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The truth about movie junkets

Julia Roberts’ ”America’s Sweethearts” and Martin Short’s ”Primetime Glick” get many of the elements right, says Ty Burr

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Martin Short, Primetime Glick
Primetime Glick: Al Levine

The truth about movie junkets

Remember that scene in ”Citizen Kane” when Orson Welles, as the dying Charles Foster Kane, walks uncomprehendingly through a mirrored hallway and his reflections stretch off into infinity? That’s sometimes what it feels like to be covering the entertainment world these days — as a reporter writing about movies and TV shows that are about entertainment reporters trying to write about movies and TV shows that are about….

The latest iterations of the M.C. Escher staircase are Martin Short’s new Comedy Central faux talk show, ”Primetime Glick” (Wednesdays, 10:30 p.m.), and the Julia Roberts romantic farce ”America’s Sweethearts” (in theaters June 20). Both represent, in their differing ways, Hollywood’s conflicted response to the bottom feeders of the media industry: The ”personalities” who host tinpot movie news shows at the back end of the cable dial, the small-town critics who live for free food at movie junkets, and the quote whores whose boilerplate raves clog movie ads in your newspaper. Maybe even an entertainment magazine or two.

The Hollywood creative and marketing communities hate these guys and would love to contain and control them (Sony’s invention of the fake movie critic ”David Manning” to provide posi-blurbs for ”The Animal” is an example of this impulse taken to unethical extremes), but they gotta live with them. Still, why not control them by parodying them?

Martin Short, in fact, has been entirely upfront about the fact that his obese, mercurial, oddly dainty Jiminy Glick is a compendium of the worst parts of the journalists he has met over the years. He asks horrifically rude questions in a polite, need-to-know voice (”There’s a dullness about you, Jerry Seinfeld — Why is that?”). He clearly hasn’t seen his guests’ movies. And he is smugly convinced that proximity to celebrity makes HIM a celebrity. One of the reasons that ”Primetime Glick” is so deliciously funny to anyone who covers Hollywood for a living is that we recognize our brethren there — and, on our worst days, ourselves. The show carries the chagrin of enlightenment, as all good satire should.

”America’s Sweethearts” is less biting in its depiction of the media — a movie hoping for a good opening weekend can’t afford to turn the press against it — but, in a way, it says even more about Hollywood’s fraught relationship with the Fourth Estate. The film’s set at a massive media junket for a big-budget action romance, and while most of the plot revolves around the romantic problems of characters played by Catherine Zeta-Jones, John Cusack, and Julia Roberts, there’s a lot of comedy mined from the endless full-court press of reporters from TV, radio, newspapers, and the Internet.

”Sweethearts” gets a number of things right, primarily that film junkets are morally and physically debilitating for stars and reporters alike. Being asked the same shallow question literally 150 times in a row may be a professional duty for film actors, but it’s no one’s idea of fun. Conversely, a reporter knows that five minutes with a star will never result in anything remotely ”real.” Both parties are simply providing fresh meat for the media maw.

And as ”America’s Sweethearts” correctly presents it, both parties tend to be as professional as circumstances allow. That’s not always the case, of course. In my own time at junkets, I’ve seen bad behavior both from stars — like the legendary leading lady who ripped into me with a blistering string of four letter words when I made the diplomatic gaffe of referring to her real name (I was young and naive, but still) — and more frequently from members of the press, like the movie critic, now a much-respected writer-director, who mercilessly pinned a discomfited John Goodman to the wall with questions about alcoholism during a roundtable for ”The Babe” (Goodman had recently admitted he probably drank more beer than he ought to).

And, yes, there are real Jiminy Glicks out there whose clueless insensitivity can take your breath away — such as the junket veteran who asked Keanu Reeves, only a few months after his girlfriend had given birth to their stillborn child, ”So would you like to have children someday?” Amazingly, Reeves kept his composure and answered, evenly, that yes, he would.

Why do actors and directors put up with these idiots? Because they need them to spread the word about the work into which they put so much time, money, and effort. And why do reporters put up with the cattle car impersonality of the junket format and the occasional hostile celeb flare up? Because we hope to get at something truthful, or, failing that, something entertaining, or, failing that, to fill a hole.

In other words, both parties are doing it for you, dear reader, for you. And because it’s our job. That said, an occasional look in the mirror can’t help but be a good thing.