Q & A is a bi-monthly column that chooses a question for the Film Misery staff to answer. Read our responses and be sure to share yours in the comments!
QUESTION: On What Movie Have You Changed Your Opinion?
When I first watched Ferris Bueller’s Day Off way back when, I was so enamored by the nonchalant, unencumbered attitude that Ferris embodied. He was rebellious, anti-establishment, and most importantly, he got away with it. I thought of him as the guy on campus that everybody wanted to be friends with because he was so gosh darn cool.
But when I watched the movie again recently, there was something very doltish and hollow in his rebellion. Sure there was something thrilling about his actions having no consequences at all, but his day off was unthreatening and ultimately, insubstantial. It came off to me as pure recklessness that didn’t amount to anything more than the pursuit of fun. Compared to John Hughes’ other forays into adolescent experience like in The Breakfast Club or Pretty in Pink, there was something more authentic and more insightful in those films beyond just a guy living out a teenage fantasy. And so, it befuddles me why I liked it so much then, and why people consider this to be one of Hughes’ stronger movies.
And oh, Cameron was more annoying the second time around.
I think my biggest cinematic about-face has been with Be Kind, Rewind. Initially, I saw it as an under-acted, hammed-up Jack Black vehicle. For whatever reason, the second time I saw it, it came together as a love letter for classic, noncomputerized special effects and a manifesto in defense of art in the community instead of manufactured for mass consumption.
It’s still not a perfect movie, but I think it was ahead of its time and deserves more than a cursory viewing.
Every critic and every viewer (is there really a difference, other than pretentiousness?) changes their opinion with some regularity, if not from varying taste with age or lessened value in repeat viewings, from merely not understanding a work’s significance the first time around. This is the changing of opinion that comes from the most humble of origins. This is the “I guess I was wrong” admission.
Whether it be Roger Ebert’s negative two and a half star review of Unforgiven that he later added to his collection of “Great Movies” or my personal favorite, Rolling Stone’s scathing critique of Led Zeppelin I that was later hailed by the same magazine as the 67th best album ever, everyone is wrong at one time or another. Although most critical opinion accepts the theory that no opinion can be wrong, such is the nature of an opinion, I assert that for the same reason, all opinions are wrong. I guess I’m a pessimist.
At any rate, I was wrong (as usual) in my first viewing of Casablanca. “What a dull movie,” I thought! Clearly I had not seen the same film as anyone else. It was pretty much all talking, political commentary that was completely over my head, cinematic value to which I was totally oblivious, and only one brief action scene at the end that led to a swift conclusion that I did not understand or really care about at all. I had no understanding of what I’d seen. But evidently, neither did many when it was originally released. And that’s what is great about these shifting opinions; they allow for films like Casablanca, Citizen Kane, and Vertigo to find their place in cinema and culture that transcends their initial reception.
I can never be too sure which films I dislike that I may one day appreciate (although I suspect my disdain towards films like Lawrence of Arabia, Sideways, and Saving Private Ryan may dwindle eventually), I do love to speculate which films have been negatively received by the general public and critical population that will better stand the test of time. Where the Wild Things Are, anybody? The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford? Dogville?
There was a point, right after it came out, where I would have declared with utmost sincerity that the 2001 Dreamworks animation sensation Shrek was the greatest animated film of all time. At the time, I saw no reason to think otherwise; the script was sharp and witty, the voice acting was perfect, and the pop culture references were clever and observant.
While I might continue to use most of those same adjectives to praise the movie even today, my opinion of the film has eroded to the point that not only would it not list in my top ten movies of its respective year, I’m not even sure it could rank it amongst my all-time favorite animated films. There are several reasons for my dwindled enthusiasm, not the least of which being the fact that I have since watched a lot more animated films. Simply put, Shrek pales in comparison to classics like Bambi or Grave of the Fireflies, and it hardly deserves to be compared to anything Pixar has done in the past five years.
What’s more, the film’s reliance on pop culture as a crux for storytelling has not aged well. Unlike Disney’s Enchanted, a movie that similarly lampoons timeless fairy tale movie tropes, Shrek’s relationship with popular culture – while delightfully acerbic – is detrimentally obsessed with where our culture was at the specific time it was made, not unlike many of those hacky Seltzer/Friedberg spoofs. Shrek and its spitfire references to Smashmouth and millennial cinema might make for a superb 2001 time capsule, but are they actually the makings of a timeless masterpiece?
Most of my changing opinions come from movies that I greatly admired as a child, but enjoy significantly less when revisiting them as an adult. Imagine my dismay when I discovered that 3 Ninjas was not the action movie masterpiece that I had assumed it was my whole life (bad example, 3 Ninjas is still kind of great).
The one movie that I am consistently glad that I revisited, though, is Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. This is a film that I had restrained respect for after my first viewing; I enjoyed the usual high level of craft that comes with a Tarantino film, but I thought the film was without a beating heart. Not only did a second viewing open me up to the deeply human struggle at the heart of the film, but it also gave me such a huge respect for the filmmaking that I found myself in cinematic heaven. Subtle things like the casting of an actor who looks like Stanley Kubrick in the opening dialogue scene or the literal burning of film at the climax to represent the end of a long-standing technology as the industry converts to digital.
Technically this was not a complete opinion reversal, because the first time around I enjoyed the movie. However, I did go from thinking Inglourious Basterds was a good movie to Inglourious Basterds is a masterpiece.
On what movie have you changed your opinion?