail of Highsmith’s work, which has been revived in adaptations like René Clément’s 1960 classic, “Purple Noon”; the definitive 1999 film starring Matt Damon and Jude Law; and a new Netflix series, “Ripley,” which casts its protagonist as a lonely middle-aged con man. In all three versions, Dickie Greenleaf, a wealthy acquaintance of Ripley’s, becomes his obsession and eventually his victim. The story resonates today in part because we’re all in the habit of observing—and coveting—the life styles of the rich and famous. Social media gives users endless opportunities to study how others live, such as the places they go, the meals they consume, and the objects they possess. “One of the reasons that the character of Ripley is forever sympathetic is the yearning and striving to be something other than himself, following an example that’s set out to him,” Fry says. “For him, it’s someone like Dickie. For us, it might be someone online.”Read, watch, and listen with the critics:“The Talented Mr. Ripley,” by Patricia Highsmith“The Talented Mr. Ripley” (1999)“Purple Noon” (1960)“Ripley” (2024)“Saltburn” (2023)“The White Lotus” (2021—)New episodes drop every Thursday. Follow Critics at Large wherever you get your podcasts.
News of Kate Middleton’s cancer diagnosis arrived after months of speculation regarding the royal’s whereabouts. Had the Princess of Wales, who had not been seen in public since Christmas Day, absconded to a faraway hideout? Was trouble at home—an affair, perhaps—keeping her out of the public eye? What truths hid behind the obviously doctored family photograph? #WhereisKateMiddleton trended as the online world offered up a set of elaborate hypotheses increasingly untethered from reality. On this episode of Critics at Large, the staff writers Vinson Cunningham, Naomi Fry, and Alexandra Schwartz discuss how a particular brand of “fan fiction” has enveloped the Royal Family, and how, like the #FreeBritney movement, the episode illustrates how conspiracy thinking has become a regular facet of online life. The hosts discuss “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” an essay by the historian Richard Hofstadter, from 1964, that traces conspiratorial thought across history, as well as Naomi Klein’s 2023 book “Doppelganger.” How, then, should we navigate a world in which it’s more and more difficult to separate fact from fiction? Some antidotes may lie in the fictions themselves. “The rest of us who are not as conspiratorial in bent could spend more time looking at those conspiracies,” Cunningham says. “To understand what a troubling number of our fellows believe is a kind of tonic action.”Read, watch, and listen with the critics:“Don’t Blame ‘Stupid People on the Internet’ for Palace’s Princess Kate Lies,” by Will Bunch (the Philadelphia Inquirer)“Doppelganger,” by Naomi Klein“The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” by Richard Hofstadter (Harper’s Magazine)“The Parallax View” (1974)“Cutter’s Way” (1981) “Reddit’s I.P.O. Is a Content Moderation Success Story,” by Kevin Roose (the New York Times)New episodes drop every Thursday. Follow Critics at Large wherever you get your podcasts.
Science fiction has historically been considered a niche genre, one in which far-flung scenarios play out on distant planets. Today, though, such plots are at the center of our media landscape. On this episode of Critics at Large, the staff writers Vinson Cunningham, Naomi Fry, and Alexandra Schwartz anatomize the appeal of recent entries, from Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” movies to Netflix’s new adaptation of “The Three-Body Problem,” the best-selling novel by Liu Cixin. The hosts are joined by Josh Rothman, an editor and writer at The New Yorker, who makes the case for science fiction as an extension of the realist novel, tracing the way films like “The Matrix” and “Contagion” have shed new light on modern life. The boundaries between science fiction and reality are increasingly blurred: tech founders like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos have cited classic sci-fi texts as inspiration, and terms like “red-pilling” have found their way into our political vernacular. “I find the future that we’re all moving into to be quite scary and sort of unthinkable,” Rothman says. “Science fiction is the literary genre that addresses this problem. It helps make the future into something you can imagine.” Read, watch, and listen with the critics:“Dune: Part Two” (2024)“3 Body Problem” (2024)“The Martian Chronicles,” by Ray Bradbury“Dune” (2021)“Dune,” by Frank Herbert“Star Trek” (1966-1969)“2001: A Space Odyssey,” by Arthur C. Clarke“Dune” (1984)“Can Science Fiction Wake Us Up to Our Climate Reality?” by Joshua Rothman (The New Yorker)“The Matrix” (1999)“Contagion” (2011)“The Future,” by Naomi Alderman“Doomsday Prep for the Super-Rich,” by Evan Osnos (The New Yorker)“The Three-Body Problem,” by Liu Cixin“Liu Cixin’s War of the Worlds,” by Jiayang Fan (The New Yorker)New episodes drop every Thursday. Follow Critics at Large wherever you get your podcasts.
For centuries, the bildungsroman, or novel of education, has offered a window into a formative period of life—and, by extension, into the historical moment in which it’s set. Vinson Cunningham sent the draft of “Great Expectations,” a book loosely based on his experience on Barack Obama’s first Presidential campaign, to publishers on January 6, 2021. Shortly after he hit Send, he watched rioters break into the Capitol building. “For me, it was, like, cycle complete,” he says. The age of optimism ushered in by Obama was over. “We are off to another thing.” Cunningham’s novel is part of a tradition that stretches back to the eighteen-hundreds: coming-of-age plots that chart their protagonists’ entry into adulthood. On this episode of Critics at Large, Cunningham and his fellow staff writers, Naomi Fry and Alexandra Schwartz, discuss how “Great Expectations” fits in the genre as a whole. They consider it alongside classic texts, like Gustave Flaubert’s 1869 novel “Sentimental Education,” and other, more recent entries, such as Carrie Sun’s 2024 memoir, “Private Equity,” and reflect on what such stories have to say about power, disillusionment, and our shifting relationships to institutions. “I think, if the bildungsroman has any new valence today, it is that the antagonist is not parents, it’s not religion, it’s not upbringing—these personal facets that you usually have to escape to come of age,” Cunningham says. “It’s the superstructure. It’s finance with a capital ‘F.’ It’s government with a capital ‘G.’ ” 
The office has long been a fixture in pop culture—but, in 2024, amid the rise of remote work and the resurgence of organized labor, the way we relate to our jobs is in flux. The stories we tell about them are changing, too. On this episode of Critics at Large, the staff writers Vinson Cunningham, Naomi Fry, and Alexandra Schwartz discuss Adelle Waldman’s new novel “Help Wanted,” which delves into the lives of retail workers at a big-box store in upstate New York. They’re joined by The New Yorker’s Katy Waldman, who lays out the trajectory of the office novel, from tales of postwar alienation to Gen X meditations on selling out and millennial accounts of the gig economy. Then, the hosts consider how this shift is showing up across other mediums. Though some white-collar employees can now comfortably work from home, the office remains an object of fascination. “The workplace is within us,” says Fry. “There will always be shit-talking about co-workers, about bosses—the materials for narrative will always be there.”Read, watch, and listen with the critics:“Working Girl” (1988)“Office Space” (1999)“The West Wing” (1999-2006)“Help Wanted,” by Adelle Waldman“The Pale King,” by David Foster Wallace“Personal Days,” by Ed Park“Then We Came to the End,” by Joshua Ferris“The New Me,” by Halle Butler“The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.,” by Adelle Waldman“The Jungle,” by Upton Sinclair“Severance,” by Ling Ma“Temporary,” by Hilary Leichter“Severance” (2022—)“The Vanity Fair Diaries” (2017)“Doubt: A Parable,” by John Patrick ShanleyDolly Parton’s “9 to 5”“Mad Men” (2007-15)“Industry” (2020—)“Norma Rae” (1979)“30 Rock” (2006-13)New episodes drop every Thursday. Follow Critics at Large wherever you get your podcasts.
The campaign for an Oscar is just that: a campaign. In the weeks and months leading up to the ninety-sixth Academy Awards, actors and directors have been hard at work reminding voters and the public alike of their worthiness, P.R. agencies have churned out “for your consideration” ads, and studios have poured millions of dollars into efforts to help their films emerge victorious on Hollywood’s biggest night. In this episode of Critics at Large, the staff writers Vinson Cunningham, Naomi Fry, and Alexandra Schwartz discuss the state of the race, from the front-runners to the snubs and the season’s unlikely “villain.” The hosts are joined by The New Yorker’s Michael Schulman, the author of “Oscar Wars: A History of Hollywood in Gold, Sweat, and Tears,” who describes how Harvey Weinstein permanently changed the landscape in the nineties by treating campaigns as “guerrilla warfare.” Today, much of the process happens behind closed doors. If the game is rigged, why do we care about the outcome? “Even though we know that there is a mechanism behind these things, a glow does attach itself to people who win,” Cunningham says. “We are still very much suckers for the glamour of merit.”Read, watch, and listen with the critics:“Oscar Wars: A History of Hollywood in Gold, Sweat, and Tears,” by Michael Schulman“Oppenheimer” (2023)“Barbie” (2023)“May December” (2023)“Poor Things” (2023)“The Zone of Interest” (2023)“Nyad” (2023)“Maestro” (2023)“Shakespeare in Love” (1998)“Saving Private Ryan” (1998)“Can You Really Want an Oscar Too Much?” by Michael Schulman (The New Yorker)“Anatomy of a Fall” (2023)“Titanic” (1997)“Ferrari” (2023)New episodes drop every Thursday. Follow Critics at Large wherever you get your podcasts.
At this year’s Super Bowl halftime show, Usher Raymond sang through decades of hits while twirling on roller skates, making a case for himself as one of the great R. & B. artists of our time. The performance illuminates a key aspect of modern pop stardom: the fashioning of one’s legacy in real time. In this episode of Critics at Large, the staff writers Vinson Cunningham, Naomi Fry, and Alexandra Schwartz discuss how musicians’ images take shape independent of their music. They consider “Bob Marley: One Love,” a new bio-pic made with the support of the Marley estate that deliberately smooths the rough edges of the singer’s life. Today’s performers take a more active role in their own reputation management, using high-profile appearances to stake a claim or reinforce their persona. At this year’s Grammy Awards, the question of legacy came to the fore when Jay-Z took issue with the fact that his wife, Beyoncé, has never won the coveted Album of the Year award. But the most indelible moments from the ceremony involved songs from decades prior—a reminder that the music itself is often more enduring than any formal accolade. “Rather than legacy in corporate terms or in institutional terms,” says Fry, there’s also “the legacy of the heart.”Read, watch, and listen with the critics:“Bob Marley: One Love” (2024)“Both Sides Now” by Joni Mitchell, as performed at the 2024 Grammys “If I Ain't Got You” by Alicia KeysLuke Combs’s cover of “Fast Car” by Tracy ChapmanTwins react to “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins“Walk the Line” (2005)“You Make Me Wanna . . .” by UsherNew episodes drop every Thursday. Follow Critics at Large wherever you get your podcasts.
As much as contemporary audiences relish a happily ever after, some of the greatest romances of all time are ones that have turned out badly. In this episode of Critics at Large, the staff writers Vinson Cunningham, Naomi Fry, and Alexandra Schwartz consider stories of “wretched love”—love that’s star-crossed, unfulfilled, or somehow doomed by the taboos of the day. First, they react to listeners’ favorite examples, from Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” to “The Notebook” to the Joni Mitchell song “The Last Time I Saw Richard.” Then, the hosts discuss their own picks: the poet Frank Bidart’s collection “Desire”; James Baldwin’s novel “Giovanni’s Room”; and “A Girl’s Story,” by the Nobel Prize-winner Annie Ernaux. Why do we—and centuries’ worth of artists—gravitate toward tales of thwarted desire? Perhaps it’s because these moments unlock something that stays with us long after the sting of heartbreak has faded. “When you widen the lens, life goes on,” Schwartz says. Nevertheless, “there is a need for all of us to return to that moment because that was part of what made you who you were.”Read, watch, and listen with the critics:“Annie Ernaux Turns Memory Into Art,” by Alexandra Schwartz (The New Yorker)“Anna Karenina,” by Leo Tolstoy“Conversations with Friends,” by Sally Rooney“Desire,” by Frank Bidart“Eugene Onegin” (1879)“Giovanni’s Room,” by James Baldwin“A Girl’s Story,” by Annie Ernaux“Sense and Sensibility,” by Jane Austen“Sense and Sensibility” (1995)“Sylvia,” by Leonard MichaelsJoni Mitchell’s “The Last Time I Saw Richard”“The Notebook” (2004)“Wuthering Heights,” by Emily Brontë“Wuthering Heights” (1939)Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights”New episodes drop every Thursday. Follow Critics at Large wherever you get your podcasts.
If some of us have managed to avoid mean girls in life, we’ve had no such luck in art. The “mean girl”—a picture of idealized femininity who usually heads up a like-minded clique—has appeared in films like “Clueless,” “Heathers,” and, of course, the 2004 classic “Mean Girls,” written by Tina Fey. Recently, the mean girl has received a makeover. In this episode of Critics at Large, the staff writers Vinson Cunningham, Naomi Fry, and Alexandra Schwartz discuss texts that have breathed new life into the trope, beginning with Ryan Murphy’s “Feud: Capote vs. The Swans,” which dramatizes the schism between the writer Truman Capote and the group of New York City socialites he called his “swans.” The hosts trace the figure of the mean girl through culture, from the character of Regina George—who returns in the 2024 movie-musical reboot of “Mean Girls,” albeit a little less mean than before—to the cast of “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City.” Today, the archetype is ripe for projection, appropriation, and maybe even for sympathy. “The hope and the fear looking at these mean girls is imagining how great their lives must be,” Fry says. “But I think concurrently we would be happy to learn that, in fact, it’s lonely at the top.” Read, watch, and listen with the critics:“The Allure of the Mean Friend,” on “This American Life”“Carrie” (1976)“Daniel Deronda,” by George Eliot“Euphoria” (2019—)“Feud: Capote vs. The Swans” (2024)“Gossip Girl” (2007-2012)“Heathers” (1988)“La Côte Basque, 1965,” by Truman Capote (Esquire)“Mean Girls” (2004)“Mean Girls” (2024)“101 Dalmatians” (1961)“The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” (2020—)New episodes drop every Thursday. Follow Critics at Large wherever you get your podcasts.
The wives and daughters of Dubai’s ruler live in unbelievable luxury. So why do the women in Sheikh Mohammed’s family keep trying to run away? The New Yorker staff writer Heidi Blake joins In the Dark’s Madeleine Baran to tell the story of the royal women who risked everything to flee the brutality of one of the world’s most powerful men. In four episodes, drawing on thousands of pages of secret correspondence and never-before-heard audio recordings, “The Runaway Princesses” takes listeners behind palace walls, revealing a story of astonishing courage and cruelty.“The Runaway Princesses” is a four-part narrative series from In the Dark and The New Yorker. To keep listening, follow In the Dark wherever you get your podcasts or via this link https://link.chtbl.com/itd_f
What Is the Comic For?

What Is the Comic For?

2024-01-2552:18

Dave Chappelle’s new Netflix special, “The Dreamer,” has drawn criticism for its targeting of trans and disabled people–the latest in a string of controversies, and of increasingly self-referential sets. His and other standup comics’ growing fixation with cancel culture raises a pressing question: What is the role of the comic today? In this episode of Critics at Large, the staff writers Vinson Cunningham, Naomi Fry, and Alexandra Schwartz trace how comedians have positioned themselves in relation to their audiences over time, from the proto-standup acts of the vaudeville era to the political humor of the legendary George Carlin, who paved the way for the success of Jon Stewart and “The Daily Show.” Where Chappelle and Ricky Gervais are doubling down in the face of backlash, comedians like Jacqueline Novak and John Mulaney are finding new ways to expose societal fault lines in order to bring the crowd to a place of cohesion. But in the era of the culture wars, do we want to be challenged, or affirmed? “Whatever comedy is now, needs willing and predetermined audiences—people that are there to pay attention to a certain kind of thing,” Cunningham says. “If what we want is a kind of shattering of whatever mythologies surround us, maybe it’s not the best for that.”Read, watch, and listen with the critics:“Dave Chappelle: The Dreamer” (2023)“Ricky Gervais: Armageddon” (2023)“Chappelle’s Show” (2003-06)“Jacqueline Novak: Get on Your Knees” (2024)“Outrageous: A History of Showbiz and the Culture Wars,” by Kliph Nesteroff“I Love Lucy” (1951-57)“George Carlin’s American Dream” (2022)“The Daily Show” (1996-)“Comedy Book: How Comedy Conquered Culture–and the Magic That Makes It Work,” by Jesse David Fox“John Mulaney: Baby J” (2023)“The Anxious Precision of Jacqueline Novak’s Comedy,” by Carrie Battan (The New Yorker) “Jenny Slate: Stage Fright” (2019) “Chris Rock: Bigger & Blacker” (1999)New episodes drop every Thursday. Follow Critics at Large wherever you get your podcasts.
The Case for Criticism

The Case for Criticism

2024-01-1846:021

In this episode of Critics at Large, the staff writers Vinson Cunningham, Naomi Fry, and Alexandra Schwartz turn their attention to the art—and purpose—of criticism itself. First, they revisit the work of Joan Acocella, a legendary practitioner of the craft who wrote for The New Yorker until her death, at age seventy-eight, earlier this month, applying her distinctive humor and evocative style to such diverse subjects as Mikhail Baryshnikov, the acclaimed dancer and choreographer, and the Wife of Bath, from Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales.” Then the hosts reflect on their own formative influences and the role a critic can play in the life of a reader. The rise of apps like Goodreads and Letterboxd has proved to be a double-edged sword, democratizing criticism while also playing into the more toxic elements of fandom. In an era of “critical populism,” what do the professionals have to offer? “Criticism is often considered a kind of gatekeeping,” Schwartz says. “It really also can be the opposite. It can be a giving of access. And that to me dignifies the whole endeavor.” Read, watch, and listen with the critics:“Thank Goodness for Joan Acocella,” by Alexandra Schwartz (The New Yorker)“The Soloist,” by Joan Acocella (The New Yorker)“The Marrying Kind,” by Joan Acocella (The New Yorker)“Art as Technique,” by Viktor Shklovsky“Black Talk on the Move,” by Darryl Pinckney (The New York Review of Books)“Busted in New York and Other Essays,” by Darryl Pinckney“One Reason Theatre Is in Crisis: The Slow Death of Criticism,” by Jason Zinoman (American Theatre)“Let’s Rescue Book Lovers from this Online Hellscape,” by Maris Kreizman (The New York Times)“‘The O.C.’: Land of The Brooding Teen,” by Tom Shales (The Washington Post)New episodes drop every Thursday. Follow Critics at Large wherever you get your podcasts.
Can Slowness Save Us?

Can Slowness Save Us?

2024-01-1149:26

In recent years, in the realms of self-improvement literature, Instagram influencers, and wellness gurus, an idea has taken hold: that in a non-stop world, the act of slowing down offers a path to better living. In this episode of Critics at Large, the staff writers Vinson Cunningham, Naomi Fry, and Alexandra Schwartz trace the rise of “slowness culture”—from Carl Honoré’s 2004 manifesto to pandemic-era trends of mass resignations and so-called quiet quitting. The hosts discuss the work of Jenny Odell, whose books “How to Do Nothing” and “Saving Time” frame reclaiming one’s time as a life-style choice with radical roots and revolutionary political potential. But how much does an individual’s commitment to leisure pay off on the level of the collective? Is too much being laid at the feet of slowness? “For me, it’s about reclaiming an aspect of humanness, just the experience of not having to make the most with everything we have all the time,” Schwartz says. “There can be a degree of self-defeating critique where you say, ‘Oh, well, this is only accessible to the privileged few.’ And I think the better framing is, how can more people access that kind of sitting with humanness?”Read, watch, and listen with the critics:“How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation,” by Anne Helen Petersen (BuzzFeed)“How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy,” by Jenny Odell“Improving Ourselves to Death,” by Alexandra Schwartz (The New Yorker)“In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed,” by Carl Honoré“The Sabbath,” by Abraham Joshua Heschel“Saving Time: Discovering a Life Beyond Productivity Culture,” by Jenny Odell“Slow Down: The Degrowth Manifesto,” by Kohei SaitoNew episodes drop every Thursday. Follow Critics at Large wherever you get your podcasts.
Portraits of the Artist

Portraits of the Artist

2024-01-0449:581

Hollywood’s obsession with stories about creative types has resulted in familiar tropes—namely that of the tortured artist, whose fanatical devotion to his craft makes him an enigma to those around him—and story formulae like the bio-pic, which runs through the beats of its subject’s career like a Wikipedia entry. In this episode of Critics at Large, the staff writers Vinson Cunningham, Naomi Fry, and Alexandra Schwartz discuss how some of the year’s buzziest films subvert our expectations of art about artists. “Maestro” is “a fantasia on Leonard Bernstein themes” that focusses on the toll that the legendary composer’s charisma exacts on those around him. “May December,” directed by Todd Haynes, is “a dark satire on certain tendencies in method acting.” And Cord Jefferson’s début feature, “American Fiction,” pairs a critique of the publishing industry’s hollow nods toward “diversity” with a quiet family drama. The hosts also consider other, more deliberately unglamorous depictions, such as that found in Kelly Reichardt’s “Showing Up.” The movie, which follows a sculptor struggling to make ends meet, raises the question of a much rarer archetype. “It seems to me a figure that can take more plumbing,” Cunningham says. “I want to see what that new figure, the everyday artist, can unfold to us about what it means to have a life in art.”Read, watch, and listen with the critics:“Adaptation” (2002)“American Fiction” (2023)“A Conversation with My Father,” by Grace Paley“Just Kids,” by Patti Smith“Maestro” (2023)“May December” (2023)“My Struggle,” by Karl Ove Knausgaard“New York Stories” (1989)“Showing Up” (2023)New episodes drop every Thursday. Follow Critics at Large wherever you get your podcasts.
After six decades as an icon in country music, it’s hard to imagine Dolly Parton had anything to prove.  But when she was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, in 2022, she admitted to feeling uneasy.  A result of that feeling is “Rockstar,” the 77-year-old’s first foray into rock music.  “I wanted the rock people to be proud of me, let’s put it that way,” Parton tells the contributor Emily Lordi. “I wanted them to say, ‘Did you hear Dolly’s rock album? Man, she killed it.’ ” For this album, which is largely comprised of covers of classic rock songs like “Freebird” along with originals like the title track, Parton channeled the likes of Joan Jett and Melissa Etheridge (who also both appear on the album).  She didn’t want to make a countryfied rock album, but even at a full roar, her voice is unmistakable Dolly. “It’s a voice you know when you hear it, whether you like it or not,” Parton says. The artist is known for avoiding comment on political subjects, but she describes the volatile state of the culture in her song “World on Fire.” “The only way I know how to fight back is to write songs to say how I feel,” Parton says. “It’s just me trying to throw some light on some dark subjects these days.”
The Year of the Doll

The Year of the Doll

2023-12-2149:28

In the highest-grossing movie of 2023, Barbie, a literal doll, leaves the comforts of Barbieland and ventures into real-world Los Angeles, where she discovers the myriad difficulties of modern womanhood. This arc from cosseted naïveté to feminist awakening is a narrative throughline that connects some of the biggest cultural products of the year. In this episode of Critics at Large, the staff writers Vinson Cunningham, Naomi Fry, and Alexandra Schwartz discuss how 2023 became “the year of the doll,” tracing the trope from “Barbie” to Yorgos Lanthimos’s film “Poor Things,” whose protagonist finds self-determination through sexual agency, and beyond. In Sofia Coppola’s “Priscilla,” a teen-age Priscilla Beaulieu lives under the thumb of Elvis at Graceland before finally breaking free, while in Emma Cline’s novel “The Guest,” the doll figure must fend for herself after the trappings of luxury fall away, revealing the precarity of her circumstances. The hosts explore how ideas about whiteness, beauty, and women’s bodily autonomy inform these works, and how the shock of political backsliding might explain why these stories struck a chord with audiences. “Most of us believed that the work of Roe v. Wade was done,” Cunningham says. “If that is a message that we could all grasp—that a step forward is not a permanent thing—I think that would be a positive thing.”Read, watch, and listen with the critics:“Barbie” (2023) “M3GAN” (2023) “Poor Things” (2023) “Priscilla” (2023) “The Guest,” by Emma Cline “The House of Mirth,” by Edith WhartonNew episodes drop every Thursday. Follow Critics at Large wherever you get your podcasts.
In the weeks since George Santos was expelled from Congress, his story has been funnelled straight into the entertainment pipeline, from a memorable sketch on “Saturday Night Live” and reports of a film in the works at HBO to his own exploits on Cameo, where he’s charging five hundred dollars apiece for personalized video messages. On this episode of Critics at Large, the staff writers Vinson Cunningham, Naomi Fry, and Alexandra Schwartz assess why Santos’s story resonates with audiences, and the enduring appeal of the scammer narrative, from Herman Melville’s “The Confidence-Man” to Meredith Wilson’s “The Music Man.” Scammers embody—and exploit—a central tenet of the American Dream: the promise of a brighter future awaiting those audacious enough to reach for it. But their stories can also expose the weaknesses at the heart of our institutions. Why, then, do we keep coming back for more? “The level of enjoyment that we gain from these depictions of scams doesn’t mean that the critique isn’t there,” Fry says. “It’s almost like we as audiences are also begging, ‘Please make this fun for us.’ ”Read, watch, and listen with the critics:“Every Day’s a Holiday” (1937)“Inventing Anna” (2022)“Telemarketers” (2023)“The Confidence-Man,” by Herman Melville“The Dropout” (2022)“The Fabulist,” by Mark Chiusano“The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley” (2019)“The Music Man” (1957)“The Postman Always Rings Twice” (1946)The “Simpsons” episode “Marge vs. the Monorail” (1993)“The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013)“Trafficked With Mariana van Zeller” (2020 – present)New episodes drop every Thursday. Follow Critics at Large wherever you get your podcasts.
Margaret Talbot, writing in The New Yorker in 2005, recounted that when animators at Pixar got stuck on a project they’d file into a screening room to watch a film by Hayao Miyazaki. Best known for works like “My Neighbor Totoro,” “Princess Mononoke,” and “Spirited Away,” which received the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, in 2002, he is considered by some to be the first true auteur of children’s entertainment. On this episode of Critics at Large, the staff writers Vinson Cunningham, Naomi Fry, and Alexandra Schwartz discuss the themes that have emerged across Miyazaki’s œuvre, from bittersweet depictions of late childhood to meditations on the attractions and dangers of technology. Miyazaki’s latest, “The Boy and the Heron,” is a semi-autobiographical story in which a young boy grieving his mother embarks on a quest through a magical realm as the Second World War rages in reality. The Japanese title, “How Do You Live?,” reveals the philosophical underpinnings of what may well be the filmmaker’s final work. “Wherever you are—whether it seems to be peaceful, whether things are scary—there’s something happening somewhere,” Cunningham says. “And you have to learn this as a child. There’s pain somewhere. And you have to learn how to live your life along multiple tracks.”Read, watch, and listen with the critics:“Kiki’s Delivery Service” (1989)“My Neighbor Totoro” (1988)“Old Enough!” (1991-present)“Princess Mononoke” (1997)“Spirited Away” (2001)“The Boy and the Heron” (2023)“The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” by C. S. Lewis (1950)“The Moomins series” by Tove Jansson (1945-70)“The Wind Rises” (2013)New episodes drop every Thursday. Follow Critics at Large wherever you get your podcasts.
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Comments (11)

Janet Lafler

I recently watched My Fair Lady with my teen, whose high school theater class is now looking at musicals, and I had to leave the room before the ending because I couldn't stand to watch it. I remember, as a kid, being disappointed by the end of Pygmalion, in which Eliza leaves and doesn't come back, because I wanted a "romantic" ending. But now I see the end of Pygmalion as Eliza dodging a bullet.

Apr 11th
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Janet Lafler

Just wait til you find out how "Featherstonehaugh" is pronounced....

Mar 28th
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Janet Lafler

I think the main mistake that many people take from reading SF is to read it too straight-forwardly, without understanding it as critique. Thus, tech entrepreneurs fail to see the negative, even dystopian, qualities of the tech envisioned and just think "oh, cool!" Or people fail to see that Dune is, among other things, a critique of the hero/messiah narrative.

Mar 22nd
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Janet Lafler

I don't know if this was mentioned, but FYI: the novel Severance, by Ling Ma, is completely unrelated to the TV show Severance. The novel is underappreciated (it's the book that IMO should have gotten all the hype and acclaim that Station Eleven did).

Mar 9th
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Janet Lafler

I know nothing about any of this (I am an old), but just that short interview clip makes me want to strangle Diane Sawyer.

Feb 22nd
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Janet Lafler

As Maude said, "go out and love some more."

Feb 8th
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Janet Lafler

Possibly I'm obsessed with Jane Austen, but I think Mary Crawford may be the original mean girl. Caroline Bingley wants to be a mean girl, but doesn't have the chops.

Feb 1st
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Janet Lafler

AFAIK, the first of the type of deliberately anachronistic period dramas you discuss is A Knight's Tale, which is more than 20 years old now, and still the only one I've found that I enjoy. [There's a much older tradition of deliberately anachronistic musicals, e.g. Kiss Me Kate, Camelot, etc.] I think one of the things that makes The Knights Tale work is that it's not an adaptation (though supposedly "inspired" by Chaucer). It's essentially a sports movie, with all the attendant tropes.

Jan 31st
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Faranak Raste

Great episode you guys. Thanks.

Dec 4th
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Jack Sparrow

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Nov 20th
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Mahmodabasi Nozari

Oct 14th
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