Hollywood loves a good feud. But sometimes it's nice to see one that has a happy ending.
On Friday, Chaz Hammelsmith Ebert, the widow of the late film critic Roger Ebert, posted a letter on her blog from funnyman Rob Schneider. It was a surprisingly thoughtful and moving essay in which the actor opened up about how the 2005 movie "Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo" caused bad blood between Roger Ebert and Schneider, how one of Ebert's insults lived on as the title of a book, and how the two men gratefully buried the hatchet.
The story goes back to February 2005, when Patrick Goldstein of the Los Angeles Times wrote a story about films nominated for major Academy Awards that had been turned down by one or more studios before they found a home. Goldstein mention in the piece that those same studios "bankroll hundreds of sequels, including a follow-up to 'Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo,' a film that was sadly overlooked at Oscar time because apparently nobody had the foresight to invent a category for Best Running Penis Joke Delivered by a Third-Rate Comic."
Needless to say, "Deuce Bigalow" star Schneider wasn't very happy about Goldstein's piece, especially since the writer hadn't yet seen the sequel in question. "[Goldstein] also insulted me personally and professionally which I considered and still consider very unprofessional," Schneider wrote on Chaz Ebert's blog. "He then used my before-mentioned and unseen film as an example of why Hollywood studios don't win more Academy Awards, as if that should be the 'be all end all' criteria for every movie made in Hollywood."
Schneider fired back by taking out an ad in two major industry journals, Variety and the Hollywood Reporter, in which he let Goldstein have it. "Well, Mr. Goldstein, I decided to do some research to find out what awards you have won," Schneider wrote in the ad. "I went online and found that you have won nothing. Absolutely nothing. No journalistic awards of any kind … Maybe you didn't win a Pulitzer Prize because they haven't invented a category for Best Third-Rate, Unfunny Pompous Reporter Who's Never Been Acknowledged by His Peers."
Ebert entered the debate when he reviewed "Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo" in August 2005. After pointing out the movie's many flaws, Ebert stepped in to defend Goldstein. "Schneider is correct, and Patrick Goldstein has not yet won a Pulitzer Prize," Ebert said at the close of the review. "As chance would have it, I HAVE won the Pulitzer Prize, and so I am qualified. Speaking in my official capacity as a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks."
As you might expect, Schneider wasn't happy with the review, especially since he was longtime fan of Ebert's work who regularly watched his TV series with Gene Siskel as a teen. It didn't help that the punch line of the "European Gigolo" notice went on to provide the title of a book that collected bad reviews from Ebert: "Your Movie Sucks."
But Schneider's attitude changed in 2007, when Ebert went public with his struggle with cancer. On Chaz Ebert's blog, Schneider wrote, "When I heard Roger was sick I felt terrible and my heart ached. Whatever bad feelings that were leftover melted away and all I remembered was thinking about how much I really admired and loved Roger Ebert and his work and how grateful I felt to him for introducing me to countless films from all over the world that became such an important part of my life and of my work."
So Schneider let go of his anger and sent Ebert a large bouquet of flowers, with a note that read: "Roger, thank you for sharing your love of cinema with all of us. I hope you are back doing what you love most soon, watching movies from your La-Z-Boy chair! Signed, Rob Schneider, your least favorite movie star."
Ebert, pleasantly surprised, wrote a blog post in which he expressed his gratitude to Schneider and discussed the hard choices that come with writing a negative review. "[The flowers] were a reminder, if I needed one, that although Rob Schneider might (in my opinion) have made a bad movie, he is not a bad man, and no doubt tried to make a wonderful movie, and hopes to again," Ebert wrote. "I hope so, too."
Eight years after "Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo" flopped and six months after Roger Ebert's death, Schneider admits that the film's bad reviews and his tussle with Ebert proved to be growing experiences for him. "Mr. Ebert's review was mean but fair," Schneider wrote on Chaz's blog. "Truthfully, it was not a good picture and the review and book made it easy for every other reviewer to dismiss every film I make in similar fashion."
"But as a Zen Buddhist I know there is no such thing as a one-sided coin," Schneider wrote. "Every coin has two sides and it is our choice to decide if we only want to focus on one side or the other. Or we can choose to see that both sides are inseparable and part of the same coin. The other side for me was finally being free of the studio system and all its constraints and expectations. Now I had to ask myself, 'what kind of movies do I really want to make?'"
For Schneider, the story ends with him striving to make better movies — including directing a comedy with a spiritual theme, "The Chosen One" (which Nathan Rabin of The AV Club called "mind-bogglingly awful, but in a way that really needs to be seen to be believed") — and spending more time with his wife and ten-month-old daughter Miranda, who he describes as "an absolute joy." As the older, wiser Schneider says, "If we didn't have bad, we wouldn't know what good was. But it is not an even deal. There is always more good than bad! I like that game a lot."
And that philosophy extends to films, too. If it weren't for disasters like "Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo," how would we know what movies don't actually suck?