Good movies: when a critic is off duty
Image Credit: Laurie SparhamYou’d think that given my long years on the job, I’d have ready replies. But coming up with the right answers never gets any easier: When friends, or family, or neighbors with whom I’ve shared an apartment elevator for ages, or interested strangers I meet at holiday parties, or even my dentist of 25 years asks me, “What should I see at the movies these days?” I’m always momentarily stumped. I mean, I know which movies I think are good — and which movies I think are not. And I can supply a (brilliant!) critical analysis to back my opinions. But that’s not what is being asked. Not really.
“What should I see?” my old college pal, or my sister-in-law, or my neighbor on the 10th floor asks me, and I have to remember: The college friend doesn’t like movies with any disturbing content, so there goes Black Swan. My sister-in-law has little interest in animation, so there goes The Illusionist. And I have no idea whether the 10th-floor neighbor will be as engrossed as I was in a movie about a guy who cuts his own arm off to save his life — even if that guy is James Franco and the movie is as good as 127 Hours. There are plenty of movies I think are great that I know friend A or B won’t like, and I don’t think it’s my place to convince them otherwise. And there are plenty of movies I think stink that I know friend X or Y will enjoy, and I don’t want to rain on their Little Fockers parade. (I take that back: I’ll steer loved ones and strangers alike away from those Fockers, secure in the knowledge that box office revenues suggest no one gives a Focker about critical opinion.)
The result: When faced with a request for my off-duty opinion (which is to say, a market recommendation), I shift pleasantly and agreeably to the role of consumer advocate. If you like ______ (Jeff Bridges? ’80s videogame nostalgia? Katherine Heigl?), you’ll like _______. And if you don’t like _________ (war movies? chick flicks? Katherine Heigl?), then you won’t like _______. And at the party, in the elevator, or in the dentist’s chair, I become more of a guide than a critic. Someone asks, “How’s Black Swan?” and I answer, “Delirious. Voluptuous. Mad and grand and I liked it but…how do you feel about crazy ballet movies? Because this one is nuts.” Someone else asks, “How is Made in Dagenham?” and I reply, “It’s a perky British retro labor story, starring perky Sally Hawkins, very cute and uplifting.” What I don’t say is “It made my teeth hurt.”
As for the splendid fellows pictured above, Geoffrey Rush and Colin Firth, I know exactly what to say when someone asks, “What about The King’s Speech?” The answer is “You’ll love it.” I don’t need to qualify that you can’t help but love it, because the movie is squarely (and I do mean squarely) built to be loved, and admired, and festooned with prizes. I don’t need to add that it’s a big, square, safe, royal chariot of award-type movies. There’s no need, at least not in the elevator. And certainly not in the dentist’s chair. Go, enjoy, you’ll love it.
Anyhow, I don’t think I’m alone — am I? Do you, too, fit your movie recommendations to the occasion? Or are you a philosopher of the it-sucks/it’s-great school so eloquently analyzed by astute critic Jerry Seinfeld?