Dec 12

the very best moment

When you write about movies, you see a lot of movies. It’s hard not to feel jaded and cynical and sometimes bored by the predictable. It’s very hard to go into some movies with an open mind. But there’s always that little spark in the back of my head that remains eternally optimistic.

The best moment for film critics is the pleasant surprise. Perhaps we are too affected by surprises, even. But you might have noticed that critics get very very happy when a movie that for all intents and purposes looked like it would suck, or be dull, or just stupid, turns out to be wonderfully entertaining. I think it’s one of the reasons the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie did so well. A lot of my critic friends were thrilled with Madagascar 3, and I believe it’s because they dragged themselves to the theater on assignment, not pleased about it, and saw a better movie than they expected. (Which I didn’t think was all that wonderful, apart from the scene in which Frances McDormand since “Non, je ne regrette rien,” which was — again — very surprising.)

I watched Wreck-It Ralph because I needed to see more animated films for awards consideration. I figured I would give it maybe 15 minutes and half my attention. I hoped there would not be too many poop and snot and burping jokes, which is the kind of humor you get from kids’ animated movies these days. (Even Pixar, a little, in Brave. Tch tch tch.) I had very low expectations. I suspected it might be gamer/fanboy-ish and I wasn’t thrilled about that either.

And Wreck-It Ralph turned out to be a delightful movie. Well written characters, a story that was not terribly predictable, wonderful voice talent (Jane Lynch!), fun to look at, and one movie reference involving Oreos that had me nearly falling off the couch.

As a film critic, I have to think carefully about the effects of the surprise. If I had been hyped up for the film, would I have enjoyed it as much as I would have with low expectations? The other end of the spectrum was Holy Motors, which everyone was going ga-ga over when I saw it, and it took me about a week to realize that I had felt slightly disappointed because it wasn’t the best movie of the decade, it was simply a good movie. Very good. But I had to wait for the expectation effect to die down before I felt like I was having an authentic reaction.

I’ve waited several days for the Wreck-It Ralph expectation effect to wear off, but I still want to see it again, in a theater, hopefully this weekend if it’s still around (and not in 3D). Go see it and let me know if I’m right. A few silly-kid jokes, but a lot there for adults. Surprise!


  1. Shmuel says:

    I saw it twice, myself. The first time I thought it was cute, but maybe not really for me. I liked it much better the second time, when I didn’t have to worry about where it was going and whether any of it actually made sense, and could just sit back and enjoy the thing on its own terms.

    (I didn’t plan to see it a second time, but there was traffic, and my sisters and I arrived too late for Hotel Transylvania, and they hadn’t seen Wreck-It Ralph yet. The 3D version was what was showing next, and I decided to test my prejudice against the format. Conclusion: neither as intrusive nor as nausea-inducing as I’d feared, but still in no way an improvement over 2D.)

  2. Bev says:

    I could relate to this article. I’m not a film critic, but a theater critic. Many times the same issues apply!