Every week, the Criticwire Survey asks film and TV critics two questions and publishes the results on Monday morning. (The answer to the second, “What is the best film in theaters right now?” can be found at the end of this post.) Send suggestions for future questions to sam at indiewire dot com.
Q: After leaving a play at intermission, the New York Times theatre critic Walter Kerr famously quipped, “You don’t have to eat the whole apple to know it’s rotten.” Is it okay for movie critics to walk out of a film (or turn off a screener), and if so, can they write about it?
Matt Zoller Seitz, New York, RogerEbert.com
If you are assigned to review the film, or if you’re planning on doing any kind of think piece, you are obligated to watch the entire thing, and people are right to complain if you don’t watch the whole thing but write about it anyway.
If you are not reviewing it, or presenting what purports to be a comprehensive, informed opinion about it, there is nothing wrong with walking out and telling people you walked out. You are simply reporting something that happened that day.
Stephen Whitty, The Star-Ledger
With a dozen or more movies opening every weekend, not all of which I can write about, I admit I have turned off screeners 30 minutes in, saying, this is a bad little film on a single screen, no one is going to know about it anyway, I’m going to do it a favor and not review. And then I stick to that, and don’t write a thing about it, at all. But if you are determined to review something, I think the very least you can do — this is not exactly ditch-digging, you know — is stay in your seat until the damn thing is over. I mean, would you skip the last 100 pages but still write a book review? Walk out before the fourth movement and still critique a symphony? Doing anything less isn’t fair to anyone, and at the very least, risks making you look like an utter fool; imagine reviewers in 1960 who walked out of Psycho after 15 minutes, complaining it was just another robbery picture.
Dan Kois, Slate
Of course it’s okay to walk out of a movie or turn off a screener. Life’s too short. It’s also OK to write about it. The only thing it’s not okay to do is to write a piece that lies about doing so. You can even write a “review,” if you want, if you are upfront about how much you saw and make a vigorous case for why you left early. And you should remain open to the possibility that, say, the last 68 minutes of Monuments Men might be terrific and you might have blown it. The outlet you write for would be wise to make sure that review is not the only take on the film in their pages, but that’s up to editors.
Keith Phipps, The Dissolve
If that critic is reviewing the movie then absolutely not. There’s no way to write an accurate assessment of a film without seeing the whole thing. I’ve had my flight reflex kick in over the years — Tomcats, Big Mommas: Like Father Like Son — but you owe it to your readers to stick it out. I think there’s an unspoken trust that a critic will have at least seen the film he or she is writing about and, look, ultimately it’s just not that hard to watch a movie. I had a job shaving the rough edges off of plastic boxes one summer. That was hard. Watching movies is easy.
Robert Levin, amNewYork
It is okay for a critic to walk out of a movie or shut off a screener if, and only if, the critic discloses the walkout in precise detail at the top of the review. Depending on when the walkout happened, the tone might need to shift toward a “Why I walked out of __” story. It’s a fundamental concept, really: Honesty is always the best and most important policy. That being said, if a critic starts making a habit of doing this it becomes problematic, for obvious reasons.
Peter Labuza, The Cinephiliacs, Variety
Jordan Hoffman, ScreenCrush, New York Daily News
It’s like the nuclear option. I say you can do it — but maybe once or twice in a career — and only in the most extreme cases, with extenuating circumstances. Just hating it doesn’t cut the mustard.
Also you must make it very clear in the very first line of your piece. I say this because it is what I believe, but also to cover my own ass after leaving the screening of The Raid 2 with a few minutes remaining. (I originally thought there were ten left — I’m now told I missed about five.) To further explain the specificity of my situation — I really thought I was going to hurl during The Raid 2. Also, it was the type of film that, let’s face it, by this point of the game, even a last minute reveal isn’t going to change its gimmicky nature. But I spoke with friends who sat through it to find out what I missed, to double-check. (Come to think of it, I missed as much as if I went to the bathroom. Should critics be allowed to go to the loo during a film? I always try to hold it in, but sometimes ya gotta!)
You can also turn down assignments if you think you just aren’t going to be able to handle the film. I was supposed to review Amour, but when the movie was coming out there was some emotional stuff happening in my family that made me recognize the ROI wasn’t there for me. Editors are human beings, and mine was quite kind when I told him I’d end up an emotional catastrophe if I saw that movie at that time.
But I’d like to discuss a different problem. So many of the foreign language/independent films I review are given to me via screener links. The reality is that with my schedule I may not be reviewing these films at all if I weren’t given the freedom to fit them in on my schedule. I watch ’em either very early in the morning or very late at night.
Most of these are on (glorious) Vimeo, which I can link up to my fairly sizable television via a gewgaw on my iPad. This set-up makes the picture quality look as good as a DVD. Sometimes — maybe 25% of the time — I am condemned to screen a film via a link that I can only watch on my laptop. This is a problem, because I am always just a tap away from my email or interrupting IMs.
I am pretty good about staying true to the film and blocking everything else out. But when a movie is dragging on and I already kinda know how I feel about it — and the outlet I’m writing for only wants a very short capsule because the film is playing one theater for six nights – it is very tempting to check email. I don’t, though. I really fight it. That’s the pact I’ve made with the Fates that allowed me to sustain myself on this very cool job. But it’s tough! Hopefully filmmakers will see this lament and demand that their screener links be on Vimeo or one of the other platforms that allows an HDMI connection.
Oh — and about the bathroom question? The moral answer is, number one is okay, number two, that’s missing too much of the movie.
Scott Renshaw, Salt Lake City Weekly
I made public my objection to the fact that Jordan Hoffman’s Sundance write-up of The Raid 2 — in which he described leaving before the end — was identified as a “review”, including a numerical rating. A writer can certainly turn any experience into fodder, but to me it’s not merely semantic that if one doesn’t finish watching a movie/reading a book/etc., you shouldn’t “review” it. Talk about why you did what you did, and what you saw before you left, but at that point it becomes primarily about you, not about the work. And as inevitably subjective as writing about art of any kind must be, the moment you realize you’re really writing about yourself, it’s time to stop calling it a “review.”
So sure, it’s okay to walk out; people have to make choices like that all the time at festivals, and sometimes simply run out of patience in a more conventional viewing setting. Just understand what it is you’ve given up the right to do at that point, namely providing a discussion of the film that suggests a full and thorough experience of it.
Kenji Fujishima, Slant Magazine, In Review Online
Though I personally believe in giving every movie a fair shake by sticking with it until the very end, I don’t look down upon other critics who do walk out of something/shut off a screener midway; that’s their right, and perhaps they have understandable reasons for doing so (life’s too short, better movies are playing at a festival, etc.). I’d apply a similar stance on writing about a movie a critic walks out on: You’re free to write about it, especially as long as you’re upfront about the fact that you didn’t technically finish it; I’m free to toss that particular review aside if I feel it’s not worth taking into serious consideration because of that fact.
Farran Smith Nehme, Self-Styled Siren, New York Post
At home, I’ve shut off films or walked out of the room, sure — who hasn’t? And I’ve walked out of cinemas when I loathed the film, although not often, because I’m stubborn. But that’s on my own dime and my own time. When I’m reviewing something for the New York Post, I watch the whole thing. Period. I may use my hand to hold my head upright, I may chew gum in hopes the minty-fresh feeling will keep me awake, I may slump down so far I’m practically inventing a new yoga position, but I watch.
If can’t finish a film I’m watching for my blog, I don’t write about it, so there’s that problem solved. If I give a movie one star in the Post, it’s a pretty sure bet that Citizen Farran, there strictly for her own amusement, would have split. But that’s no weighty matter in the privacy of my home, or even in a multiplex where the other patrons are free to assume I ran out of Raisinets. If I bail on a press screening, that’s a strong statement. Same thing if I shut off the screener and turn in a review that says, “I washed my hands of this one.”
While I am sorry to bring up “Why I Walked Out of The Monuments Men,” because so many of the comments were rude, it was, definitely, a review. The first 500 words or so include observations about Monuments Men‘s script, the acting, the casting, the master shots and the editing rhythm, as well as unflattering comparisons with The Train. That’s not even counting an equally long roundup of critics there to testify, “Sam is right!” While I am obviously sympathetic to the idea that some movies aren’t worth my time, you can’t flash-fry a new release and then insist it’s not a review, it’s a think piece. It would be a review even if it were a paragraph. As I recall, that’s how much Pauline Kael gave to what she saw of Fellini’s Casanova before she walked out. Kael had company; Gene Siskel made for the exits a few times. So did Roger Ebert. I’m sure there are others.
Why this diffidence? Let’s admit that for a critic, walking out is an extreme form of the pan — more pointed than falling asleep, less drastic than starting a riot. Merely because I haven’t yet found that special stinker that will prompt me to abandon ship doesn’t mean there’s not one in my future. But if that day comes, I want to make like Margo Channing in All About Eve, trailing my coat across the heads of my colleagues as I storm outside to find the nearest cocktail lounge. A walkout, like any other form of criticism, surely demands some style.
Peter Howell, Toronto Star
With all due respect to our spirited sultan of surveys, the only good reasons for walking out on a show one is reviewing are medical or family emergencies or the theatre being on fire. In which case, the critic is duty bound to not write a conventional review with star ratings. A news story might be appropriate, if the theatre actually burned to the ground, but not a review. It’s the absolute bare minimum requirement for a critic, not to mention common sense and fair play, to actually sit through the film, stage play or TV show that he or she is assigning a critical grade to. I suppose a critic could justifiably write a story (still not a review) about why he or she left a movie early, for reasons of disgust or boredom or whatever. But such stories should be extremely rare, otherwise the critic should question whether they’re really in the proper line of work.
Alonso Duralde, The Wrap, What the Flick?!
I do feel like I have to watch a movie I’m reviewing all the way through, if only to discover just how terrible it might still become. I agree that you can tell at a certain point that a movie isn’t going to get any better, but there’s always the possibility that it could get much, much worse. Most recently, I wanted to ankle Cavemen, but I soldiered on. And whenever I want to bolt a movie at a film festival, I’m reminded of Jonas Akerlund, who, legend has it, confronted each and every person who walked out of the press/industry screening of Spun at Toronto. I didn’t skedaddle from the dreadful Gummo partially because I didn’t want to shove my way past Harmony Korine and partially because I felt the film itself was daring me to leave, and I didn’t want to give it the satisfaction.
Adam Kempenaar, Filmspotting
If you review for an outlet that requires you to offer a summary ‘score’ such as a star rating or letter grade, I’d suggest that offering such a score – as reductive and arguably meaningless as it is — would be disingenuous. You shouldn’t rate something you didn’t finish — or probably comment at all under the guise of a traditional review. But what are you going to do, not speak or write about the movie ever in any context? Just pretend the whole thing didn’t happen? That every thought you had about the movie is irrelevant because there were 35 minutes left? (Your every thought might be, but that holds true even if you saw the whole thing.) Seems to me that, same as with any piece of criticism, as long as you’re honest about the experience you had, you’re fine.
Richard Brody, New Yorker
The entire activity of criticism runs on an uneasy disproportion: It takes two years to make a movie, two hours to watch it, and two seconds to dismiss it. A critic can redeem that imbalance with exertion, devotion, and self-questioning. A movie’s evident lack of inspiration, even its cynical venality, may still offer a peculiarly complex experience. But there’s nothing more deadening to a critic’s soul than habitually pulling a thousand words of nuance out of the undifferentiated muck of boredom; that’s where sublime invective comes in. It seems to me, though, that the basic precondition for delivering that invective is seeing a movie in its entirety. We’re writing about our experiences, and if the urge to propel oneself from a seat is irrepressible, it’s not illegitimate to write about it, but I’m tempted to say, with Ninotchka, “Suppress it” — find a way to write about the movie that captures the feeling that wasn’t yielded to. Otherwise, with Cordelia: Hate, and be silent. Then there’s the matter of the press screening, which is a privilege. When I’m a paying customer and am not writing about a movie, I feel utterly justified in entering and leaving the theatre at my own whim. At a critics’ screening, a walkout is instantly understood, whether by publicists or other critics, as a pan without content — thumb-down and middle-finger-up. A film was coming out, and the only screening within my deadlines was early evening of a holiday for which I had family plans. The publicist and I agreed that I’d stay for the first hour or so, at which point I had to head off; the publicist would then send along a screener so that I could catch up on the ending. I sat in the back on the aisle and tried to slip away silently. A few days later, I ran into another critic, who asked, “So you really hated [title].” Everyone knows everyone; word gets around; and whatever I thought about the movie, it wasn’t with my feet that I planned to express it. As for DVDs: even if I never slept, I’d never be able to watch in their entirety all the screeners and viewing links that I receive. Part of criticism is editorial — choices of what to write about. But I live in fear, literally in fear, of missing a good movie because of impatience or distraction; so I’ll often go back to watch again, or flip to the middle of a disk that I’m ready to bail on. Lots more work goes into making the movie than into watching it; criticism is a responsibility and a privilege; and talking about it that way inevitably sounds sanctimonious.
Danny Bowes, RogerEbert.com, Movies By Bowes
Under certain circumstances, it’s okay for a professional critic to abandon ship, but that should be a measure of absolute last resort. It’s within bounds to write a piece about the experience, explaining clearly and unambiguously that the piece is not a critical assessment, but an account of an incomplete experience (however legitimate the reasons for needing to leave are). Under no circumstances whatsoever is it acceptable to write a rated/graded review of a movie one has not seen in its entirety. However certain one may be that they can fill in the rest of the blanks, the fact remains that the parts of the movie they missed are blank. It’s a breach of the trust between reviewer and reader: if I’m reading a review of a movie, I trust that the review is of the entire movie, even if a great many details are elided or omitted in the interests of not spoiling. If I read a review of a movie where for whatever reason the reviewer says “oh, I missed the last ten minutes, but I know what happened,” then that’s a waste of the time spent reading the review, because it is not a review of the movie, it’s a review of the first 90-something percent of the movie. Also valid, as I’ve done on a handful of unfortunate occasions, is simply not filing and eating any expenses incurred. (Note, I apologize to anyone who felt a slight sting at any of this; if it makes you feel any better, you’re not the only person I was thinking of.)
Gary M. Kramer, Gay City News, Philadelphia Gay News
I’ve prided myself for never walking out of a film or shutting off a screener when I’m reviewing. And, yes, sitting through Frances Ha last year, really tested my integrity in this regard. The video link broke and I gleefully thought: “Oh well!” But I fixed it, and as it went on, I then thought, “Oh, Hell!” But sitting through a bad film is not a problem for me because it provides an opportunity to write a bad review, which can be great fun. I was once at a screening for Battlefield Earth when the power went out a half hour in, and we were all sent home. I was thrilled not to have to see the last 90 minutes, and I did not write the film up, because it just didn’t make any sense (and I mean that in every possible way). I did once fall asleep for a bit during a theatrical screening of Random Hearts, which I was reviewing. But It was a snooze of a film, so I felt this was an appropriate critical response. And while I generally don’t leave films I’ve paid to see even as a regular moviegoer, I did leave Leaving Las Vegas in the middle.
Jason Shawhan, The Nashville Scene, Interface 2037
It is always acceptable for a critic to walk out of a screening, stop a disc, or terminate a stream; but it is also imperative to address this in the subsequent review. If it’s a critic whose writing I know, respect, and trust, I’m fascinated as to what represents the breaking point for them. I personally don’t walk out of films if I’ve been specifically assigned them for review, but that isn’t something I would hold any other writer or critic to. I find it easier, though, to simply bear a terrible film through to the end because there are an inordinate number of wiseasses on the Internet, in comment sections, who like to second-guess critics, and who say things like “How can you judge something you didn’t watch all the way through?” I like depriving trolls of ammunition.
Josh Spiegel, Sound on Sight
As for the first question, it’s absolutely okay for a critic to walk out of a movie, because it’s okay for anyone to do so. To me, there’s a difference between walking out of a movie, and writing about that movie as if you didn’t walk out at all. If, as a few folks have, you exit a movie, are upfront about it, and explain why you did, that’s less problematic. (Granted, I don’t think I’d consider that kind of write-up a review, as such.) The Kerr quote arguably applies as much to the recent debate about publications like The New York Times reviewing every single movie that gets a theatrical release, even if a good chunk aren’t worth anyone’s time and only get a release in NYC precisely to get written up in the Times. Those apples, as it were, are often considered rotten sight unseen, yet reviewers are forced to slog through them. Anyway, though I’m not prone to walking out (in spite of considering doing so sometimes), I think the circumstances of leaving a movie before it’s over and writing about the experience can, sometimes, be appropriate.
Mike McGranaghan, The Aisle Seat, Film Racket
Barring some sort of extenuating circumstance, a film critic should never walk out of a movie he or she is being paid to review. Period. While I totally agree with Walter Kerr’s assessment, the fact is that the job of a film critic is not simply to determine whether a movie is “good” or “bad,” but rather to document the art form. Walking out of a movie before it’s over creates a situation where the critic might miss something notable — or, just as importantly, something that may become notable in the future. For example, someone who walked out of Pootie Tang wouldn’t understand its pivotal place in the eventually esteemed career of its maker, Louis CK. Or, as a more extreme example, imagine a critic who hated The Sixth Sense and left halfway though; that critic would never know what it was like to be blindsided by what became one of the most celebrated twist endings in cinematic history. If you do exit before the movie is over, you should not write about the film. At that point, any “review” only becomes an explanation/justification for leaving, which isn’t really about the movie at all. The fact is, sitting through films, even when we hate them, allows us to understand the breadth of movies and those who make them more completely, which in turn better equips us to document, analyze, and explore this art form we all love so much. Given the choice between working outside in the blazing hot sun doing road construction or sitting in a comfy seat inside a climate-controlled theater with a big box of peanut M&Ms in my hands, watching the worst film ever made, I’ll take the latter every single time. Having said all this, I should add that I personally wouldn’t criticize a colleague who walked out of a movie too harshly. We have to sit through some pretty awful stuff. I know — I endured InAPPropriate Comedy in its entirety.
Tony Dayoub, Cinema Viewfinder
Walking out of a movie is A-okay in my book. Hell, I don’t believe I could have made it through Kuffs after its opening scene of Milla Jovovich prancing about in her underwear without inflicting some serious physical harm on my own person. But I draw the line at actually reviewing a movie (or even voicing a serious opinion of it to friends) without seeing it in toto. I was recently annoyed by a friend of mine who pronounced how awful the admittedly divisive Saving Mr. Banks was a few moments before admitting he walked out of it midway through. I may not agree with you on a film, but you sure lose my respect on the matter when you confess you didn’t see it in its entirety. So yeah, Banks played fast and loose with the mythology surrounding “Uncle Walt” (what historical movie hasn’t). But embedded within was a wonderful subplot about a little girl and her relationship with her alcoholic dad that recalled Kazan’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and was worthy of some consideration.
Many years ago, my mind was blown by Friedkin’s explosive shock ending to To Live and Die in L.A., a movie that had up to that point seemed like a generic ’80s policier with the usual reckless, rule-bending protagonist at its center. Ever since then, I’ve learned that on rare occasions a film can subvert the expectations it set up to deliver something transcendent. That one-in-a-thousand movie makes sitting through countless turkeys well worth it.
Don Simpson, Smells Like Screen Spirit
No matter how horrible a film is, it is our job as film critics to watch the entire film if our intention is to review the film. We have absolutely no right reviewing a film that we did not watch in its entirety. However, that does not mean a film critic cannot write about said film, as long as they are open and honest about not watching the entire film and do not critique (or grade) the film. If I refuse to watch a film in its entirety, then I am not going to dedicate any time to writing about the film. To paraphrase the famous aphorism: no publicity is the worst publicity a film can get.
Sean Chavel, Flick Minute
Do not see what the big deal is, as long as a critic doesn’t habitually walk out of movies. I walked out of Zack Snyder’s Watchmen, and my only regret is that I didn’t walk out of Sucker Punch instead. This weekend I re-read Roger Ebert’s review of Tru Loved, and find it all the more hilarious when he reveals at the end that he stayed with it only 8 minutes. Actually, I did walk out of a movie in 2010 after only 8 minutes, it was Dirty Girl with Juno Temple. And I decided not to write about it.
Adam Batty, Hope Lies at 24 Frames Per Second, Periodical
For me there’s a fairly simple answer to this question; if you’ve agreed to watch it for an editor, then you stay. I’ve only ever walked out of one film, but it was for my own site, and I didn’t write about it. That said, I have written about the act of walking away from the film in question, which is in it’s own way a form of recorded critique.
Marc V. Ciafardini, Go See Talk, Big Fanboy
Well for me I’ve always been one to stick it out to the bitter end. I’ve never walked out of a screening and taken a lot of lumps waiting out a sizable number of terrible, horrible, no good very bad films. Also I feel that even if something seems rotten halfway through I’m always going to hold on to the hope that there will be something redeeming or worthwhile near or at the end. It may not make film in question a winner but hopefully there’s something that will right the boat.
It’s the responsibility of a critic to take in the whole experience and, sometimes painfully, process that into a review. Now I’ve turned off dozens of stinkers I’ve started on Netflix, but that’s considered “off-the-clock viewing” and titles I am not tasked with reviewing. As the great Huey Lewis once said, “Cool is a rule but sometimes bad is bad” and in this situation I spin that to mean that no one sets out to make a bad film, it just somehow goes sour. Again it’s our job to evaluate the whole of it and not part, otherwise we should just write our reviews based on the trailer.
Ernesto Diezmartinez, Reforma, cinevertigo
I try not to do it, but sometimes enough is enough. The last time I walked out from a movie theater (and in a film festival) was watching Arirang. And, of course, I wrote about it, very angry, (in Spanish).
Josh Larsen, Filmspotting, Larsen on Film
In principle, I’m opposed to walking out of a movie and then reviewing it, but I can’t say I’ve really been forced to make this decision myself. The closest was when I spent a good 20 minutes looking at the floor during a Saw movie. I did still review that.
Joey Magidson, The Awards Circuit, First Showing
I’m of the opinion that it’s never acceptable to walk out of a screening or to turn off a screener if you’re writing a review of the film, but if you’re just watching the movie to watch it, I suppose that’s more of an individual decision. I’ve never actually walked out of a screening in my life, or even a movie in general that I’ve gone out to see, though I will admit to not paying particularly close attention to screeners at home if it became clear that I was never going to write anything about them. It’s a judgment call in the latter case, but for the former, we really don’t have that hard of a job, so I think we should stick it out and not get up and leave. At least, that’s what I’ll continue to do.
Joanna Langfield, The Movie Minute
I have never walked out of a movie I was reviewing. That does not mean I haven’t wanted to! But I feel an obligation to see it through, however difficult that can be. Sometimes, things can surprise you; while it’s doubtful an awful start can pull a 180, maybe there’s a nice performance or a decent scene that deserves note. Or maybe things will get even worse which, if it really gets me crazy, can provide some inspiration as I’m writing. If I’m not reviewing, obligatory bets are off. Life is short, some stuff is unwatchable and, to forewarn others, I may confess an early departure in a passing comment on my show. But whole sight not seen? No review.
Jeff Berg, ABQ Arts, Las Cruces Bulletin
I’d like to say it is okay, but I have turned off a few screeners and tried to alter my coverage of them, i.e. tried to not write about them, which has worked so far. I’ve not walked out of a screening, although it has been tempting at times and I do think it would be okay. I admire those who can cover (endure) everything. I don’t think it is okay to write about it however, unless the writer emphasizes that he/she did not watch the entire picture.
John DeCarli, Film Capsule
I can appreciate Kerr’s quip, and indeed I feel I’ve started to formulate an opinion about half-way through a film, but I still try never to walk out of a theater or shut off a movie before it’s finished. (If I were writing about a movie, I would never not watch the whole thing.) Part of this instinct is noble: to give a film a chance, to be fully armed to join a discussion on it. But if I’m being honest, a bigger part of my desire to always sit through the whole film comes from an obsessive cataloging instinct fueled by sites like Mubi. I can’t give a film a star rating to add to my ever-growing tally without sticking it through to the bitter end.
Michael Pattison, idFilm
Well, how many films can you name that have a bankrupt opening 30 minutes and then get better enough to be worthy of discussion? I see those sustained bouts of negativity when folks do individual Tweet-alongs and think, What’s the point? It’s completism run amok.
Is it okay to walk out of a film? Of course it’s okay. No job needs to be unduly punishing, and we have to find ways to sustain and renew enthusiasm and energy levels when wading through what is — let’s be honest — an absolute swamp of mediocrity. You often see the trades doing it — paradoxically, it’s good news for the filmmakers because it means the film won’t be reviewed at all (i.e., panned). Time’s scarce; at festivals, when multiple films screen simultaneously, there’s little use sticking around — better to check out some other fare. Critics should walk out knowing that doing so is a) a statement in itself, and b) precludes them from reviewing the film in full. Incidentally, I lost my walk-out virginity only in November, when I gave time to the first ten chapters of The Policeman’s Wife before calling it a day. Never thought I’d feel as guilt-free and liberated when I felt the cold air of the lobby hit my face.
John Keefer, 51 Deep
The only film I have ever walked out on, as a viewer, was Dumb and Dumberer. The prequel to one of the most beloved comedies of my generation was so excruciatingly bad, so bereft of merit, so unbelievably terrible that me and my friend Matt could no longer endure so we snuck into Hollywood Homicide. I may never know if I enjoyed Hollywood Homicide because the previous film was so ungodly awful or because it was actually entertaining but nevertheless if I was tasked with reviewing Dumb and Dumberer I would have stayed through the whole abysmal mess just so I wouldn’t feel guilty and also so my review could have more examples of the almost inhuman capacity of that film to suck. It’s your responsibility to sit there and take it. You may have reached the point where you know full well that there’s no way for the film to win you over and at that point your brain usually shuts down or diverts itself with other random thoughts so really you’re not seeing the film so why not just leave? No! Stay you must! Watch the whole God awful thing because somebody out there had a dream to make movies and that’s how it turned out. Sad, isn’t it? Happens all the time anyway.
Edwin Arnaudin, Ashvegas
While it’s certainly acceptable to abandon a movie in the way that it’s fine to stop reading a book that you’re not enjoying, if it’s your job to review the film, you’re being paid (or given some stone-stepping substitute) to sit through and provide thoughts on the entire work. Readers, editors, etc. are relying on you for that service and you should follow through.
If you walk out, you haven’t seen the film. You’ve seen X% of that film. Now, if review culture wants to shift away from this “completion as necessity” approach, as long as a critic owns up to theirs being an incomplete experience and readers understand the change, writing about the film might be fine. Sometimes you’ve seen enough and if you can articulate what made you want to get the hell out of there (which, considering the situation’s power, would likely result in some entertaining vitriol), you can save yourself and others valuable mental angst.
Giving the film a grade, however, unless it’s the ever popular “W/O,” is probably something you shouldn’t do, at least at this moment. We’re so used to stars and letters to sum up a film’s value that giving these familiar ratings to incomplete views doesn’t feel right, especially when they’ll be compared to ratings from critics who didn’t leave. The right to grade should be reserved for those who’ve battled through the mess and until readers embrace the idea of a new format, the current system should continue.
Ryan McNeil, The Matinee
something counterintuitive about a critic walking out of a film (or
shutting it off) before it’s over. For starters, everything after that
“fuck it” point could change the critic’s perception on the entire film.
What if critic walked away from a movie like The Usual Suspects,
thinking “I got this”? Time is valuable, and you might not have
to eat the whole apple to discover that it’s rotten…but from time to
time, films arrive that reward patience and consideration.
more, how is one able to publish a fully-formed opinion of something
they didn’t fully experience? Going on record with “It bored me” or “I
couldn’t finish it” is one thing, but to build an entire critique on
something that wasn’t fully considered is disrespectful and
disingenuous. The work took months to complete, the critic can’t put in a
few hours? Which brings me to the most important part: It’s your job.Every
job comes with parts that employees don’t want to do. Even people
working their dream jobs find that it comes with details they’d rather
ditch. If a critic can watch one hour of a two hour film and call it a
day, why can’t a processing clerk finish 2/3
of a spreadsheet and turn it in? You’d get grumpy if your cashier at
McDonalds forgot your fries, but would you be less grumpy if they said
“You got your Quarter Pounder, McNuggets, and McFlurry though.”
Tell me any other job, ever, where it is okay to clock
out early just because things are a bit difficult, and then actually
brag in a public forum about the fact that you did. The only way that
works is if you’re your own boss, and increasingly in the film writer
world, people are. A critic being paid to review something, whether on
an individual piece basis or salaried position, is insulting his
employer and readers by walking out. As someone who has mopped up urine
for minimum wage, I feel like some perspective is needed about how
difficult it is or isn’t to sit in a screening room relative to other
ways of making a living.But I can’t be as militant about it as I used to be, because
so much of criticism now is people with self-sustaining blogs trading on
their personalities. If Jeffrey Wells, for hypothetical example, walks
out of a movie because of some irrational dislike of the main
character’s clothes, it’s part of the appeal of reading him. But if the
New York Times paid you to see a movie and write about it, you do not
walk off the job unless there’s an emergency — same as with any other
job.Oh, there is one other exception — you’re at a festival, the
movie you picked starts off looking like a dud, and if you leave now you
can pick something better that starts in a few minutes.And yes, you absolutely must disclose it. And do your damnedest to ask around and find out what you missed.
Q: What is the best movie in theaters?
Other movies receiving multiple votes: Stranger by the Lake, Inside Llewyn Davis, The LEGO Movie, Like Father Like Son.