I‘m not a film critic. Yes, I write some reviews and have a weekly show in which I sit around and bullshit with my friends about newly released film. In that sense sure, I guess I am a critic. But in that sense isn’t everyone a critic of any form of art or experience they have that they talk about? What I mean is that I’m not paid for what I do. It’s not a career (obviously). I didn’t go to film school and I don’t have a degree in journalism or broadcasting. I’m just a dude with an opinion in which the 21st century allows me to share that opinion with the masses.
So I think it’s time to address something that’s been bugging me for quite some time; an accusation that has been tossed around on our Cinecast (and others) far too often (of which I admit I am equally guilty). This notion that you’re “reviewing the movie not for what it is but what you wanted it to be.” I think that statement can careen down a real slippery slope and in most cases (not all) is totally invalid. Can’t you throw that accusation at anyone for just about any criticism of any movie? Our recent discussion of Rango has spurred these thoughts.
If someone were to say they didn’t like Speed Racer because the dialogue is terrible, I don’t think it’s fair to say, “well that’s just not what the movie was aiming for.” Well maybe not, but that doesn’t mean it’s an invalid criticism. The dialogue is pretty terrible in that movie. It’s hackneyed, elementary and corny. Sure it may be reminiscent of the original animated television show and sure that may be what the producers intended but that doesn’t mean someone has to like it or that it couldn’t have been done better. I personally happen to like Speed Racer quite a bit but I wouldn’t argue with anyone who walks out of the screening and says, “man I just don’t think I could’ve taken one more second of Susan Sarandon’s one dimensional character and her campy acting!” That’s an absolutely fair comment to make.
So yes, that person wanted that movie to be something different. In essence, any review out there that is negative of something is essentially saying just that isn’t it? If the film had done something just a little bit different it might be more positive looking in that particular “critic’s” viewpoint.
Now of course there is a line that must be drawn. One can’t claim they didn’t like Morning Glory because it wasn’t scary or bloody enough. That would be stupid. But regarding Rango, I think it’s fair to say that I didn’t feel any sort of excitement or have the sensation of being “riveted to my chair” during the film. That’s a 100% valid criticism in my opinion. There is nothing wrong with that statement. You can disagree all day long and maybe not understand why I would make such a statement, but it’s a valid argument and it then becomes my job to articulately explain exactly why I didn’t have any sort of visceral reaction to a particular scene or movie going experience.
You may not agree, but my feelings are my feelings and you can’t change the experience I had no matter how hard you argue or plead. So then of course the fall back is to say, “well you just wanted something the film wasn’t trying to deliver.” To which I would say first of all, you’re right! I did want something different than what the film was giving me. And second of all, I actually do think Rango was intending to deliver excitement and in that endeavor it failed… for me.
So in terms of tone, style, pacing or acting/dialogue (and many other characteristics of a film), in my opinion the phrase, “you just wanted something the film wasn’t trying to deliver” may be true, but it’s not a valid criticism of another’s critique. Again, I agree that there is a line at which it becomes ridiculous to take certain shots at a particular film; like in my Morning Glory example above.
However, I can think of an example in which that argument probably is valid. In a recent review of Black Swan someone suggested that it would have been better had Natalie Portman *SPOILER* show contentOK, maybe that would be true for some viewers. However, the entire point of that film is as a reconstruction (on multiple levels) of the famous ballet, “Swan Lake.” So for it to not turn out as it did would be a giant misstep in the film’s plotting and would undermine its entire message and intent. It would be like saying that “Romeo and Juliet” is a better story if all the characters live in the end. So in that case, using the “not what you wanted it to be” accusation would be valid. If you don’t like “Swan Lake,” then fair enough; but don’t critique a film that is trying to reconstruct “Swan Lake” for being too much like “Swan Lake.” That simply makes no sense. Likewise, you may want a happy ending with your Shakespearean drama piece, but he didn’t write it that way so just deal with any film adaptation that is faithful to it.
Now having said all that, there’s probably a grey area in here as well. Is it fair to say you didn’t like The Assassination of Jesse James… because there wasn’t enough gun-slinging action in it? While I wouldn’t agree with that sentiment, I think it’s a fair criticism if someone were to say that. After all, Jesse James is a famous outlaw, gang leader known for robbing banks and trains while killing a lot of men in cold blood. On top of that the film is of the western genre and folks are used to a certain experience when they go to see a western; particularly Americans. So yeah, while I love (LOVE!) The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and clearly the intent of the film is to be an art house love letter to the western genre as a stylized cinematographic piece, there may be an argument that it isn’t quite what one would expect given the genre and the notoriety of who we’re led to believe is the main character of the film. So yeah, to say you didn’t like it for lack of what you had expected (especially with propaganda floating around out there like this) and more of what you don’t want out of your films is pretty fair I think. That said, after having seen the film, one should be able to parse these elements and make objective judgments about what they’ve just seen; not based on what they didn’t get. So who is right in this instance?
I’m sure there are probably other examples in which the phrase, “you just didn’t like it because you wanted the film to be something that it isn’t trying to be” is valid and in some cases it can become a rather slippery slope. But the way it has been thrown around rather loosely as of late (both here in the third row and other web sites) is a complete cop-out when trying to get someone to see your side of things. It needs to stop. Particularly when the film in question is giving you exactly what it is intending but just not delivering on those elements.