8:28 AM – Morning coffee with Lana Del Rey. Raisins aplenty from a 20 ounce bomber. Chicken chewing bones, wife whittling through the wi-fi on her new iPad, my new Old Navy athletic shorts got me feeling more like Mr. Malone than plain old Kiki. It’s a good day, standing on the shore looking out.
“The secret to happiness is low-expectations.” – Barry Schwartz
Yesterday afternoon the wife and I saw The Hangover III. As typical Hangover franchise fans – asked the first into our hearts, begged purging of part two from our eyes – we had low expectations for anything more than an overhyped continuation of the Wolf Pack’s morally questionable antics. And our low expectations delivered: we had a good time. My final mass text review read: “Screw the critics: Hangover III was fun. Wait till disc, lower your part one repeat expectations, and wait for the Ed Helms’ sight gag after the credits. 3/5”
[Cardinal Zen wins best reply: “Odd. That was my word for word review of Les Miserables.” Get this guy a free pickle at the concession.]
Before the film I mass texted my customary “entering the film” announcement/braggery and received three replies reporting what critics said about The Hangover III. As in, three friends, who are brilliant and witty by even more than Facebook standards, might skip The Hangover III because critics panned it. Okay. Fine. Sad, but fine. But this got me thinking (again) about why truly smart people overly trust critics with their time and money and, way most sadly, opinions.
Here’s my thoughts on critics that you totally should trust with your time and opinions:
- You don’t know these people! Why are you giving credence to people with whom you’ve never shared a conversation? You don’t know from what angle critics view films or read books or listen to records. So why trust them? I implicitly trust two people with film recommendations. A few more with books. Not many with music because I seem to be the lone, lame shark when it comes to music. But when it comes to film, I only trust two people I know watch and think about films like I do.
- You’re an adult! We’re not in junior high or high school anymore! We don’t need the artificially deemed cool kids telling us what to do with ourselves! I’m a grown man, and if I want to sit through a film that might be terrible or uncool then, by God, I’ll do it. I’ve got no reputation worth protecting.
- Trust a geek over a “professional” critic every time! I’m sorry, but I can’t fathom what makes Richard Roeper’s opinion of the new Evil Dead more valuable than my horror hound buddy John Barber’s. Is it because Roeper critiques for a paycheck? That automatically makes Roeper suspect. Plus, anyone who gives the new Evil Dead a D- but awards Prometheus an A+ is not to be trusted. He’s full of something that smells like Guy Pearce.
- Critics have an image to uphold and a dozen films to watch in the dark this week! I have plans this weekend to see Ethan Hawke’s new thriller The Purge, which so far has a 54% on Rotten Tomatoes. In my mind, that’s a good thing. I’m not sure I want professional critics – hoping to uphold their journalistic integrity – awarding high ratings to a silly home-invasion movie. Plus, I’m reading a common thread in the reviews: the film does not explain itself. This says to me that I have a group of professional critics who have sat through a dozen or more films in a single week and they didn’t “get” The Purge. Incidentally, these are the same critics who will overly praise Asian cinema for trusting its audience by asking unanswered questions and for piquing viewers’ imaginations rather than filling in the gaps. Hypocrites! I may not enjoy The Purge, but it won’t be because these suckers panned it.
However, I still read critics religiously. I even assign a semester long project that requires students to analyze and respond to New York Times film reviews on a weekly basis. It’s a wildly successful project because, even if we don’t trust or agree with them, A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis are thoughtful film viewers and good writers. Pulling apart their arguments and responding with our own requires more than a simple multiple choice one-outta-five rating, which makes us better viewers and reviewers as well. This is good for us. Even if it solidifies the notion that Scott and Dargis take all the fun out of film.