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Posted at 5:00 PM ET, 08/12/2010

Want to know why so many people hate movie critics? Here you go.

By Jen Chaney

This is not the best time to be a mainstream movie critic. Some of them are getting fired, and the ones who aren't live in daily fear of the sassy film bloggers that threaten their existence. Rotten Tomatoes provides ongoing evidence that there may be too many of them, or at the very least, that there is an urgent need to diversify the largely white, male members of the cinema reviewing community. Average moviegoers often make scathing remarks about all those "snobby critics" who just don't understand "real entertainment." And on top of everything else, some people in this profession had to sit through "Marmaduke."

So as a frequent film reviewer myself and a lover of people who love cinema, I hate to jam my thumb into an already open sore. But the truth must be told: movie reviewers sometimes deserve to be disliked. And in an excellent piece today on NPR's Monkey See blog, Linda Holmes shows us why.

Holmes turned our attention to the inordinate number of reviews of "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" that have assumed a condescending, borderline insulting attitude toward the potential audience, i.e. teens and young adults. Holmes cites a number of examples. Two of my favorites:

From the St. Petersburg Times: "First of all, I'm not a video gamer. I have discovered more appealing ways to not have a life. " Guess that makes everyone who plays "Halo" and Wii Sports Resort a plebeian. (I know. A big word from someone who occasionally plays video games.)

But the real flame-igniter, which irked Holmes for the same reason it irks me, comes from the Philadelphia Weekly, which claims that "Pilgrim," "offers no possible point of entry to anybody over the age of 30."

Several people that I know who saw this movie -- including myself -- loved it, and are well over 30. But the point isn't whether the film itself is great. That's subjective. The point is that there's no need to fling around such disdain for the individuals who might embrace every Sex Bob-omb moment "Scott Pilgrim" has to offer.

Critics often do this for some reason, especially when reviewing a movie that, at least on the surface, can be classified as youth-oriented. They make biting jokes about the limited attention spans of millennial ticket-buyers, or act like they've never heard of certain tween-appealing stars, thereby making anyone who might care about those actors feel insignificant and stupid. In the process, I think critics -- especially in the print medium -- may have alienated potential readers that now they'd desperately love to add to their shrinking circulation numbers.

The first newspaper I started reading as a child was this one: The Washington Post. What sections did I start with? The comics and the Mini-Page. (I couldn't help it. Mighty Funny is just so high-larious.)

But it didn't take long for me to move to the portion of the paper that actually contained lengthy sentences. And where was the first place I turned? The part of the publication with the movie reviews.

I suspect a lot of other kids follow similar patterns. But if they pick up a newspaper or a magazine and find that, on a regular basis, the critics treat their generation with less respect than they'd show a sewer rat asking for directions to the nearest Applebee's, they will stop reading. After all, they have iPods and cell phones to fiddle with, and those can serve up plenty of reviews that weren't written by people with what comes off as Gen Y bias.

I'm not saying that more fair and even-handed reviews of, say, "High School Musical 3" could have saved the newspaper business. Here's what I am saying: we're living in a digital-journalism era where not only are there infinite movie review-reading options, but where the defining principle is that we're all in this together. The critic/reporter/blogger is no better than the reader.

In other words, critics: tell us whether the movie was good. Share your cinematic wisdom and perspective. It's so, so needed in the world. But stop being snobby and condescending, especially when it comes to moves that are for and about young people. That's a film critic cliche. But sadly, even now, it remains a cliche because too often, it's true.

By Jen Chaney  | August 12, 2010; 5:00 PM ET
Categories:  Movies  
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Comments

I know this is vague, but bear with me.

One of the WaPo film reviewers (I want to say Desson Howe/Thomson) was not a reader of the Harry Potter books. So when s/he had to review either the first or second movie, they brought a 10-year old child along who WAS an HP fan.

So they gave their own criticism based on the basic merits of the movie, but they also included the fact that the child adored the movie for its' adherence to the HP universe.

I thought that was some of the smartest and most honest reviewing I've seen in a while. Because event movies like these - including Scott Pilgrim - can appeal to the masses, but they are mostly made for the adoring fan base.

Some critics simply don't get that.

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | August 12, 2010 5:18 PM | Report abuse

Speaking of film critics getting fired, this weekend will have the final episode of the long-running "At the Movies," which was originally the Siskel & Ebert show.

Posted by: Cosmo06 | August 12, 2010 5:23 PM | Report abuse

First of all: AW YEAH MINI PAGE. I read that as a little kid and I will probably read it until I'm a crazy grandma sharing it with the neighborhood kids.

And- thanks, this is a really good piece. I want to read criticism to determine if a movie is entertaining (funny, exciting, interesting, whatever your interpretation might be). Sometimes I read criticism to learn more about a movie I like. I don't read it so somebody can call me a Dorito-munching troglodyte and sneer at what I do for fun.

Posted by: Bawlmer51 | August 12, 2010 6:53 PM | Report abuse

I only read movie critics' reviews to get a sense of the subject and plot. As to the quality of the picture, I'll make up my own mind, thank you very much. Movie critics are just that, critics, and often that criticism is nothing but self-serving, glib commentary. It's interesting that Chasmosaur1 should mention Desson Howe, because he's one of the worst examples of this. It almost seems as if he HATES movies when you consider the very few that he reviews favorably, and his writing is replete with glib remarks. I think he's in the wrong line of work. Far be it for him to actually work in film. Forget the critics' subjective analysis. Who made THEM the judge anyway? Read them if you find it entertaining, but in the end you should decide for yourself whether a film is worthy of your appreciation or not. It bugs me that these writers, not filmmakers in any capacity, have the power to kill attendance by making self-serving and subjective comments. I wouldn't care if they all got canned and the newspapers only printed a detailed synopsis and description.

Posted by: gtmagpie | August 13, 2010 9:09 AM | Report abuse

There's a site called Metacritic that has ALL the reviews of a movie. Scott Pilgrim gets a generally favorable score of 65. Check it out: http://www.metacritic.com/movie/scott-pilgrim-vs-the-world/critic-reviews

Posted by: kabuki3 | August 13, 2010 9:45 AM | Report abuse

i remember when John Hughes died, and the post ran an obit with a "critic" who mainly reviews books, but occasionally onines on movies. In the obituary, this bufoon declared that Hughes work was didn't compare to the more recent classics, such as Juno. It was embarassing to say the least, and offensive at best. I am pretty sure the celebritology ladies had to apologize for it afterwards. Art house goon film critics are the worst.

Posted by: Scaggs21 | August 13, 2010 10:50 AM | Report abuse

If only they could write like Stephen Hunter.

Posted by: indvoter37 | August 13, 2010 11:06 AM | Report abuse

@ indvoter37:

Are you referring to the same Stephen Hunter who once wrote that he couldn't follow the plot of Spider-Man because he wasn't sexually attracted to Kirsten Dunst? After which he proceeded to pen a review that focused on his taste in actresses rather than the merits of the film? Yes, all film critics should emulate his sterling example.

Posted by: xenophile | August 13, 2010 12:25 PM | Report abuse

I only read and trust Roger Ebert's reviews because he is a person who has maintained his pure joy at going to the movies. He can offer a high-flown critique or just revel in the low-brow. He accepts the premise of a film and then holds it accountable for the fulfillment of that premise. I don't always love a movie he loves or hate a movie he hates, but I always know going in what I'm going to get.

Posted by: auntiemare | August 13, 2010 12:32 PM | Report abuse

Applause, Jen! I'm loving your thoughtful, feisty pieces!

Posted by: anastasia2 | August 13, 2010 9:57 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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