“…isn’t worth your time.”
That was part of the headline for a recent movie review. The movie in question wasn’t one of the major studio releases but a title debuting on a popular streaming service that week.
Critics are, of course, paid to share their opinions on films and to, on some level, weigh in on whether or not it achieves some level of quality. And in our current media environment the stronger the opinion of the critic the better in order to break through the background noise.
The reason the headline in question caught my eye is that it seemed to cross the line from evaluating the movie itself and became about offering direct advice and direction to the reader. And that rubbed me the wrong way.
let’s stick with subjectivity
There are certainly movies where the acting is of higher quality.
There are certainly movies where the various production elements show higher levels of skill and proficiency.
There are certainly movies where the writing is more cohesive and the story easier to follow.
None of that, though, is an indication of whether or not a movie is worth your time.
Over the years there have definitely been times when I’ve taken a somewhat snooty approach to evaluating movies and sharing my opinion of them with others. But in that regard I’ve calmed down quite a bit and have come to the following conclusion:
MOST EVERY MOVIE IS WORTH WATCHING AT LEAST ONCE.
I’m not mad I spent three and a half hours watching The Irishman a few years ago. When it ended I felt I had enjoyed myself and appreciated the craft that had gone into making it.
I’m also not mad I spent a total of about three hours watching The Babysitter and its sequel, subtitled Killer Queen. Both movies were fun and made in a way completely appropriate to the subject matter and at the end of both I felt I had enjoyed myself.
it’s my time, thank you very much
One of the great things about the era of streaming is that the barrier to entry for any movie is almost non-existent. If I already subscribe to Netflix, the incremental cost of watching The Babysitter over watching The Irishman is zero, essentially just my time.
While the actual economics are slightly different, this is largely the same role second-run movie theaters used to serve when they were more common than they are now that so many have been pushed out of business by collapsed home video windows and other factors. You could try something you were a little unsure of for $1.50 a ticket when the first-run price of $7 seemed too high. If you had a good time then it was totally worth it and hey, you tried something new. If you didn’t, you were only out $1.50 and a few hours.
critique, don’t warn
Considering there are so many forces actively working against feature films as an artform – gaming, mobile video, prestige limited series and more – it’s surprising to see any critic or journalist actively warning potential audiences away from experiencing any movie.
I’m not saying we need to go full tech press and have film journalists unquestionably praise any movie that comes down the funnel. But there’s a way to say “I enjoyed this movie for the following reasons and you might too” or “I didn’t enjoy this movie for the following reasons but you might” and have it be acceptable.
By engaging in hard and fast warnings and telling readers, in essence, they are better off not engaging with a film, critics are potentially denying people an enjoyable experience. And they’re doing damage to the art form as a whole by creating mental boundaries that may result in someone choosing to spend their time on TikTok instead of even trying a movie that isn’t a blockbuster cultural event with a $300 million marketing budget.
As I said above, my opinion is nearly every movie is worth seeing at least once. Certainly there are exceptions to this for clearly objectionable material. Outside of that, though, audiences should be encouraged to sample from a breadth of material, allowing them to determine which areas they wish to explore more deeply.