Letting Art Be Art

Sometimes a movie reviewer doesn't really review the movie they saw. Instead they review the movie they wish they saw, and then berate the thing they saw because it wasn't as good. There is a certain way to read reviews, and this is one of the things you need to keep in mind.

A good example is this review for The Village(Spoilers ahead):
The problem -- and it's a big one, folks -- is that The Village should have never been approached as a horror/suspense movie in the first place. It is not a scary movie because it never should have been a scary movie. ...

...the story was actually told backwards: this would have been a much more compelling movie had it begun with all of these broken people in the counselling center deciding they'd had enough of society's violence, and then following them as they took steps to make the life in the village and raise their children to be fearful of the outside world, and ending with the creation of "the monsters."
It's one thing to criticize the movie for not being scary, or to complain that the surprise ending could be seen a mile a way, but it's another thing to judge the movie according to a standard that doesn't apply. Good filmmakers make the films they want to make. The Village isn't meant to be anything but a creepy suspense film, with an unexpectedly engaging romance thrown into the picture (obviously you can read more into it than just that, but I think that was the main goal of the movie).

In my reviews of The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, I noted that M. Night Shyamalan has a frustrating modus operandi. He sets his story within a special world; a world with a lot of potential (like someone having the ability to see dead people, someone who is "unbreakable", or a town being terrorized by monsters in the surrounding woods). But this potential is merely touched upon or used as a catalyst of events. As I say, frustrating, but what you end up with is generally engaging. Not especially brilliant or groundbreaking (as I have noted about all of Shyamalan's films), but good nonetheless.

To be sure, the movie that the reviewer wants to see certainly sounds like an interesting one. It doesn't really bother me that he even suggests that it would be a good story to tell, but it does bother me that he proclaims The Village is a bad movie because it's not the movie he wanted to see. You can't judge a movie by comparing it to something it's not.

This often applies to comedies - their goal is generally to make the audience laugh, and nothing more. That may not be lofty or ambitious, but to claim that such movies are bad because they don't achieve some sort of transcendant philosophical end doesn't make much sense to me. A movie like Happy Gilmore isn't trying to do anything other than make you laugh, and it should be viewed in that light. That doesn't make it a great four-star movie, but it does make it worthwhile (if you're in the mood for a laugh). In a recent issue of Entertainment Weekly, Stephen King wrote an article on summer movies:
...I'm from an unsophisticated school of thought that believes a movie (always a movie and never a film, even if it comes with subtitles) should be fun befor it's anything else: an ice cream cone for the brain...

There's nothing wrong with having fun, and I sneer at people who sneer at summer movies–in fact, I sneer at people who sneer at entertainment for entertainment's sake. I feel sorry for them, too. Riding that high horse has got to be uncomfortable, especially with that stick up your butt.
There is something to be said for lofty and ambitious films (I'm not like King, I like to call them films too), especially when they hit their mark. Low brow movies like Happy Gilmore don't deserve to be placed in the same critical category as classics like The Godfather or Citizen Kane, but there is some value in it for people who like to laugh.

My general philosophy when reviewing a movie is to try and figure out what it's goal is, and then judge whether or not it achieved its goal. Sometimes a goal isn't very sophisticated or admirable, and such things should play a role in the judgement, but that's not all there is to it. I think it's best to let art be art, and judge it on its own merits.