17 March 2023

Film critic Pauline Kael is Quentin Tarantino’s final protagonist – but who is she?

Pauline Kael has been dubbed the rumoured new inspo for Tarantino’s final project, as he waves goodbye to film with one of its most powerful critical voices.

Director Quentin Tarantino is reportedly set to begin working on his final ever film. Following an illustrious career from the likes of Pulp Fiction (1994) to Inglourious Basterds (2009), it is reported that this film will be titled The Movie Critic and will feature a female lead.

With Tarantino preparing to direct the film in the autumn of this year, details of the plot are being kept exclusively under wraps. However, sources from The Hollywood Reporter have said the story will be set in the late 70s with a woman at the centre of the plot. Though not yet confirmed, the general consensus is that the protagonist will be based on the life of Pauline Kael, one of the most influential film critics of all time.

What makes Kael such an interesting protagonist is her rigidity as a journalist at a time when all-white all-male editors held the reigns. She refused to be held back and made a name for herself with a highly-opinionated and brash style of reviewing. In a memoir-esque article for The New Yorker in 1994, titled ‘The Movie Lover’, she details her life’s dedication to cinema and the challenges she faced. 

She wrote for The New Yorker from 1968 to 1991, often ending up in heated arguments with editors and filmmakers over her opinions, like when she called Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey “a monumentally unimaginative movie” and the “biggest amateur movie of them all”. Speaking about her editor at the time, William Shawn (who worked at the publication from 1952 to 1987), she refers to how the pair would “square off like two little pit bulls. He brought up the names of all the famous writers who, according to him, had been appreciative of the editing; it was a nightmare listening to that litany.” She continues into her work in the mid-seventies, when “the most unlikely men—and women, too—suddenly turned macho around me”. 

“I think that the disjunction between my strong voice as a writer and my five-foot frame somehow got to people,” she explained. “They wanted to take me on—it made them feel big and courageous. I know that I wasn’t exactly the innocent party: people who don’t like my writing find it both Olympian and smart-alecky.” In the late 70s, she briefly worked as a consultant for Paramount, trading in her New Yorker pen for a Hollywood clapperboard. The timing of this job would coincide with Tarantino’s plans of where his script shall be set. 

If that is the case, it shall tell the story of ‘79, where after an offer from Bonnie and Clyde actor Warren Beatty, she accepted the task of filmmaking. She was asked to work for him and produce a film called Love and Money, scripted by screenwriter James Toback. It brought her out of the critical sidelines and into the cut-throat industry, as she accepted leave from The New Yorker. After it went nowhere, she returned to work rather sheepishly and continued to write her reviews. She published 13 books of her essays and criticism, wielding her influence over the industry even in her retirement, and died in the September of 2001.

Social media are already in a frenzy over who could play the strong-minded critic revolutionary, with bets going from Jamie Lee Curtis, Cate Blanchett, or Jessica Chastain to Kate Winslet, Olivia Coleman, or Lesley Manville.

Quite the feat for the final film of Tarantino, it must be said that this could be some of his most highly-anticipated works yet. Well, at least for the movie critic it will be. But treading on the toes (literally) of difficult subjects has never really been a worry for the director. “To actually end your career on a decent movie is rare,” said the director on the Pure Cinema Podcast in 2021. “To end it with, like, a good movie is kind of phenomenal.” After his Oscar-winning film Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, he reflected by saying that it would have been a good finishing point for him. Thank god it’s not though, as the reviews for The Movie Critic will be some of the best that cinema has ever seen.

  • Writer Ella Chadwick
  • Banner Image Credit Instagram @tarantinoxx

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