For reasons best left undisclosed in this forum, Cinema Sideshow spent the morning curled up on the couch with a mug of coffee and a cigarette, watching Last Holiday, the chick flick about Queen Latifah getting a brain tumor and spending all of her money at a fancy resort. And you know what? We liked it.
The thing about reviewing movies professionally that civilians don't understand is this: When you see every movie (or, at least, a much higher percentage than the average film-goer) and you watch with a critical eye, it erodes your ability to enjoy movies as entertainment. You start to discern that 99 percent of Hollywood's output is created to an established template. All the constructs become transparent -- the three-act structure, the major plot point that comes every 20 minutes, the cute-meets and the predictable happy endings and the tertiary character who'll (surprise!) turn out to be the bad guy. You've already seen it all hundreds of times already, and this version is just more of the same. The Emperor is buck-ass nekkid, and your job is to point and laugh.
Last Holiday is written to one of those templates. There isn't a single unexpected moment in the picture -- even as the premise is laid out in the beginning, you know precisely how it's going to turn out. So the question, therefore, becomes whether or not the people making this particular version of this tired story will do it with competence.
And here, they do. Queen Latifah is an exceedingly charming woman, and a good, natural actress. Sitting on our couch as we were, looking for entertainment that would be amusing and unchallenging, we found ourselves pleasantly surprised by the entire, predictable exercise. But then, we were sitting on our couch watching it for entertainment, not sitting in a theater watching it in a professional capacity.
Which brings us to another truth about the job of a critic that laymen don't understand. Watching a movie as a critic is different than watching a movie as Joe Ticket Buyer. We've found that the differences in critical movie experiences can be broken down in such a way that there are four different ways in which we view a film:
- In a theater/Reviewing the film
- In a theater/Watching for pleasure
- At home, on DVD/Reviewing the film
- At home, on DVD/Watching for pleasure
The truth is, we most assuredly would have been harder on Last Holiday had we seen the movie in a theater full of people -- the audiences who attend the early screenings via free passes are almost always loud, rude and annoying, no doubt because they didn't actually lay out any money for a ticket, and it tends to make your average critic crankier than they might be otherwise -- and with the intention of critiquing it in a review. Because it was predictable as hell, and a few of the slapstickier scenes were a bit embarrassing. We would have found that annoying, and we would have had to point that out in our review. It's like we switch our brains over to a different frequency when reviewing movies, because that's our job.
Which brings us to another film that we saw recently, in a different setting: 3:10 to Yuma. We attended a press screening with five or six other critics, on a weekday afternoon in a local theater. We took a seat, pulled out a notepad and prepared to take notes ... then realized that we didn't have to review it (although we definitely will when it's released), so we could could just sit back and allow ourselves to be entertained.
3:10 to Yuma, a remake of the 1957 Glenn Ford/Van Heflin Western, is very, very good. We'd feel that way even if we'd been furiously scribbling notes (and we did grab the notepad to scribble a few, so as to recall particularly juicy bits of dialogue), but the fact that we were there purely for enjoyment and not for work made the experience all the better.
Critics sometimes forget that it's okay to just ... enjoy. To let a movie be dumb, or predictable, or even poorly directed if there are elements that are entertaining. We're never able to completely turn off that critical perspective, but it's possible to shove it to the sidelines now and then.
So we at Cinema Sideshow feel no shame in admitting that we enjoyed Last Holiday. One reason that so many film critics become art-movie snobs is simply because they offer the most opportunity for us to see something unique, when almost all Hollywood pictures are simply rehashes of formulas that have made money in the past. But it's dangerous to become an elitist when you're tasked with critiquing popular entertainment. You can't always be a critic, and you can't do your job well if you believe that your tastes are better, and more refined, than those of your readers. Foie gras is divine, to be sure -- but when you eat a really well-prepared cheeseburger, there's nothing wrong with saying that you enjoyed the hell out of that cheeseburger.