Movie criticism isn’t a democracy — never has been, never will be. What it is, exactly, I’m not quite sure, but there’s little reasoning allowed and rarely do we, the critics, care what anyone else thinks. In fact, the more Roger Ebert or my editor loves a movie that I didn’t, the more reason for me to hate it. We’re told to be strong in our convictions — or maybe it’s just implied somewhere. The way of the critic.
When the day comes that I conflict with the public’s consensus more often than not, I will gladly concede that I am ill-suited to be a critic. But until then, I will ignore the second-guessing and conflicting opinions of others.
However, as a critic I occasionally feel the desire, or the need (at some wacky editor’s behest) to implement rationale into the equation. What I will do, in a mere concession to those who call me a cynic rather than a critic, is second-guess myself. In movie critic terms, this translates to a second chance — something a remote few critics have been willing to concede.
Those who have done so have taken verbal beatings for their retractions of printed articles and scathing reviews. In particular, I remember the outcry this summer when a rare supporter of “Planet of the Apes” pulled a 180 on his own review, finally concluding that the Burton remake was, in fact, the pile of monkey crap his comrades had made it out to be.
But those who refuse to do so will always carry a grudge or disdain for some movie that they — unfairly or not — never gave a real chance.
Case in point, my recent experience with “Almost Famous,” the Cameron Crowe childhood story that was released to great fanfare, but little accolade from myself, last fall. I won’t even begin to attempt to try to remember my mood, the conditions, the weather or my relationship status (a good barometer of my mood over any period) at the time. As a critic, I see hundreds upon hundreds of movies per year (maybe another part of the critics dilemma), but I couldn’t begin to tell you whether I was in a good mood when I saw “Almost Famous,” whether I hated “The Hurricane” because it was raining that day, or how much sleep I had the day before I saw and hated “The Straight Story.”
But for all of that, I will concede that I love “Joe Versus the Volcano” because it’s where I received my first kiss. Similarly, I hate “The Hobbit” because that’s where I tried, unsuccessfully, to obtain my second. In other words, no matter how hard we try — and yes, this means critics as well — there are other elements that grip us, shake us, rattle us and mess with our perceptions.
So, a year after viewing and detesting “Almost Famous,” I looked around and couldn’t help but feel I was a minority. God forbid I suffer from player hater complex. Everyone loved this movie — not only loved it, but embraced it wholeheartedly — and many of them were willing to fistfight me in its defense. I’m a lover, not a fighter, so I regretfully declined, but my distaste persisted.
“Mom, is there something wrong with me?” I asked. Reassured, I decided it was time to buckle down, swallow my pride and give it another shot.
Having done so, I can say I have increased my lifetime happiness gauge by three points (one point is roughly the equivalent of three Hostess cupcakes — individuals, not packs).
This isn’t the time to print a retraction of my hatred towards “Almost Famous,” so I will forgo any elaboration, but I spent almost two hours asking “Why did I not like this movie the first time?” As a critic, that’s not a fun experience, but it reinforces my already-strong assertion that: To your everyday moviegoer, a movie is only as good as the mood you’re in. There are about fifteen elements that shape one’s opinion of a movie, and the actual quality of said flick is rarely weighed equally with or above any of those other elements.
As a critic, it’s our job to quickly wade through those emotions and obstacles that cloud our view and present an unbiased opinion usually before we have time to digest it. Imagine the outrage were NFL referees to stop games after every play to mull over the potential distractions that may or may not have affected their calls.
“I think he dropped the ball, but you know, my wife left me yesterday and I’ve got this nasty rash on my butt that’s really annoying me, so I’m in a pretty bad mood and I guess I could have been distracted. What do you guys think?”
A second chance is a luxury that, as moviegoers, everyone should take advantage of. Every movie should be seen twice. And if that results in conflicting views, what’s more diplomatic than seeing it a third time? But movie criticism isn’t a democracy and rarely do we take in more than a mere glimpse, often giving into our emotions, the moment, the aura, the crowd. Without having settled anything here — except that “Almost Famous” is deserving of a rubber match — I will instead take a moment to note my retractions from the past decade.
“American Beauty” is slipping every day, and although I’ve never printed its review, I now retract my initially glowing assessment of it. I did, however, review “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” Same story. Ditto “Scarface.” Inversely, I’ve come around to see the finer points of “Contact,” “The Truman Show” and now “Almost Famous.” Other than that, I think I’m doing okay.