Kevin Smith’s new film Yoga Hosers was given a limited release this past weekend (alas, it’s still not playing here in Vancouver), and so far the film is most notable for the singularly vitriolic reviews it’s garnering. The film, a oddball comedy starring Smith’s daughter Harley Quinn and her best friend Lily-Rose Depp (whose Dad appears in the film as well), is the second in Smith’s foray into spinning his often hilarious podcast digressions into cinematic cloth. In this case, Harley Quinn and Lily-Rose play two convenience store clerks named Colleen (a nod, as it happens to the wife of Gordie Howe) who want nothing more than to attend a party given by seniors at their high school. Their plans get interrupted by an invasion of small Nazi sausage men (“Bratzis”) led by an evil mastermind with connections to Hitler (played by Ralph Garman, Smith’s podcast co-host). It’s the sort of idea that seems crazily random, unless you’ve been immersed in the strange, free-associating world of Smodco podcasts.
Criticism of a film like this is a little pointless, and some reviewers are aware of this, mentioning that this is essentially one long series of in-jokes. But the general tone of the critics towards Yoga Hosers seems to be one of resentful anger, as if they are offended by the very existence of this trifle. One critical lightning rod is the casting of Smith and Depp’s daughters, and the insinuation that this project is simply some way for Smith to make an elaborate family film. That explains the very specific audience the filmmaker seems to have in mind — indeed, Kevin P. Sullivan in Entertainment Weekly speculates that the film has an apparent audience of one. “Unless you’re Kevin Smith, don’t expect Yoga Hosers to be funny or clever or well directed. It isn’t for you.” Other criticisms are familiar to Smith movies, pointing out the choppy story structure, awkward camera movements, homages to John Hughes movies and other tropes we’ve come to expect from the creator of Clerks all those years ago. The reception towards Smith’s earlier podcast-inspired film, Tusk, was similarly qualified and somewhat vitriolic, pointing out its apparent lack of appeal to a wide audience and odd sensibilities.
All of this criticism may or may not hurt Yoga Hosers at the box office. This is a film that has essentially already found its audience, even before wide release. The people who would be inclined to go and see it in a theatre, rather than waiting for the inevitable streaming version, already know they’re going, and have for months, as Smith has been very open and vocal about the progress of this project through his podcasts. Perhaps some of those people might drag a somewhat reluctant companion to the theatre, and perhaps not. But either way, the audience for Yoga Hosers, by and large, will not be dissuaded by poor reviews.
Those poor reviews, by the way, also won’t dissuade the creator of this apparently aesthetically offensive piece of cinema from pushing forward with his plans for the final “True North Trilogy” film, Moose Jaws. In fact, Smith turned the reviews of Yoga Hosers literally into a podcast this past weekend, recruiting his Hollywood Babble-on co-star Garman to read him select quotes from the incendiary notices, often in one of his trademark impersonation voices (such as Sylvester Stallone, Adam West and David Lynch) on a special episode. Smith responds to the criticism mostly by agreeing with them (“Yes, this is a self indulgent film. Yes, it does have a limited audience.”).
But the twist is that Smith simply does not care. Garman, in fact, is much more troubled by the bad reviews than Smith himself, recounting the horrible notices with some trepidation. Unlike Smith, Garman has not built an entire genre around his personality and is still a hustling actor trying to land roles. Appearing in the worst-reviewed film of the year is not exactly a great career move. But Smith offers no apologies, and simply bends with the criticism, responding with such quips as, “It cost $4 million, what do you expect?” or “It’s a goofy fucking movie. I get it!” The point is, with Smith, this discussion is simply irrelevant. He made the movie he wanted to make (Smith claims that he’s always taken that approach, except with his less successful projects) and he likes it. That’s what matters.
The controversy, if it can be called that, surrounding this and other recent Smith projects is really about what responsibility an artist has to their audience. Most critics seem to be angry about the fact that Smith didn’t take their needs or tastes into consideration before making this film, and thus produced a cinematic artifact that is out of step with their vision of what a movie should be. They seem upset by the fact that Smith is at a point in his career where he can make a $4 million movie that doesn’t lose any money (thanks to distribution deals and pre-selling territories) that only appeals to his die-hard fans. Perhaps what upsets them most is that Smith isn’t trying to attract a mass audience. This puts him in a category closer to John Waters (who critics seem to adore) than Judd Apatow, and perhaps critics think Smith doesn’t deserve to be in that lauded company.
Whatever the explanation, the level of hostility aimed at Smith feels personal, as if somehow Smith made this film in contempt of critical taste, with the stated goal of alienating as many of them as possible. Unlike films by, for example, Zack Snyder, which are similarly savaged by critics, Smith’s films don’t spoil or pervert treasured popular culture figures or contribute to the creation of a dour cultural aesthetic. They simply exist in their own world, unapologetically, and are easily ignorable if one is offended by them. Smith, after all these years, is still speaking to his audience, and his audience is still listening.