One need but compare the negative reviews for the highly successful MAMMA MIA! to the considerably more favorable reviews for its far inferior sequel HERE WE GO AGAIN to realize something is definitely rotten at ROTTEN TOMATOES*. And yet for a spell there, like many, I based many of my movie-going decisions on this popular film review database, thus missing out on numerous films I later discovered were fabulous.
In retrospect, it’s not so surprising.
For one thing, the vast majority of film critics are males who grow up with very different life experiences, societal expectations and pressures than me. They are putting opinions out there for the world to see—opinions for which they will inevitably be judged, often harshly, in a world where everybody’s a critic and the professional reviewers’ jobs are under constant threat. Consequently—or so it seems to me—a chunk of them do little more than tow the party line, pandering to what they believe they should think about a film, evidenced by the recurring trends and redundancies across so many reviews (for example: movies by Nolan, Soderbergh or Aronofsky must be inherently great, whereas movies about women’s and minority issues with which most straight, white guys may not relate must be inherently mediocre at best.)
Then we have our audience reviews. And do please take notice how the tomatometer for audience and critics often differ, sometimes vastly. Though I have no specific data to support this, I’d be willing to bet that’s due in no small part to the much larger ratio of male to female film reviewers contrasted with the large number of female audience members that outnumber male spectators. Too, we must be wary of approval based on popularity contests. In this day and age of social media, it’s easier than ever for directors, actors and producers to encourage their legions of FB and Twitter followers to support their films with blind devotion. And on the flip side, it’s just as easy for trolls to rally antagonists to denounce them. Feminist-friendly films in particular are often targeted by droves of men’s rights malcontents who launch bad reviews en masse. Agendas abound. Don’t take any review at face value.
So, then, how do we make informed decisions about what to watch?
The solution’s simple — think for yourself. Film is so subjective, there’s simply no other way. Even your best mate could hate something you might love (Amy and I gleefully disagree about films all the time). So, in the perfect world I’d say go to your local cinemas (especially the independent ones) with open minds and the desire to be entertained, see everything that grabs even your slightest bit of interest.
Oh, and do keep in mind that trailers, too, can be terribly misleading, giving too much away or making a film out to be one thing when it’s another. Read descriptions, consult with people whose opinions you know and trust, or better yet, gamble regularly and see everything you can. Between moviepass (with which for $9 a month you can see unlimited films) and theaters that offer $5 Mondays or Tuesdays (a growing trend across the country), it’s far more affordable than it used to be. Not to mention, it will help preserve the movie-going experience in our culture, which will in turn alert the film industry gatekeepers there’s still a market for worthwhile films.
Thanks to social media, we’re inundated with other people’s opinions. But we mustn’t rely on them. It’s imperative we take responsibility for our own thoughts and actions. True, it means more work—collecting reliable data so as to become effectively informed—but in the end we will all benefit, and so will the future of films.
So, please, I implore you — stand your ground, mates! Don’t let critics, professional or otherwise, destroy films that deserve our attention.
*To elaborate on the example above, the original Mamma Mia scored a measly 54% with critics and 66% with voting audience members (while the sequel has, at the time of writing, garnered 80% from the critics and 66% from the audience. Agreeing wholeheartedly with NYT reviewer WESLEY MORRIS on this one, I can’t help but wonder — have the Russians been meddling with film critics, too?
For what it’s worth, here’s my theory of what really happened:
The original film came out after the much beloved musical. The producers cast big name stars in the leads rather than actors with strong singing/dancing talents. Reviewers, many who likely also saw the stage version, noted the film was inferior to the play and panned it. Meanwhile, audiences—many who did not see the play— enjoyed their favorite stars in a fun musical with lots of dazzling eye candy. Women viewers in particular no doubt enjoyed a female-driven rom-com that centered around a sexy, independent, middle-aged single mom with a sexually adventuresome past who comes out on top. And their appreciation grossed a respectable $609M for this $52M film)
Now, fast forward a decade, when the first film’s popularity continues to endure and we’ve witnessed the success of LA LA LAND (another musical featuring name stars who can’t sing or dance especially well). This time, the audience was not buying it, drawing a mere $395 M for the pricier $75M sequel. Yet the critics completely changed their tune. Why? Maybe they legitimately learned to like something they couldn’t appreciate before. Maybe they assume this one will have a built-in audience and don’t want to distance their readers. Maybe mainstream studio pics have gotten so crappy, they’ve simply lowered their standards. And maybe Wesley Morris and I are blind, and this sequel is indeed superior to the original. I’ll let you be the judge.
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