The function of a film review
Two friends have recently thanked me for writing a review that let them know not to see (fill in any movie name here). To be honest, I am kind of horrified by these statements. I suppose many reviews function in this way: “is it worth my money?” Yet there is another purpose to a review: a more probing inquiry into the zeitgeist. To an extent, I am more interested in this latter type of reviewing: analyzing a film’s commentary on the world.
Now, not every film sets out to propagate a socially minded agenda. Yet I would contend that despite articulated intentions (i.e. Biggest blockbuster of the year! or Most romantic movie of the summer!), every film contributes something intellectual/philosophical to our cultural milieu, consciously or not. We cannot help but be influenced by the hidden and not so hidden messages in movies. Films can be entertaining and full of fluff, but they comment upon our world in their method of entertaining or in their very fluffiness.
For this reason, every film has value. Every film reveals something about how one can look at the world and how one can find a niche within it. I may disagree with the messages I find in a movie, but that doesn’t mean I don’t admire some aspect of the film, be it the acting, the tight script, or the impressive cinematography.
Considering film reviewing from another direction, perhaps my reviews should focus exclusively on the values of the filmmaking. What is the director’s vision? Is it clearly conveyed? Do all the elements that make up the film form a cohesive picture? Does the editing keep the film moving and help tell the story? How’s the acting? Etcetera. Certainly, these are important, and one of the chief goals of my project is to train my eye to observe just these factors of filmmaking.
That said, I think I can sum up my approach to reviewing with this question: does the film accomplish the goals it sets out for itself? If the film is a romantic comedy, is it romantic? If it is a blockbuster, does it appeal to a mass audience and offer larger than life thrills and adventure? Perhaps I would better serve the films I review by first asking the above question, and then only after considering the film on its own terms, moving on to contemplate larger implications upon cultural mindsets.
For those of you looking to decide whether or not to see a film, check out Ebert and Roeper (I know I watch them every week). But if you want to see a film and then consider some of the questions within it, I hope this blog is one place you’ll look. And if I find a film truly unworthy of viewing, I promise to let you know.