The Free State Of Jones

Matthew McConaughey’s famous smile, essentially its own sentient creature after years of unending charismatic beaming, has been notably skittish at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. That’s probably thanks to the reception the actor’s latest film project, the Gus Van Sant-directed Sea Of Trees, received at a press screening Friday night. The boos that greeted Van Sant’s film (which was described by The A.V. Club’s Ignatiy Vishnevetsky as “fundamentally wrongheaded”) sent the smile skittering away from the light, back into the dense nest of beard that it’s built on the lower half of the actor’s face.

It remained there during the next days’ press appearances, where it was joined by co-star Naomi Watts’ grim pout and Van Sant’s desperate grimace. When reporters questioned the actor about the movie’s reception, the smile ceded its control of McConaughey’s mouth to his powers of speech, so that the actor could blankly intone, “Anyone has as much right to boo as they do to ovate,” reiterating once and for all the film critic’s natural right to be shaped like an egg.

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But the McConaughey smile is a fickle, gregarious creature, and it cannot stay hidden for long. Sea Of Trees was given its official Cannes debut on Saturday night, where it was met with standing applause and, presumably, at least a little bit of happy ovulation. Responding to the siren song, the smile peeked out of its burrow, radiant as ever, ensuring a short winter and bountiful harvest for the happy people of Cannes.