Last weekend, Linda Holmes of NPR posed an interesting question in her interesting defense of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. The film, beloved by many critics, suffered a strange backlash as those who disliked the film – rather than reviewing it based upon its merits (or demerits in this case) chose to attack its audience in their search for humor, wisdom and relevance. Linda brought up a great many examples – though many more exist – and it caused me to wonder openly amongst many of my colleagues: is it ever appropriate to review a film based upon its audience?
The knee jerk reaction here is to simply say no – we are not allowed to review a film based upon its audience. But we do. It’s easy enough to want to gear up and go to war over a film we love and press those that didn’t for honest to god reasons for their negative takes that don’t involve the phrases “I don’t play video games” or “I don’t read comic books” or worst of all. “I’m over the age of 30” – but what of the times we run into movies like Paul Blart: Mall Cop? You know, those films in which we instantly want to refer to the film as being made for the mewling, Wal-mart crowd, hungry for the least challenging thing possible to make them laugh while making them, if only for a moment, feel smarter than someone else. Why is it okay to go after those people? Is it, in actuality, okay at all? Or is it more indicative of the long detailed divide between critics and audiences.
The idea of elitism existing within the critical community isn’t exactly revolutionary thought. We are often thought of as stuffy and out of touch, even when our predictions are wholly accurate. While we might be cursed up and down on Friday morning for trashing a film people are excited about – those foul mouthed buffoons never show up Monday, after the heady buzz of their excitement has faded and the movie failed to deliver upon its promise, in order to apologize and say they were wrong. Likewise, rare is the critic who in turn apologizes for bagging on a portion of an audience that simply appreciated something they didn’t.
Sometimes, in our search for cleverness or a quick laugh, we cheap shot the very people we should be trying harder to understand – the people who see films. Why is it okay to openly mock the black turtleneck/beret wearing/iPod using crowd when discussing incongruous art films rather than saying “It was far too art school for my taste”? Is it because we’re afraid of being seen as not getting it by placing ourselves outside of a position of power? Must we always approach things from a superior stance as if not only was the film not worthy of us, but neither is anyone who it was made for or might enjoy it? It’s one thing to mock a film for being juvenile and crass, but why it is okay to openly mock the 13 year-old-boys who you know will really like it?
It’s not wrong to make a film for a target audience. It has been and always shall be my opinion that every film should be based upon what it is attempting to accomplish rather than what I want out of a film in general. And if that film’s goal is to squarely hit a target demographic, and it does its job so perfectly that you feel you need to check that demographic in the review, how in God’s name is that a mark against it? I’d like to say the “hipster video game kid” thrashing suffered by Scott Pilgrim was wrong, but sadly it is all too common. It just so happens that this time many critics are the butt of the joke, it is causing just a tad bit more navel gazing than usual.