My advice to anyone with half a brain and/or a serious grounding in Hollywood lore is to watch Mank for its gorgeous images, but turn the sound down.
Director David Fincher seems to be attempting to compensate for his father’s bush-league screenplay by packaging it as a studio era product, all full of “hard sell” and obviousness so as to reach the farmers in the cheap seats. That the film has something like 80% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes is to me evidence of Rotten Education. The irony of celebrating one of the great Hollywood screenwriters, Herman J. Mankiewicz with such a shitty screenplay seems to be lost on, like everybody, with its overly-expository dialogue and Chinese water torture of done-to-death quotations. The opening beats of the film are like an Algonquin Roundtable Circle Jerk: “How do you do, Mr. George S. Kaufman? I guess YOU’ll want to step out of those wet things and into a dry martini!” I’m seeing whole articles on the internet about the casting of Orson Welles. Haven’t, like 70,000 dudes played Orson Welles in as many masturbatory movies about the making of Citizen Kane? Seems like it. (I happen to concur that it’s one of the greatest movies of all time, but I don’t want to listen to a broken record about it). And all these faux Hawksian performances, as though this were a community theatre production of The Man Who Came to Dinner. Gary Oldman’s Mankiewicz is like the unearthly offspring of Faye Dunaway’s Joan Crawford and Jiminy Glick. Why don’t you go all the way to CGI and make a cartoon of it? It’s already halfway to Who Framed Roger Rabbit! Honestly, all this historical cosplay — the movie feels like a movie nerd’s Halloween party, or an audition for Disney’s new Forties World amusement park. And if Fincher’s thesis is “sympathy for the underdog” (and the screenwriter is always the underdog) why shoot it as an homage to Welles? And why use the format of Kane, which trashed Hearst? Is the idea less to celebrate the unsung hero than to hoist him on his own petard?
At any rate: writers writing movies about writers writing about writing writing about movies writers write about movie writing. It would take a Gertrude Stein to describe this narcissistic echo chamber. It’s been a while, but every so often I’d like to see a movie about the USHER at a theatre that showed Citizen Kane.
Did I insult enough people yet? Good. Then my work here is done.