I had two semi-ordinary experiences in the last 24 hours which, when linked, provide an interesting insight into the way average consumers have adopted the language of well-trained arts critics. On thursday evening, a strange man cozied up next to me (and my naked penis) at the urinals beneath the Times Square Virigin Megastore, and began relating his unsolicited opinion of Road to Perdition. "I liked that movie, but it was a little slow for me. Not a movie for women. Not much for women in there. It's a story of a father trying to make his son turn out differently, you know. Not like him. Nice penis. Road to Perdition! Good night."
Then, the following night, seemingly apropos of nothing, a woman caught me through the revolving doors of an office building just to tell me how she felt about The Hours. (again, she was a total stranger to me. and again, my penis was out, and looking very nice.) "There's a movie you can miss! I felt the story just sort of fell flat, you know. Oh, but the cinematography was beautiful!"
Both of those movie reviews were borderline articulate, even though they might have sounded informed to the speakers. They didn't help me at all. Instead, they were like a polite assemblage of critical points one might read in a hack journalist's review. Story - check. Acting - check. Cinematography - check. I also think many people's diplomatically stated opinions of films can be a complex short-hand for their real opinions - and the ones I'd prefer to hear. I have always favored unrehearsed passion to bland civility, even though I'm not drunk enough to practice it most of the time.
Here's what I believe people mean when they channel the voices of newspaper film reviews:
When You Say: "The movie was slow."
You Mean (male): "There were surprisingly few scenes involving people being shot in the face or balls."
(female):"There were surprisingly few montages of women frantically trying on a series of ridiculous outfits before a big date, set to bubbly 60s pop songs."
When You Say: "The movie wasn't so great, but the acting was excellent."
You Mean:"Al Pacino was in it."
When You Say: "I don't see how this would appeal to women."
You Mean: "There were exactly enough scenes of people being shot in the face or balls, as well as one scene that takes place in a strip club."
When You Say: "I don't see how this would appeal to men."
You Mean: "Colin Firth is in this film."
When You Say: "I don't see how this film could have been made."
You Mean:"Andie MacDowell / Dana Carvey / Tim Allen / Kevin Costner / Terry Bradshaw / a breakdancing chimpanzee / any combination of two or more of the previous is in this film."
When You Say: "It was very quirky, and not as funny as I'd expected, but I think I liked it."
You Mean: "Wes Anderson directed it."
When You Say: "It was too quirky. I hated it."
You Mean: "That asshole who directed Pi directed it."
When You Say: "It was Kevin Smith's most mature film to date."
You Mean: "I finished one year of college."
When You Say: "It had great cinematography."
You Mean: "I know I should have liked this film, but I honestly didn't get it. Please don't hold that against me. I'm sure I can find some reason to recommend it."
When You Say: "It was just pure escapism."
You Mean: "Some day you will be stuck on a cross-continental flight and be forced to watch this shitty film, made even shittier by having the swear words edited out."
When You Say: "Definitely Oscar material."
You Mean: "Someone acts very, very retarded in several scenes."
And that's the Civilian Movie Critic bit!!!! HA-CHA!