Enjoyable films don’t need to be highbrow

Last year I reviewed Breaking Dawn — Part 1 for the Daily Trojan, and I took a lot of flak for it. Twi-hards can be pretty vicious when they’re hiding behind an anonymous comment system. I won’t deny that my words were harsh, but I have — embarrassingly enough — read all the books and seen all the movies that have come out so far, so at the very least I’m well acquainted with the material.

I say this because I’m about to discuss Breaking Dawn — Part 2, which hits theaters in a little less than a month, and I want you, my trusted and faithful readers, to know that this column does not come from a bias against Twilight. It comes from a film writer concerned about how audiences view their reactions to certain films. Do note, however, that I am not condoning the brutal scrutiny of Part 2 just because Part 1 was poorly received by critics. Every film deserves a chance — even if it’s a part of the Twilight saga.

Looking back at the negative feedback I received from my review and looking forward to its follow-up, I’ve been thinking about the different ways viewers receive films. In this case, there’s a very distinct divide in the way the first part was received. Critics tore the most recent installment apart, while fans remained faithful to the series.

These divisive reactions have made me feel the need to make one very important point: There is a difference between good movies and ones we enjoy.

We, as moviegoers, need to focus less on our emotional responses to a work and more on specific cinematic elements. We need to determine whether a narrative is cohesive and endearing, if a film style is interesting and advances the story and if the acting is convincing and well played.

A movie is not necessarily good just because we like it. I loved the first installment of the Twilight series. I’ll admit it — I saw the movie three times in theaters. (I was just as enthusiastic as the next Team Edward member.) And though Twilight was of a higher caliber than Part 1, looking back, I can see that I was caught up in my love for the books. This love blinded me from seeing the movie’s flaws — think cheesy special effects (glitter anyone?), for example.

In turn, even if we might not like a movie, this doesn’t mean it isn’t good. Heck, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Argo (that puts me against the majority of the film-going world). I thought it did a poor job of balancing dramatic and comedic content; it wasn’t very fluid.

My personal feelings aside, I recognize that the film is a surefire Oscar contender. Most reviews I’ve read and moviegoers I’ve talked to have praised the film for its brilliant performances and dynamic, multi-layered approach to telling the story of the Iranian Hostage Crisis.

So I’m not saying that certain films are inherently bad and others are definite hits. Part 1 wasn’t awful just because it’s a Twilight movie. It was bad because of its heightened melodrama and unconvincing acting. Just like how Argo wasn’t great because of the big names backing it: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin and John Goodman. It was great because it had an interesting story that was well executed by a talented cast and crew.

Filmgoers have to push any and every personal bias aside while viewing a film if they want to judge it objectively: A film’s success isn’t measured by an individual’s interpretation; it’s measured by its narrative, film style and acting, to name a few factors.

A few weeks back, I wrote about action films and said that we should consider films within the context of their genre, and I stand by that statement. You can’t compare Taken 2  to Anna Karenina or that to Wreck-It Ralph because they are all so different and are all attempting to meet different goals. These different goals, in turn, affect the cinematic devices that follow, and this logic applies to the Twilight series and Argo, as well.

But a film’s success cannot solely be measured by whether or not it meets its own goals. Of course, the context of a genre is important, but if a film can’t meet the basic standards of filmmaking, then context goes out the window and the movie becomes plain bad.

And, as with any film, people are entitled to their own opinion, but our personal biases often obstruct the way we look at film. We need to learn to differentiate our individual interpretation from the actual quality, or lack thereof, of a film.

Like I said, we can enjoy good films, but a film isn’t necessarily good just because we enjoy it — some food for thought that I hope Twi-hards will consider the fifth time around.


C. Molly Smith is a junior majoring in communication. Her column “Keepin it Reel” runs Wednesdays.