The Review that Almost Wasn't

October 26, 2004
A thought by James Berardinelli

In each of the past few years, I have seen about 200 movies theatrically (with another 100+ per annum on DVD). Of these, I typically review about 150. (Last year, it was 171.) However, although the 75% "review rate" might be considered aggressive, it points out that there are a number of movies that I see but do not write about. These are often films I see "on my own dime" - which is to say that I wait until after they arrive in theaters, then pay my own money to watch them. Sometimes, with these films, I decline to write a review unless the movie stirs something deep within me or has a shot at a Top 10 end-of-the-year position on my list. In those cases, I feel duty-bound to scribble a few paragraphs.

Several years ago, I saw My Big Fat Greek Wedding about a week after it opened. I immediately decided that I would not be writing a review. A couple of weeks later, when it became apparent that the picture was a phenomenon, I changed my mind. It's hard to maintain one's reputation when a review of the biggest surprise of the season is nowhere to be found. Unfortunately, I had forgotten chunks of the movie (it's pleasant, inoffensive, and unmemorable), so I had to accompany my then-girlfriend to a theater to see the film a second time before I could write the review. (I have subsequently seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding a third time, and can pretty much guarantee I will never again in this lifetime watch that movie. Once the Windex jokes cease to be funny, the production doesn't have much left to offer.)

Nearly two weeks ago, on a chilly Sunday afternoon, after watching the Philadelphia Eagles beat the Carolina Panthers, I trundled off to the local arthouse multiplex to watch Primer. The advance buzz was mixed, but I had skimmed over a few rave reviews, and the short description in the the Toronto Film Festival Program Guide made it sound almost delicious. I like low-budget science fiction. The lack of money forces the filmmakers to stretch their creativity. I adore fare like Pi and The Sticky Fingers of Time. But I did not adore Primer.

As I left the theater, disappointed by what I had just witnessed, I decided that there would be no review. The movie had been out for three days and I didn't feel properly motivated. Bad movies don't always leave a sour feeling, but bad movies I expect to be good, do. Eight days later, after perusing one positive review after another, I changed my mind. Someone had to present a dissenting opinion. Surely not everyone who had seen Primer was ready to genuflect at director Shane Carruth's altar. Fortunately, I remembered the film clearly enough that a second trip was unnecessary. Thus was born a review I never expected to write.

Although I believe that Primer is poorly made, I think Carruth deserves praise and credit for getting this thing into theaters. He didn't just think about making a movie; he did it. Carruth's Cinderella tale is a source of inspiration, and is actually more compelling than the one presented in the film. I don't begrudge those who like Primer, even though my opinion is that Carruth has substituted gimmicks, trickery, and sloppy dialogue for a legitimate story.

I guess the bottom line is that next time you think I have "missed" a movie, don't assume that I haven't seen it. (A large number of readers believe that if I haven't written about a film, I haven't seen it. This leads to advice that I might want to check out One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest or Rebel Without a Cause.) Oh, and if you're really desperate to see what I thought of something I didn't review, I'm not beyond taking a job on commission. :)