Why Critics Are Seen As Clubby Elitists

A fair-sized percentage of the New Yorkers and Los Angelenos who will pay to see Ira SachsLove Is Strange (Sony Pictures Classics) this weekend will be doing so, I’m guessing, because it’s racked up a 96% Rotten Tomatoes rating and a Metacritic rating of 85%. That averages out to 90.5, which pretty much means “whoa…let’s definitely see this before Sunday night!” And then they’ll see it and most, I’m presuming, will emerge moderately pleased, although others, I’m fairly certain, will be feeling a bit confused and perhaps even frowning. I can imagine some guy saying to a friend, “It was nice but a little…what’s the word? Enervating? It doesn’t have much of a pulse. Why did the critics get so excited? Is it me? Do I lack sensitivity or something? Because from my perspective it was almost a meh. A nice sensitive meh.”

The reason Love Is Strange has done so well among N.Y. and L.A. critics is because a private memo was sent around two or three weeks ago. I won’t say who wrote it and I can’t even quote directly, but it more or less said the following: “This is a nice, low-key, sensitive little Sundance movie, possibly autobiographical to some extent, from an admired, openly gay New York filmmaker, and we don’t want to be anything but gentle and admiring in our responses. No snark, no snippy-ass remarks, no put-downs…Love Is Strange is an opportunity for all of us to to open our pores and show the world how enormously sensitive we are when given half a chance and to show our respect and affection for gay people who marry and also to show how humanistic and 21st Century our attitudes are. Plus it pushes back, deftly but forcefully, against anti-gay discrimination by Catholics and other religious organizations. So be nice, and if you want to play it extra-safe, be really nice.”

We all have a pretty clear idea what it means when a film draws a Rotten Tomatoes rating in the mid ’90s. It means great word of mouth, possible Oscar or Spirit Award noms and people feeling great and hugging each other in the lobby when it’s over. When nice but underwhelming and even occasionally boring films like Love Is Strange earn 96% RT ratings, it hurts the next really good film that gets a 96% rating because people will say, “Well, what does a 96% rating mean at the end of the day? You can’t trust big-city critics…they have really peculiar tastes sometimes…I mean, did you see Love Is Strange? A nice little film but c’mon…the critics went nuts for it. It should have had…what, an 80% or 85% rating at most? There has to be a sense of honest proportion about this stuff or you can’t trust anyone or anything.”

Do you want a non-equivocating, straight-from-the-shoulder review of Love Is Strange? Listen to The Wall Street Journal‘s Joe Morgenstern (a.k.a. “Jomo”), a man of iron. Or re-read my 8.21 review.