The Problem with the Phrase “The Movie We Need Right Now”

If you’ve been paying attention to the film industry in the past few years, odds are that you’ve noticed the increasing political nature of the types of films released, as well as the critical reactions released alongside them. I take no issue with films having political messages, as I believe any form of art should be a form of expression for its creator. If a director feels passionate about telling a particular story or delivering a certain message, then not only is it well within his or her right to do so, but the industry as a whole is made better by this freedom of expression. That being said, not every movie released is inherently political, and those films are left to the audience to decide what they mean to them. For example, a movie like Spike Lee’s recent film, Blackkklansman, is very direct in its story and message, while something like Moana could be a diverse, empowering female driven film to some, or it could be just a fun animated romp to others. There’s nothing wrong with finding enjoyment in a film in whatever way you want to.

So, when critics title their review with the headline  “____ is the movie we need right now,” they are deciding for the audience what the film means for us. They’ll say things like La La Land is the magical escape from our depressing political climate; that we need A Wrinkle in Time because it shows us that black children matter; or that Burning is the angry, youthful film to fuel our rage against the system.  While none of these analyses are necessarily incorrect, they’re not exactly what everyone will be taking away from these movies. A Wrinkle in Time does have a great diverse cast, but it’s also not that good of a film (it sits at a poor 42% on Rotten Tomatoes), so is it really a movie we need? Why not Big Hero 6 or Spider-Man: Homecoming? These manipulative articles are essentially prescriptions rather than actual reviews, and it’s disingenuous to the larger film audience.

Like I mentioned, having certain political takeaways from a film is fine, and if your enjoyment of a piece of media is defined by how it fits in a world where Donald Trump is president, then more power to you. But collectively deciding that “we” as a nation need these movies assumes we all share a certain way of thinking. And as political elections for the past 200+ years have shown, that is simply not that case. In fact, making it seem like there is a universal thought process when it comes to enjoying film is the same type of unawareness that led to Trump’s election in the first place.

Let movie audiences appreciate films in their own way. Films are generally an escape from reality, but being constantly reminded that you need to view the movie through a political lens can suck the fun out of the experience. Indeed, what is the point of escapism if you make it about the thing people are trying to escape? Solid critiques and interpretations are important, and it can make people appreciate art in new ways. But when you start telling people that they need to think a certain way, it becomes regressive to the art form as a whole.

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