When Critics Disagree
It boils down to a matter of opinion in the end
Mike Goodridge is Editor of Screen Daily - this article appeared in Screen on Line on August 18, 2011, and discusses the perennial problem of critics who disagree. In the case of Screen, as he points out, Screen's critics have arguably more power than most since they could be reviewing a film with as yet no sales, no distributor and the reaction could influence that. But the problem of critics taking diametrically opposite views is not confined to film critics.
I think Goodbye First Love is a great film, but Screen's critic Lisa Nesselson didn't respond in the same way. When it comes to movies, it seems everyone has their own opinion. I don’t always agree with Screen’s critics, even though
obviously ,their review automatically becomes "the Screen review. It’s harder
when I see a film I love, only to find it eviscerated on Screen Daily.
It happened recently in Locarno when I saw Mia Hansen-love’s goodbye
first love un amour de jeunesse which screened in competition. It had already
opened in france in July. As a big fan of Hansen-Love’s The Father of my Children, I had high expectations and was not disappointed.
Rooted in her own teenage experiences, it’s an achingly beautiful film exploring
the all-consuming intoxication of a first love affair and its impact on a young
girl over a period of ten years or so. Avoiding clichés of hysterical French
maladie d'amour movies and revealing bitter truths about the caution and
complications of adulthood, the film was a Locarno highlight and stayed with me long after the end of the credits.
It’s also notable for a star-making lead performance by
18-year-old Lola Creton, one of those withering French beauties destined for a
longcareer. Creton carries her pain with her throughout the film, effortlessly
moving from passionate 15-year old to more reflective twenty something.
So it was with some chagrin that I read the official screen
review by our France-based critic Lisa Nesselson who clearly detested the film
and indeed Creton. Everything which I found profound and meaningful left her
cold. I couldn’t have agreed with her less.
But Nesselson is a fine critic and I respect her opinion. Film
after all is the ultimate subjective medium. Did she get it wrong? How can
anybody’s opinion be wrong in a medium that aims to provoke a personal
emotional response in every singe one of its viewers?
I appreciate that for some films, the Screen review can be a
crucial factor in their future. Those are usually titles at film festivals
which have no distribution in place and are looking for a sales agent or sales.
Screen’s review is often the first one out of the gate. In the case of Goodbye
First Love, the film has already opened in France and been widely pre-sold, so
this review can be offset by the many good reviews of the film that have already
appeared. But we pride ourselves on our roster of seasoned and intelligent
ciritcs, and often their opinion won’t be palatable to the film-makers, the
sales agent or, in this case, me!
Coincidentally, on my return from Locarno, I found angry
voices in the Screen team about our review of The Help, Tate Taylor’s screen
adaptation of the Kathryn Stockett best seller for DreamWorks. I haven’t seen
this film yet but heard nothing but good buzz ahead of its US opening. Two
of my colleagues saw it in a UK preview and loved it passionately. Their enthusiasm was infectious and I was
keen to see it.
The lacklustre Screen review by John Hazelton filled them
with consternation, Again, it was a case of different opinions. As Editor I
stand by John’s review, but still can’t wait to see the film and look forward
to having my own opinion. The opinion of film critics is a perennial cause for dissent,
of course. Sometimes I think we get it right at Screen, sometimes not, But
that is the nature of film. It affects people in different ways. I remember
sitting in the Cannes screening of Biutiful last year, feeling irritated and manipulated, only to
turn to a colleague next to me who was crying with abandon, geniuinely moved by
the drama on screen. Yes, our reviews have a trade spin but they also,
inevitably, represent the personal response of individuals.