Film reviewing is an interesting task. It is like recommending a movie to your aunt, except film reviewers do it for many people (thousands depending on the publication). These reviewers must then have knowledge of film to make comparisons, discuss cinematic techniques, and point out homages, among others. What doesn’t change is the subjectivity of the review. Granted, I would trust a film reviewer more than any of my cousins because the professional review would tell me why it was good or bad, trying to be more objective, rather than just a, “that movie sucked.”
Reviewers write in various styles, which I believe are shaped by what type of publication they are writing for, the word limit, and the audience. Some writers can write several longs paragraphs and make as many comparisons as they wished, or it seems like it. Others say little, merely summarizing the plot. The former tend to be enjoyable pieces of writing even if you could care less about the film; the latter tends to be informative and nothing more. I prefer the longer reviews that appear on big publications, whether national or regional.
Film reviews are subjective. One writer sees one thing, another writer sees something else. Two writers see the same thing, but react differently. While a reviewer might despise the deliberate silliness of a movie like Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014), another might find himself or herself enjoying every minute of it. Critics are still part of the audience and, as such, their viewing is influenced by many factors such as whether they had a good breakfast or were able to comb their hair (if they have any) the way they wanted, or whether traffic was bad or it was raining, snowing, too much sun, too windy. Perhaps they have bias in favor or against certain filmmakers or actors. They know they can expect either something great or greatly disappointing from Woody Allen or a movie whose pretentiousness rises to astronomical levels (ahem, Interstellar) in the case of Christopher Nolan (I forgive him for his superb Batman).
But if this influences reviewers, we could just listen to our cousin’s “It was just so bad.” Well, no. Reviewers provide an analysis, some a really poor one, of various film elements. If there is anything special in the cinematography or production design, they will mention it. They will talk about whether the acting is mediocre, average, or top-notch. They will analyze the plot with its strengths and weaknesses. All this without ruining the movie for you, hopefully.
Reviewers give their opinion and no one else’s. Take what you can from them, which is an informed analysis that most likely your cousin or friend won’t do (unless of course, they are critics). Despite all that can influence a reviewer, their work is useful, enjoyable, and perhaps most importantly a possible money saver.
Just remember, a review is one perspective. When writing on Birdman, Richard Brody from The New Yorker agreed with Christopher Orr (The Atlantic) and Richard Lawson (Vanity Fair) that it asks old questions regarding ego, fame, art, relevance, and other such traits. They also agree in that Iñárritu offers the same old answers, or no answers. There’s nothing new in this regard that makes Birdman rise to the skies. While Lawson wished, and I did too, that there was something deeper—and I think there should have been something deeper—, Orr states there doesn’t seem to be much below the surface but notes, “As the Birdman voice inside Riggan’s head reminds us, sometimes viewers crave pure entertainment, not just ‘talky, pretentious, philosophical bullshit.’ ”