May 14, 2012

The curse of being profiled in The New Yorker


In a Salon essay Alec Nevala-Lee suggests that a New Yorker profile may actually be a curse for Hollywood’s biggest talent, such that “whenever a New Yorker profile shows a director hard at work in the editing room, the studio should start to worry.”

The results can be startling, especially when you set the articles alongside the films they so effusively describe. Tad Friend’s profile of Steve Carell, for instance, portrays its subject as “a brilliant piece of software, a 2.0 fix for the problem of unfunny comedy,” whose approach to collaboration is nothing less than “a painstaking set of procedures aimed at maximum creativity.” The result? “Dinner for Schmucks,” a critical and commercial nonevent that few would hold up as a model of “the golden age of improvisation.”

Other profiles read even more strangely in hindsight. Last May, the film “Bridesmaids” had everyone talking about the role of women in modern comedy, a topic that Friend addressed in a lengthy feature published the month before. “What’s at stake is not merely a tenable marketplace for ‘hard’ female comedies,” he writes, “but a fresh vantage on romance and, perhaps, a fresh way of seeing men and women.” Unfortunately, he isn’t talking about “Bridesmaids,” but about Anna Faris in “What’s Your Number?,” which came out in September and promptly sank like a stone.

Nevala-Lee says the curse isn’t an exact science — he points to recent profiles of Lena Dunham and James Cameron — but explains that the trend he describes might be the result of “performance chasing,” that is, “investing in today’s interview subject based on yesterday’s hit movie, which, as an outlier, is often followed by a slump.”


Kelly Burdick is the former executive editor of Melville House.