The Big Picture
- Roger Ebert’s scathing review of Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo kickstarted a bitter feud between him and Rob Schneider.
- Despite the feud, Ebert and Schneider eventually made amends, with Schneider sending Ebert flowers and Ebert expressing kind words towards Schneider.
- The relationship between film critics and filmmakers can be tumultuous, but moments of redemption and mutual admiration are possible.
As one of cinema’s most ardent and influential critics, Roger Ebert never minced words in expressing his admiration or disdain for a film. While his enthusiastic thumbs-up endorsement could lift the spirits of filmmakers and performers, his thumbs-down diatribes could be equally devastating with their fiery rhetoric and palpable loathing. Whether he liked a film or not, however, his nuanced and reverential approach to criticism always made for entertaining and thought-provoking commentary.
Among Ebert’s more infamous assessments came in 2005 when he penned a harsh critique of Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo, the follow-up to 1999’s Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo starring Rob Schneider. Unsurprisingly, Ebert wouldn’t be alone in his disapproval of the sex comedy, which was met with overwhelming derision when it hit theaters during the summer. When Schneider publicly pushed back against a particular critic, however, Ebert let the actor have it in a scathing zero-star review of the film, kicking off a bitter feud between the men that lasted for years.
How Did the Feud Between Roger Ebert and Rob Schneider Begin?
Though Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo was released on August 12, 2005, tabloid drama surrounding its level of quality began circulating months before. Writing about the state of Hollywood’s studio system, L.A. Times critic Patrick Goldstein took a jab at the film in January 2005. Critical of a seeming reluctance by major studios to finance highbrow, Academy Award-nominated films from the previous year, Goldstein lamented that those same studios were willing to put up money for “a follow-up to Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo, a film that was sadly overlooked at Oscar time because apparently nobody had the foresight to invent a category for Best Running Penis Joke Delivered by a Third-Rate Comic.”
According to Chaz Ebert‘s (Roger’s wife) blog, Schneider said of Goldstein’s article:
“First off, Mr. G. NEVER SAW THE MOVIE IN QUESTION! He trashed it before it was ever released and NOT in the entertainment section but on the Front page of the Times ABOVE THE FOLD. In the same article he also insulted me personally and professionally which I considered and still consider very unprofessional. He then used my before-mentioned and unseen film as an example of why Hollywood studios don’t win more Academy Awards, as if that should be the ‘be all end all’ criteria for every movie made in Hollywood.”
Ready to spring into action, the actor publicly responded with snarky statements aimed at Goldstein and his self-important authority as an opinionated film critic. “I decided to write an article in the paper myself, albeit a paid one, where I would make a similar assessment of Mr. Goldstein,” he recalled to Chaz Ebert. Whether he anticipated it or not, Schneider’s response to Goldstein’s comments would sow the seeds of staunch disagreement that would rear its head months later.
Roger Ebert Hated ‘Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo’
After Goldstein and Schneider traded rhetorical blows, Roger Ebert saw Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo, and his reaction was significantly less than enthusiastic. In his zero-star review, he wrote that it was “aggressively bad, as if it wants to cause suffering to the audience. The best thing about it is that it runs for only 75 minutes.” After trashing the film, he aimed his ire directly at Schneider, commenting on the actor’s public display of bickering months prior. Ebert specifically recounted Schneider’s open letter in which he labeled Goldstein as the “Best Third-Rate, Unfunny Pompous Reporter Who’s Never Been Acknowledged by His Peers.”
Schneider went further with his claims, alleging that Goldstein’s lack of a Pulitzer Prize automatically called into question the legitimacy of his comments on Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo. This particular jab inspired Ebert to voice support for his fellow critic by writing, “I went online and found that Patrick Goldstein has won a National Headliner Award, a Los Angeles Press Club Award, a RockCritics.com award, and the Publicists’ Guild award for lifetime achievement.” Saving the best zinger for last, Ebert then used Schneider’s criteria regarding critical authority via awards against the actor and quipped, “As chance would have it, I have won the Pulitzer Prize, and so I am qualified. Speaking in my official capacity as a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks.”
As fate would have it, that final declarative line of Ebert’s indignant statement wouldn’t be limited to one of his harshest reviews. Two years later, the critic published the book Your Movie Sucks, a compendium of some of his most damning pieces of film criticism throughout the early 21st century. While Rob Schneider didn’t make a movie that was loved, liked, or even begrudgingly tolerated, there’s something to be said for European Gigolo making enough of an impression to inspire the title of one of Ebert’s books. Though Ebert and Schneider had been so publicly combative in 2005, the bitterness between them would ultimately be resolved in unexpected yet tender-hearted ways.
Roger Ebert and Rob Schneider Laid Their Feud To Rest in a Touching Manner
According to The Guardian, Roger Ebert was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2002. After years of various treatments and surgeries, he lost his ability to speak but continued viewing and passionately writing about films until his death at age 70 in 2013. On May 7, 2007, he published a revealing and utterly touching article on his website detailing the well-wishes and support he’d recently received from a seemingly unlikely source. “A beautiful bouquet of flowers was delivered to the house the other day,” Ebert wrote. “A handwritten note paid compliments to my work and wished me a speedy recovery. The card was signed, ‘Your Least Favorite Movie Star, Rob Schneider.'”
Taken by the thoughtful gesture, Ebert revisited his horrendous review of European Gigolo and his public squabble with Schneider, maintaining his original stance on the film while reciprocating the actor with an olive branch of kind words. He opined that the flowers “were a reminder, if I needed one, that although Rob Schneider might (in my opinion) have made a bad movie, he is not a bad man, and no doubt tried to make a wonderful movie, and hopes to again. I hope so, too.” If that doesn’t tug on even the most cynical reader’s heartstrings, I don’t know what will.
In October 2013, Schneider sent Ebert’s widow, Chaz, a lengthy piece of writing in response to a series of questions she posed to him. Further fleshing out the back-and-forth he’d shared with the critic years before, the actor was gracious and thoughtful in expressing his deepest sympathies and respect for Ebert. Affectionately referring to their feud as “Roger and Me,” Schneider conceded that although Ebert’s review of his film was blunt and hurtful, it wasn’t an unfair assessment and made him reflect on the kinds of films he hoped to make going forward. Schneider wrote to Chaz:
“When I heard Roger was sick I felt terrible and my heart ached. Whatever bad feelings that were leftover melted away and all I remembered was thinking about how much I really admired and loved Roger Ebert and his work and how grateful I felt to him for introducing me to countless films from all over the world that became such an important part of my life and of my work. Some of the best times I had as a kid were watching the films that he thought were great!”
Sadly, Roger Ebert never got a chance to read the kind words Schneider expressed to Chaz, but his and Schneider’s enthusiastic willingness to publicly defend and champion one another despite past differences spoke volumes about each man’s character. As Schneider acknowledges in his letter, show business is not for the faint of heart and requires tough skin to navigate, and the cutthroat nature of the industry can easily cause better angels to get lost among all the venom and vitriol. But despite the ruthlessness of show business, if two men can engage in fisticuffs one minute and suddenly admire one another the next, perhaps there’s more hope for the fraught relationship between film critics and their subjects than we sometimes see.