We normally take movie reviews to be the last word about a film. We turn to critics as a guiding light, trusting their opinions above even our own. Their word is the first we hear about the newest in cinema. Sometimes, we formulate our opinions on movies based solely on their opinions. Or maybe that’s just me.
I love reading movie reviews and critiques. I love perusing the works of Roger Ebert and Youtube movie reviews, not only to find great movies, but to learn about the art of film criticism. Before this gets way too off-topic, I had a pair of movie experiences over winter break that shook my views on implicitly trusting movie critics. I underestimated them based on the reviews I’d read, and they’ve forced me to reconsider my relationship with my favorite critics.
First, the bad experience, just so I can get past it. I saw the Jumanji sequel over Christmas break with my sister. This would normally be against my better judgement, but I had a Fandango gift card and nothing better to do. Besides, I thought, how bad could the movie be? It was getting decent reviews and I’d liked the original well enough. Boy was I wrong.
Photo by Columbia Pictures
I misjudged the feedback the film was getting and spent two hours in agony. Never have I been angrier at the good folks at Roger Ebert for publishing a positive review. Thankfully for my conscience, the film’s feedback has declined since then, but I still feel like I got burned.
My second story is considerably happier, and considerably more impactful. In my pre-awards season film research, I found myself compelled to see Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird in theaters. I’d already seen and loved Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and I figured I should see both of the forerunners for this year’s Best Picture Oscar. I had my misgivings, though.
Back when Lady Bird had premiered at Toronto International Film Festival, my favorite movie reviewer (whose name I cannot include for the sake of family-friendliness) came out with a less-than-enthusiastic review of the film. Naturally, I trusted this guy. He’d introduced me to my favorite movie, what else could I do?
Photo by A24
I went into the movie expecting to like it, but not as much as I’d loved Three Billboards. As before, boy was I wrong. I loved the movie, as much as I’d loved Martin McDonagh’s black comedy. My surprise was matched only by my slight confusion. For the first time, I disagreed with my favorite critic. I eventually came to the conclusion that I couldn’t substitute a critic’s opinion for my own. If a critic I trusted liked a movie, it was a good sign that I’d like the movie, but I couldn’t expect to line up exactly with that critic’s opinion.
We put a lot of stock into the writings of critics, and we often expect their opinions to mirror our own. That’s why, when critics bash films that have a lot of hype around them (e.g. every DCEU film except for Wonder Woman), people tend to lambast those critics and insist that their own opinions are better. We have to remember that critics are guideposts, not Messiahs. They can be wrong, but their opinions are still valid. If we disagree with them, that’s on us. We need to take responsibility for our opinions, and learn to trust our own judgements.