Thursday, October 26, 2017

Reviewing an idea, and following a herd

The Emoji Movie has a 12 on Metacritic.

I'll let that sink in a moment.




That's not just bad. That's historically bad. That's "only the most brainless horror movies and tone-deaf Christian movies" bad. That bad.

The thing is, The Emoji Movie is not actually bad.

I was as surprised as anyone to discover this. I finally saw it yesterday at a 10 a.m. showing at Hoyts Highpoint. Why was I able to see a 10 a.m. showing on a Wednesday morning? Well, because yesterday was my wife's final day out of town on her most recent (but much shorter) work-related trip, and we (uh, she) decided that our youngest needed a day at home to break up five straight days in daycare. When asked to take off work for this reason, I usually put up a token opposition on the grounds of lost money/the hassle of requesting time off from my boss ... but then I remember that a day off from work can be a fun thing if done right. And "done right" can include going to the movies. I can use my critics card at Hoyts any weekday before 5, and I figured another $10 for my three-year-old would make it a pretty good morning excursion. It was actually $16 -- for a three-year-old -- but I will rant about that another time.

He chose The Emoji Movie over Captain Underpants, an outcome I was secretly glad about and subtly pushed for. I didn't think either movie would be good, but I deemed The Emoji Movie the more "culturally significant" of the two of them -- "significant" as in "everyone is talking about how horrible it is," and I wanted to join the conversation.

But it's not horrible. Far from it. I was on board from the first moments through the final. In fact, I pulled out my balls and put my reputation on the line and have given this film FOUR STARS on Letterboxd.

I'm as shocked as you are. But I can't lie to myself. The Emoji Movie combines elements of Inside Out and Wreck-It Ralph to give us something inventive that stays consistent with the logic of its own world, is fun, and has a surprising amount of heart.

Of course, if you are taking the negative angle on it you'd call it a rip-off of those movies, but I don't know why that has to be the case. It borrows some of the logic behind those movies, but it executes it differently enough to exist plenty fine as its own distinct entity.

So why the 12?

I've got some thoughts on that.

This was one of those movies that most critics pre-judged. I told you last week that I wrote my first paragraph of my Geostorm review before having seen it, since that first paragraph wasn't a substantive comment on the film itself, but rather a consideration of the recent career of its director (who turned out not to be its director, necessitating a rewrite). Well, I can see how a number of critics might have written the first paragraph of their Emoji Movie review, at least in their heads, before walking into the theater, based not substantively on the movie itself, but on the industry that allowed it to exist in the first place. They were predisposed to the movie being terrible -- and let what they saw complete the self-fulfilling prophecy.

Because just on a basic idea level, The Emoji Movie feels like a major insult to our intelligence. It's the type of movie whose very existence prompted these exact words in 73% of people upon hearing about it: "Has Hollywood sunk so low that they are now making a movie about emojis?" The answer is, of course, "Duh." If Hollywood has not sunk lower, it's only because Hollywood hasn't thought of a way to do that yet.

But you don't review ideas. You review films. So what if Hollywood sunk so low as to make a movie about emojis. Now that the movie exists, review that movie -- don't review the system that birthed it into existence.

And if you review The Emoji Movie, you will find a somewhat formulaic movie -- The Lego Movie is another inspiration -- that nonetheless manages to tweak the formulas enough to make it distinctive. Or distinctive enough, anyway. And so what if it is a lesser facsimile of other movies I've loved. Some people go to the movies simply to see the same movie over and over again, when you boil down their instincts to the most basic level. Anytime you've told someone "If you liked Movie A, you will probably like Movie B," you've basically accused them of craving similar things when they go to the movies. If you liked (or loved, as I did) Inside Out or Wreck-It Ralph or The Lego Movie, why wouldn't you crave something similar?

Now of course, the x factor in any discussion like this is the quality of the execution. But The Emoji Movie passes most if not all of the bars here as well. The vocal cast is enjoyable and engaging, with the likable T.J. Miller playing Gene, the "meh" emojji, and Steven Wright perfectly cast as his dad. Was there ever anyone whose delivery has more perfectly encapsulated the emotion of "meh"? Jennifer Coolidge plays his wife, not such an obvious casting as Wright, but an effective one, as it turns out. James Corden gives it his all as a high five emoji, and less recognizable but still useful is Anna Faris as a hacker. In a great bit of stunt casting, you also have Patrick Stewart as the poop emoji. See, the people who graded this idea rather than this movie objected to Patrick Stewart lowering himself to play a poop emoji, in principle. They didn't wait to see if it worked.

I wouldn't call the writing a laugh a minute, but I did laugh -- a number of times. And the animation is perfectly in keeping with industry standard. It looks good. In fact, I like how it looks a lot better than many of Dreamworks' recent efforts.

I don't want to go completely in the bag for The Emoji Movie, but maybe I should. I should own that four stars rather than trying to retract some of my enthusiasm and whittle it down to a 3.5. Maybe the world needs a few positive voices on The Emoji Movie, and if I have to shout louder and more stridently to make the impact of my opinion felt, maybe I should do that.

Because no one else is. I mean, no one. I am very much of the opinion that a few stinking turds (voiced by Patrick Stewart, perhaps) were dropped by the first critics who saw this, and a wave of subsequent reviewers came in poisoned and ready to add to the flow of vitriol. I mean, who wants to be the one critic who likes this abomination? Leave that to some other fool.

Some fool like me.

I think some people are capable of saying a movie is bad simply because it is derivative. I won't notice a movie is "bad," by their definition, if it produces enjoyment in me. I think some people actively shun their feelings of enjoyment because they are opposed philosophically to what a movie is doing or how it is doing it. For me, enjoyment is enjoyment and it's as simple as that.

Maybe my credibility with you will suffer. I don't care. I call a spade a spade and a poop emoji a poop emoji, and The Emoji Movie is not a poop emoji.

I challenge you to watch it -- fresh, unpoisoned, giving a full share of your open mind.

And then tell me if you think -- you really, really think -- it's down there with brainless horror movies and tone-deaf Christian movies.

And if you do ... well, poop to you.

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