11 Jul A handy guide on what to do when you disagree with a film critic
There’s a war raging in the pop culture world. It’s an all-out battle between film fans and film critics. The simmering tensions may have always been there. Film critics have been around since the early days of the talkies. Film fans have obviously existed since movies began. But social media has given the most ardent of film fanatic direct access to those who seek to critique pieces of cinema.
This can be a great thing. It can exist as an open channel for people to agree with a film critic’s opinion and thank them for sharing their words. It can provide an avenue for epic discussions of cinema and create passionate debates with smart and witty banter from both sides of an opinion. And, like anything to do with social media, it can also be a dumpster fire from hell.
When someone disagrees with a film critic’s review of a movie they happened to love, it seems the next step for many is to seek out that critic and vilify them relentlessly and belittle that critic’s opinion with the intensity of a thousand burning suns. It’s the worst aspect of being a film critic in the 21st century. There’s always someone ready to hurl abuse at you for daring to critique a piece of cinema.
While differing opinions of an art form are all valid, bullying is not. The culture of film fanaticism has begun to turn into a ravenous group of torch-wielding sycophants, ready to pounce on anyone who dares disagree with their personal views of a film. But the tide can be turned. It’s not too late to return to respectfully treating of a group of writers who are just as fanatical about films as you are.
With that in mind, here’s a handy guide on what to do and what not to do the next time you find yourself disagreeing with a film critic.
DO breathe. It’s hard to hear someone say they disliked a movie you enjoyed. It hurts. It confuses. It angers. It frustrates. Take a moment to compose yourself. Inhale a few deep breaths and relax. Go for a walk. Pat a dog. Eat a piece of chocolate cake. Have a shot of tequila. And keep reminding yourself everything is going to be okay. I’m here to get you through it.
DON’T let the rage take over. It’s easy to give in and allow yourself to become consumed by the fury building up inside. Be the stronger person and refuse to allow it to take over. As Inside Out taught us, anger is an essential emotion for a balanced psyche. It’s a natural response to something you disagree with. But Anger was also the hot-headed character who ultimately led Riley down the wrong path. It’s a dangerous emotion that needs to be kept in check. As Yoda once said, “Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” That’s how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader. Listen to Yoda. He’s a Jedi master for a reason. Turning into a hateful troll creates suffering for everyone.
DO share your own opinion of the film in question. If you loved it, champion the hell out of it. Defend it with all you’ve got. Tell the world why you adored it. Explain to us what made you connect with it. Let everyone know how the film made you laugh or cry or cheer or scream. You could even let this be a moment of inspiration to become a film critic yourself. Bang out your own 2,000-word film review. Start a movie blog. Turn your social media account into a place you post your film opinions. It’s free and easy. Join the party. I could name dozens of critically-reviled films that I actually really loved. Nothing stops me from letting people know this.
DON’T ever tell a film critic their opinion of a film is “wrong.” You can still share your own view without falling into this trap. An opinion related to a piece of art can never be inherently right or wrong. That’s a very black and white perspective of film criticism. Any response to a film is a personal reaction to an art form that is, and always has been, entirely subjective. You may not have the same response to a film that a critic does, particularly if you’re reading the work of a writer whose film tastes don’t particularly match your own. That doesn’t make you right and the film critic wrong. There’s no such thing in the world of film criticism.
DO start a healthy, informed, and intelligent discussion/debate with the film critic over your differing opinions of the film. There’s a misconception film critics cannot stand hearing opposing views on films. That may be true of some, but it shouldn’t be. Personally, I love listening to people passionately defend a film that I didn’t particularly enjoy. It’s enormously satisfying to hear an alternate view of a piece of art, especially when that person can properly and prudently articulate their point of view. There’s a big difference between “I liked this film because I liked it” and “I liked this film because of X, Y, Z.” Knowing that difference is the key. Film critics are not so conceited to think their opinion is the word of god. Deep down, they know it’s merely their opinion and respect the fact you’re entitled to have your own. That needs to work both ways.
DON’T say a film critic “doesn’t know what they’re talking about.” This is a lazy, childish attack with little basis in fact. If someone has chosen to dedicate their time to write about films, clearly they are deeply passionate about the medium. Writers write what they know. Therefore, if someone is focusing their writing on cinema, they clearly know a thing or two about this world, especially if they are being paid by a publication for their words and perspective. You may not agree with what is being written, but that never means the writer isn’t typically coming from a place of experience, intelligence, and wisdom. Film critics have likely seen hundreds, if not thousands, of films in their lifetime. With such devotion comes knowledge.
DO remember film critics are people too. You may not see their face or know anything about them personally, but behind the written film review is a human being who has spent considerable time crafting precisely what they want to say in a coherent, professional, and intellectual manner. You’ve taken 35 seconds to send them an abusive tweet telling them how awful they are. Demonising them for daring to voice their view is unnecessary. There’s a misguided notion regarding those who publicly share an opinion are accepting of the target it places on their back. There’s an element of truth to this but it doesn’t mean the arrows of abuse don’t hurt when they do land. Just because the target is there doesn’t mean you need to fire. Put down the bow and walk away.
DON’T accuse film critics of taking bribes from film studios for positive reviews. This tired nonsense gets thrown around too often. Not one critic has even been found guilty of this accusation. Not. One. Let it go. It doesn’t happen. Do they attempt to subtlely elicit such reactions by inviting film critics to lavish premieres or giving them the luxury of seeing the film weeks before anyone else? Sure. But there’s a little thing called integrity and the majority of writers know better than to be swayed into thinking a film is great simply because the studio invited them to a party. That being said, if Universal Pictures would like to pay me to say nice things about Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again, my email is email@example.com
DO think of film critics as film lovers because, guess what, we actually are. We love movies. We dedicate a huge portion of our lives to them, so how could we not? Another misconception is film critics inherently look for a reason to hate a piece of cinema. That may be true of some, but the majority go into a theatre genuinely wanting to love what’s about to be presented on the screen. It’s the eternal hope of seeing something we fall in love with. Unfortunately, when you see practically every film released each year, it obviously doesn’t always happen. It’s disappointing when a film feels like something that has wasted your time. Negative reviews may be fun to write but the experience of seeing a “bad” film is not. Contrary to popular belief, we really do care about films. We want them to be great because we know they can be great.
DON’T cyberbully a film critic. This is my last and most important point. A sad reality of social media is cyberbullying. Film critics who dare share their reviews on places like Facebook and Twitter are subjected to all sorts of hell from impassioned film “fans” who disagree with the critic’s opinions. They take it personally and decide to make it personal in return. They are the trolls who ignore every point I’ve made above. We’re threatened with violence. We’re told to quit writing. We’re subjected to accusations of misogyny, racism, and homophobia for not liking certain films, performers or filmmakers. We have abuse hurled at us. We have our intelligence mocked and ridiculed, which is always super fun from those with zero grasp on basic grammar. We have our integrity and reputation ridiculed. We’re subjected to every expletive known to man. And, worst of all, we’re told to kill ourselves. This is all in response to a film review. A film review. People actually suggest someone should end their own life because they didn’t happen to like a film. This is not normal outside the social bubble, but it’s happening so often online, it’s honestly no longer a surprise when you see it occur.
How did we get here? How did we get to a place where it’s not shocking to see someone encourage suicide over a film disagreement? When did film fanaticism become so damn aggressive? Passion is one thing, but this crosses the line. This may come as a surprise to some but you can’t bully someone into changing their point of view of a film. No amount of yelling or hurling of abuse will make someone turn to your side. It’s actually more likely to push them further away. The critic’s response to a film is just as valid as yours. Agreeing to disagree is the simplest solution to any difference of opinion. Why is it not being applied to the battle between film critics vs. film fans?
It’s easy to hate on film critics because of the work we do. Film reviews can give off a sense of inflated hubris. It can seem like we critics consider ourselves to be delivering the gospel word on cinema. It may even appear like we think we can sway you into the cinema or keep you out of it. But, in our hearts, we know that’s not true. You will see a film you want to see, whether we loved it or not. The box office result of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom proves that. A critic’s role has never been more eloquently summarised than Anton Ego’s monologue from Ratatouille:
“In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.”
We know the work we do pales in comparison to the artistry of the filmmaker. Or the actor. Or the screenwriter. Or the 500-odd other people who work tirelessly to bring a film to life. Never let it be said a film critic is not aware of his or her place on the totem pole of the film industry. That being said, treating film critics like vermin is petty, childish, and shameful. All we want to do is share our thoughts on something. Sometimes those thoughts are gushingly positive. Sometimes they’re not. But is it asking too much for a little decorum and propriety when you find yourself disagreeing with what we have to say?