I went home to New Jersey over spring break and met up with my friend who goes to Princeton University. We hung-out on Princeton’s campus, ate a lot of unhealthy food and really just enjoyed ourselves. On my last day there, we saw “Pariah,” and I was surprised by how different our critiques of the movie were. She saw it as a perfect example of how film can be an empowering medium for the LGBT community. While I agreed with her to the extent that the film was inspirational, I brought up what I perceived to be flaws in the film’s architecture that are critically detrimental to how the film presents its characters. She mostly dismissed my claims, basing her opinions on the film’s overarching themes, while I remained too hung up on how the flaws in its foundation show through as cracks on the surface.
This really got me thinking about what it means to review a movie from the perspective of a critic versus a casual moviegoer. In the end, it all comes down to what critics are looking for in a movie as well as their own personal preferences.
The mindset of a movie critic is generally different from that of a casual moviegoer. We’re more literary and therefore aren’t looking at a movie purely in terms of whether it’s entertaining, but as a presentation of ideas. A good movie, in my opinion, takes into account every aspect of what an audience is being exposed to. This includes cinematography, music, acting, cultural relevance, effects and script. All these elements combine to show off a film’s underlying message.
In some movies, the message is easier to see than others. For example, “Shame,” in my opinion, pulled all aspects I look for in a film together to convey a message that is seen in every scene; it maintained its theme without being preachy and was effective in leaving its audience with a new perspective on sex addiction. “Pariah” didn’t have enough focus in its production to be as thorough in its presentation.
My friend, however, is not much of a moviegoer and reads much more than I do. In high school, I always saw a plethora of books in her bag, and we even volunteered at the library together. Her focus on the message of a film breaks the cardinal distinction between average moviegoers being less literary that critics. This is because we are human and therefore have different opinions on what is most important.
That’s a very lame, cop-out explanation, but it’s the truest part of every review. No film will ever invoke the same reaction in everyone that sees it because its content will appeal to some people more than others. Critics often have very differing views on films, even among themselves, simply because we like what we like. Because of this, I think, the job of a film critic is to dive deeper into a movie and look at what it is doing and trying to say and point out inconsistencies that may have been overlooked by someone looking at a movie simply for entertainment.
My dad loves action movies and those horrible monster monstrosities on Syfy because he uses movies to get away from the humdrum aspects of life. My mom and I complain every time he turns them on because we prefer indie films that comment on real life struggles. There will be no changing my dad’s mind because that’s just how he likes his movies, and there’s no need to be frustrated with someone else’s preferences. Just let people like what they like, and we’ll move on with our lives.
This is the root of most moviegoer backlash against critics’ reviews: It often seems that critics are attacking a movie. But we can’t help it if we are critiquing a movie that presents the aspects that we deem important in a film poorly. Take the “Transformers” series: I classify the film as “action porn” because its sole focus on CGI and production qualities makes it, in my opinion, a one-service film with no depth, and it’s not worth my time. Other critics will take its one-service nature into account and change a review’s criteria based on its genre. I, on the other hand, will not because it doesn’t live up to other movies that have depth in addition to good special effects.
Every critic is different, but overall we’re reading into films in search of how they tick, where their strengths are and how they compare to our ideal example of a movie.
My friend and I bicker like crazy about movies we’ve seen. My parents call us a modern day Siskel and Ebert because we both know what we like in a movie and support our opinions well. I am a critic that looks more at how every part of a film works together with the message, and you can count on my reviews being highly analytical. If you think I’m missing the mark on any of my reviews, tell me what angle you think I should have pursued when viewing a certain film. I’m very open to using a new lens.
Tim Hadick is a sophomore majoring in Japanese and journalism. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet him @RealCollege.