Thumb prints on the glass: A director considers the thumbs-up/thumbs-down reactions to his film, now out on DVD.

A Fat Line Between Love and Hate

David Munro October 6, 2009

"A beautiful, delicately observed comedy."

"The festival circuit is the only ride for this wobbly vehicle."

"As entertaining as the wine tour in Sideways."

"Hasn’t got a joke worth laughing over."

"An artistically integrated film that introduces a refreshing new talent to the independent scene."

"An inauspicious debut"

Wildly differing reactions. Same film. Mine.

How can so many people respond in diametric, and at times, vitriolic opposition to the same exact frames? The same characters and lines?

Since this is my first spin at the feature film prom, I’ve searched myself for answers. The only conclusion I can offer: Some of my favorite films have polarized critics and audiences in much the same way.

Harmony Korine’s Gummo and Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man are among my all-time favorite movies. Dead Man—which, like Tarantino’s similarly picked-over Jackie Brown, I consider a breakout tour de force—got the full-on boo-bird tomato treatment at Cannes. Gummo, one of the purest examples of verité cinema I know, was thusly dismissed by one reviewer: "See it with someone you loathe."

The same scenes that had me mesmerized and speechless had many more viewers reaching for a gag stick. If nothing else, this sheds light on the term alternative cinema. It’s alternative. Something other than what you expect.

Now I’m not putting my film in the category of Gummo and Dead Man. These are masterpieces. Also, unlike them, Full Grown Men is really not that alternative. (My short films, that’s another story.) I certainly had no intention of alienating audiences—it’s a comedy. You’re supposed to laugh. But we did intend to challenge certain viewer expectations. Some people appreciate that, some don’t.

Director David Munro and his cowriter (and producer) Xandra Castleton take a brave but rewarding risk by unfolding this story from Alby’s selfish, happy-go-lucky point of view.

He’ll hold his breath until you turn blue.

Antiheroes are tricky beasts, often used to make a satirical point. In our case, a critique of a generation wallowing in nostalgia. The detachment acts a bit like a mirror—when you complicate identification with a main character, it bounces you out of the redemption bubble and makes you confront the film’s problem face-first. You’re deprived somewhat of the auto-pilot firewall that classically sympathetic characters supply. Your surrogate is unreliable. It’s a bumpier ride; but for some, a more satisfying one.

This whimsically crafted tale manages to be simultaneously silly, surreal and wise beyond its years.

Full Grown Men often becomes as intolerably silly as the twee Amerindies it’s reacting to.

Trust me, I don’t take cover behind any pretensions of artistry. The arrows are as valid as the bouquets. You like it or you don’t. I won’t try to convince you otherwise. I remember attending a particularly galling screening of a feature at the Rotterdam Film Festival (where a short of ours was playing); it was an assaultive, self-satisfied, humanity-hating film where the audience stuck around just to see what the filmmaker could possibly say. His response? "I don’t make films for audiences, I make films for me." (Yes, he was German . . . nvj)

That’s absurd. So why are you at a festival and not sitting at home with a tub of Pop Secret in your lap? Get over yourself. There’s no matter of "getting it" or not. It is what is it, and you see what you see.

People ask me if I’d do anything differently if I could make the film over again. As if to make the tent larger, and turn the down thumbs up. Honestly, no. We didn’t make a perfect film (that’s another love/hate conclusion I can offer), but we made the film we set out to make. Obviously, enough people like it that I’m here, now, blogging to you. What I learned making Full Grown Men (uh, tons) will definitely inform my next film—not in the sense of stuff we did wrong, just the continuing journey of growing as a filmmaker.

Ask a friend if they liked a mainstream film, and usually they’ll say, "Meh. It was okay." People don’t tend to say that about our movie. I guess I’ll take bipolar reactions over no reaction at all.

This article originally appeared in David Munro’s Full Grown Men blog at Find out how to buy the DVD from

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