When the critic comes along to the movie
Kathryn Barrett and Misha Solomon have been friends and movie fanatics for over a dozen years. They have spent countless hours watching premieres in darkened theatres. An almost equal amount of time has been devoted to perusing Entertainment Weekly.
Barrett and Solomon, both nineteen, go through a lengthy Google-fueled process before viewing a movie. Their use of many resources to inform themselves on a film demonstrates the multi-faceted relationship that has developed between viewer and reviewer.
“In this day and age, there is so much information at your fingertips you can find out what a film is about before going to see it…You don’t want to walk into a movie completely cold,” says The Montreal Gazette’s long standing film critic John Griffin.
Barrett and Solomon’s web browsers are a testament to their encyclopedic approach to movie viewing. A library’s-worth of bookmarked sites are devoted to information on films. The friends see so many films that those deemed entirely unworthy of a ticket are few if any. Nevertheless, doctorate-level movie research does allow the friends to “differentiate between the crap,” as Barrett puts it.
To select the must-sees, however, the friends call upon the power and influence of the film grades of their favorite reviewers, Entertainment Weekly’s Schwarzbaum and Gleiberman. Never is a movie seen without consulting their grade. So vital is this writing duo to their movie-watching experience it’s as if they attend the theatre together in spirit.
Despite Schwarzbaum and Gleiberman’s obliviousness to these readers’ devotion, they are simultaneously dependent on this viewer-reviewer relationship. Movie critics like The Montreal Mirror’s Mark Slutsky hope that audiences are filled with Barretts and Solomons in which occurs “a conversation in their head between me and them as they’re watching the movie.”
For Barrett and Solomon, this conversation began when, after much of their own personal reviewing, they discovered their Entertainment Weekly film experts shared many of their opinions on movies.
“Reviewers I trust are those whose opinions I know mesh with mine,” says Barrett.
Slutsky and Griffin agree part of their success as movie reviewers is gaining the trust of their readers by being on the same wavelength as them, not sitting on a pedestal of expertise. The essence to this relationship is the sharing — not dictating — of tastes.
“I have seen movies that have been praised to the skies and come out deflated because my expectations were so high. Reviews can inflate a film or deflate it,” says Griffin.
Just as this veteran critic avoids reading a film review before attending it, so do Barrett and Solomon only glance at Entertainment Weekly’s analysis after the fact.
One exception to this rule lies in the domain of independent films. Whenever Barrett and Solomon’s preliminary research is not sufficient enough to educate them on a movie, they turn to Schwarzbaum and Gleiberman’s analyses for advance guidance.
“I think it [the reviewer’s opinion] does have a place for independent or artsy films because it bring something to your attention that you wouldn’t have known about,” says Barrett.
One of Griffin’s proudest career moments is when he did in fact mold readers’ opinions, propelling them to see the indie film One Week. Like Barrett and Solomon, he also sees this form of reviewer influence as positive in that he is championing the cause of a lesser-known movie.
Whether an introduction to a sleeper hit or a hit of adrenaline for a blockbuster release, Barrett and Solomon try to strike the balance between Entertainment Weekly’s reviews fueling their passion for — but not their opinions of — movies. As Solomon so directly said:
“Critics for most things [just as for movies] are the one line between the consumer and the product.”
– Natascia Lypny