Have you ever gone to a movie, liked it, and then gone online to check out thoughts from “the common man” on its IMDb message board?
Chances are, you’ve found at least fifteen threads pointing out “goofs,” “inconsistencies,” “plot holes,” and various accusations of cheap or negligent filmmaking. All of this and more has been brought to you by the film greats of … nowhere. And everywhere.
That’s right. Those people who have never had a lick of involvement in this particular art form are out there trying to validate themselves by pointing out why the film didn’t “work,” why the story was “crap,” and why the director “should never work again.” Because they have the unquestionable authority that is exactly zilch authority. Nadda. Zero.
Their lack of expertise in the film industry isn’t the main problem though. In fact, as said earlier, it’s part of the reason one might go searching for such an opinion — to get that outsider’s view.
The main problem tends to be a nitpicking tendency that overlooks the big picture regarding the motion picture. That is, they are essentially finding grammatical errors rather than looking for larger issues affecting the coherency and flow of the piece.
I used to work as a writing tutor at a community college. One of the first things tutors were taught was to not assume authority as a writer over someone else’s piece. The second thing we were taught was to abide by the rule of a “spiral” for most to least significant areas of focus in a paper.
As you can imagine, most students came in wanting a proofreader. They wanted blatant red marks for left out commas. They wanted circles around misplaced apostrophes. They wanted a human Spell Check. When we asked them to get out the assignment guidelines, summarize the main point of their paper, and read aloud to listen for clear organization, clarity of thought, and a natural flow of ideas, they were often confused.
Maybe confused is bad word choice. They were pissed off. It seemed like a cruel joke, particularly when we were peers who were supposed to understand their motives and tight schedule. “No, no, I don’t want to change my paper,” they would insist. “I just want to fix any grammar problems.”
“Okay,” their tutor would reply. “I can help find your grammar patterns and tendencies. But hear me out: What if your whole paper — though grammatically flawless — didn’t quite meet assignment guidelines? What if you organized it in such a way that your professor didn’t understand completely legitimate points? What if your primary supporting details were incomprehensible because you used synonyms from your online thesaurus?”
Usually, they would agree to check for focus and organization before grammar, and we would end up working together, rather than fighting a losing battle. In the end, they felt better about the paper, because it was theirs and it made sense, rather than because someone took over to correct their run on sentences.
Films, being another method of storytelling, demand the same consideration — if not more.
If it’s not just another brainless sequel, part of franchise, or a niche film with an obvious target audience, then the director is (one would hope) attempting to make something worthwhile. If you think they failed to make a movie that worked on all levels, please don’t say it’s because you couldn’t believe they expected you to accept that their wealthy protagonist would be driving a simple Honda.
That’s a dumb example, but cinematic choices are often made with the intention of adding to a surrealist perspective or increasing tension. Watch the movie Rope, and tell me how “realistic” it is. Try imagining someone remaking Midnight Cowboy without causing a slight online uproar. Rewatch Forrest Gump and try to convince me that it doesn’t practically define “contrived.” Yes, a movie can be overtly unrealistic, straight up dirty, and undeniably contrived without being a bad movie.
Sometimes a stylistic choice is just that. Like a great writer, a great filmmaker can break a few of the rules once they have some experience honing their craft. When a wannabe film critic goes online or reports to their friends that the movie was “totally unrealistic,” the complaint may or may not be warranted. After all, a director often demands a certain “suspension of disbelief” for certain details, whether for time conservation or emotional resonance. In any case, it becomes obnoxious when a culture of know-it-alls only seeks to point out flaws that don’t affect the overall quality of a film, and certainly don’t affect how much the average moviegoer will enjoy the plot twists and character interactions.
To quote from a non-existent movie lover’s Bible:
“There is a time for everything. There is a time to be serious, and a time to be corny. There is a time for snappy editing, and a time for slow panning. There is a time for choking on your popcorn because you’re laughing too hard while eating, and a time to molest your sweater sleeves because you’ve run out of napkins to wipe your tearful eyes and snotty nose. There is a time to be surprised by the plot twist, and a time to feel pride and anticipation as you await the obviously foreseeable fate of the protagonist. There is a time for Daniel Day Lewis, and a time for Jack Black. There is a time for witty writing, and a time for sentimental cheese. There is a time to point out goofs, and a time to sit back and enjoy the fucking movie.”
Okay, so I made that one up. It’s about as legitimate as the opinions on IMDb.
Top photo: screen shot of Bruce Willis from Die Hard.
Who can forget Det. John McClane’s iconic line, “Yippie-ki-yay motherfucker!”
Megan Wallin is a young writer with a background in the social sciences and an interest in seeking the extraordinary in the mundane. A Seattle native, she finds complaining about the constant drizzle and overabundance of Starbucks coffee therapeutic. With varied work experiences as a residential counselor, preprimary educator, musician, writing tutor and college newspaper reporter/editor, Megan is thrilled to offer a unique perspective through writing, research and open dialogue.