If you’re lucky, you have no earthly idea who Jeffrey Wells is. Writer of, in his words, “a daily stream-of-Hollywood-consciousness column for Hollywood Elsewhere,” Wells is the kind of fringe gadfly that can seem omnipresent when you live in a particular bubble (in this case, that of online film writing), only surfacing beyond the Twitter conversations of hate-readers and head-shakers when he writes something particularly noxious — which, to be fair, is pretty often. Such was the case last weekend when he penned this little missive, accusing The Village Voice’s Stephanie Zacharek and LA Weekly’s Amy Nicholson of some kind of lady groupthink conspiracy for daring to like Hot Pursuit, surmising that the pair “were guided by the same liberal compassion instinct that led Henry Fonda to vote not guilty for that Puerto Rican kid in 12 Angry Men.” But what’s particularly jaw-dropping/hilarious about Wells’ otherwise (typically) loathsome and sexist post is the idea that he would, this week of all weeks, drop a 12 Angry Men reference, considering that the week’s most-discussed half hour of television was not only a riff on that film but, at its core, a 30-minute middle finger to Mr. Wells.
Some background (if, again, you’re lucky enough to be out of the loop on this): back in February, after the first trailer dropped for the upcoming Amy Schumer vehicle Trainwreck, Mr. Wells took to his online diary to screech out a paragraph about how “there’s no way she’d be an object of heated romantic interest in the real world.” Dubbing her a member of director/producer Judd Apatow’s “funny-chubby community,” Mr. Wells offered this unsolicited physical attribute commentary: “Schumer’s wide facial features reminded me of a blonde Lou Costello around the time of Buck Privates, or Jennifer Aniston’s somewhat heavier, not-as-lucky sister who watches a lot of TV.”
Add on “and her ass makes me furious,” and that could’ve been a direct line of dialogue from Tuesday’s night’s “12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer,” which rejiggered the classic play and film to have its dozen men — most of them, at best, aesthetically average — furiously debate whether Schumer was hot enough to be on television. Wells isn’t the only backwards-thinking, lookist, sexist, mealy-mouthed troll to spew this particular bile in Schumer’s direction (or that of several other talented, funny women on the tube and elsewhere), but his sheer unapologetic misogyny made him one of the loudest — especially after he doubled down following the unsurprising uproar that greeted his initial comments.
“When I was in my 20s and carousing around Schlumpies and Dumpies got no action whatsoever,” he explained, nostalgically. “I grew up in a world in which conventionally attractive or semi-attractive people used to be the ones who got laid the most often. Trust me — I used to do quite well at the Westport Players Tavern in the mid to late ’70s, and I had a good sense of what worked and what didn’t. And if a girl who looked like Trainwreck‘s Amy Schumer was to stroll into that scene, she would have had a nice time but she would not be ardently pursued by the flannel-shirt-wearing wolves, of which I was definitely one. By the standards of that time she just isn’t top-of-the-line… sorry.”
This stroll down memory lane and into the bar where he used to get laid is mirrored, in the Schumer episode, by the fond recollections of the old-man juror played by George Riddle. But for the most part, Wells’ sneering letter-grade objectifications (“she’s not grade-A or even B-plus material, certainly by my standards as well as those of any moderately attractive, fair-minded youngish heterosexual dude”) are the stuff of the Nick DiPaolo or Paul Giamatti characters, cast from the beginning as the villains of the piece, whose shout-y misogyny is revealed, over the course of the half-hour, to mask their own shallowness and insecurities. (And while your schlubby correspondent would never dream of making hay of someone’s physical appearance, I’ll just point out that our self-appointed arbiter of aesthetics and desirability looks like this.)
Mr. Wells has a long history of this sort of thing — and while it’s worth noting that he’s occasionally an equal-opportunity lookist (see this summary of his obsession with “man-boob guys”), he shines brightest in his appraisals of women who dare to play desirable. In discussing the original Hunger Games, he insisted that Jennifer Lawrence “seems too big for [Josh] Hutcherson,” as she’s “a fairly tall, big-boned lady.” He sneered at What Happens in Vegas for pairing Ashton Kutcher with Cameron Diaz, because “she looks… well, like she’s almost nudging 40, no?” And he earned the ire of Jezebel for his post “Just Hot Enough,” which used Neil LaBute’s play reasons to be pretty as a jumping-off point for his deeply damaged philosophy on how to get along with ladyfolk; the go-to quote there was, “Life would be heavenly and rhapsodic if women had the personality and temperament of dogs — forever loyal, non-judgmental, constantly affectionate. But that’s a loser’s dream.” (No shit!)
Such musings give you an idea of what Wells’ site really is: a digital version of those endless composition books in Spacey’s apartment in Seven, the random thoughts of a deranged lunatic who’s somehow turned his award-season ramblings, showbiz gossip, and tales of tough-guy menace into something resembling a brand. But the cracks are showing. When he writes off Zacharek and Nicholson daring to veer from the critical consensus on a movie, he thought-bubbles it up to “liberal compassion”; he’s frequently appropriated a charmingly Limbaugh-esque decrying of political correctness (and even comparisons to lynching) when he’s called on his bullshit.
But what movie-talking “guy’s guys” like Wells and Kyle Smith and their ilk will never truly get is that their retrograde approach to women in Hollywood, whether as actors or critics, isn’t just tasteless and offensive; it’s on the way out. We’re far from out of the woods, but we are finally seeing a Hollywood where women aren’t only cast in things based on whether guys like Jeff Wells want to fuck them (or, more accurately, beg for on-set nudes of them), and that’s not a time to wax rhapsodic for. And while I’m no Hot Pursuit apologist, I’m also not stupid enough to presume some conspiracy theorist’s knowledge of why a superior writer like Stephanie Zacharek liked it. She was Pulitzer finalist, for Chrisskes. Hollywood Elsewhere is a bathroom wall, and these days, it seems the only way Wells can get people to read it is by covering it in his own feces.