Mom on Film: The Recommendation/Criticism Divide

This evening, my husband and daughter brought home a video which I immediately declared, despite never having seen it, "really bad." "It's supposed to be a real stinker," I told them, and then tried, subtly and unsuccessfully, to encourage the rest of the family to champion a different, and probably "better" movie. Well, as happens on occasion, my best efforts failed and we watched the "stinker." Except that it wasn't; not if what you're looking for is a nice, family-friendly movie.

Now, here is where some readers may jump to the same conclusion that Rolling Stone's Peter Travers did, that, because I enjoyed this film, I must be a "Christian conservative" (a categorization which would make my brother-in-law, and most others who know me, laugh; I am more of a liberal Catholic). The movie which I'm referring to is Evan Almighty.

I am frequently reminded by my editor at that I am not supposed to be writing "movie reviews" so much as "movie recommendations." This is sometimes a line I find difficult to navigate, but with Evan Almighty and Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium, for example, it seems pretty clear-cut. Here is where the line between a critical success, and the kind of movie you can watch with the entire family becomes very well-defined. Because as much as watching Shut Up and Sing was a powerful experience which has led to many follow-up conversations regarding freedom of speech and other hugely important aspects of what it means to be an American, sometimes my family just wants to sit down and relax together. We don't want or need a diet of exclusively highbrow, or even particularly intellectually stimulating cinema, and I'm guessing that most other families don't either.

This is not to say that I am completely undiscriminating in terms of "family movies." For example, I think that while it had plenty of memorable lines, which are frequently quoted by my children, my husband and myself, Madagascar is a pretty stupid movie. The penguins are funny, but other than that, I really have no use for it and would not sit through it again. Ice Age: The Meltdown was not only bad; it was disturbing. And, although our son loves Zoom: Academy for Superheroes, it's not an option for family movie night because the rest of us have been there and done that, and won't be repeating the experience.

I sometimes wonder if real movie critics, as opposed to "Moms on Film" like me, are capable of watching movies with the eyes of a parent -- if they remember what it was like to be a child and still regard movies as magic, or if they have seen so many movies, and grown so cynical, that they have lost their ability to suspend disbelief. We went to the theater this weekend to see Walden Media's latest film, The Water Horse. The kids and I enjoyed it very much. Mr. Wonderful wasn't quite so enthusiastic, but didn't dismiss it entirely. critic Eric Snider, on the other hand, declared it "forgettable and kind of dumb and I don't feel like talking about it". Well, to each his own; as I often tell the kids: differences of opinion make the world interesting, and hopefully lead to dialogue.

This belief won't make headlines, of course. It is, perhaps, a little soft, or, to quote Mr. Snider's description of The Water Horse, somehow "pedestrian." Hopefully it won't make anyone want to pound [his] own skull in with a ball-peen hammer, like watching Evan Almighty did to another critic, C. Robert Cargill. Nice may not thrill the critics, but I am not really a critic. First and foremost I am a mother, and I happen to really love the movies, and hope my children will too. Sometimes nice is exactly what we're looking for, even if the critics are not.