Can a Film Be So Good It's Bad
July 25, 2016
(The shortened opening)
NC: Hello, I'm the Nostalgia Critic. I remember it so you don't have to. We all know about movies that are so bad, they're good.
NC (vo): Your Happenings, your Birdemics, your Rooms. It seems everybody has a film that is so incredibly awful that they can't help but laugh at it, making it enjoyably good.
NC: But this got me thinking: if it can work so well one way, why can't it work so well another way? Can a film be so good that it's bad?
(Cut to a shot of a roll of film)
NC (vo): How would that be possible? What does it even mean?
(Cut to a shot of a fancy dish consisting of bacon-wrapped shrimp, zucchini, and sushi, garnished with a lime on top)
NC (vo): You don't have an incredible meal and say it's so delicious it tastes awful. So how could this work for film?
(Cut to a shot of a movie projector)
NC (vo): How can a movie have so many positive things that it could ultimately equal something negative?
NC: I didn't really know which examples to pick, seeing how this was kind of a different idea, so I decided to look at films that everybody seemed to love, but just never seemed to grab me.
(Cut to a montage of clips of Bram Stoker's Dracula and Cinema Paradiso)
NC (vo): Not bad, by any means, but something about them just didn't move me like I think they were meant to.
NC: As a critic, it's kind of embarrassing when you find a film that either does or doesn't work for you, but you can't really explain why.
(Cut to a montage of images of movie theaters: film projectors, audiences seated, etc.)
NC (vo): That's your job, to point out strengths and weaknesses and what we can learn from them. But I think everybody, critic or not, has several films they just can't get into and don't really know how to explain why. Because... they themselves don't know. You can't say it's bad; you can't even really find anything wrong with it, but there's a strong disconnect that shouldn't be there. Yet, for some reason, it is.
NC: Could this "so good it's bad" idea be the reason?
(Cut to another montage of more movie theater images)
NC (vo): Was something so great at hitting so many people that it fails to have a personal touch with you? Is it just difference of opinion, or could it be something more? I started putting together a list of movies that left this kind of impact on me. And keep in mind, this is my list. If you have strong opinions on these movies, great. This is just to give you examples of the idea I'm talking about; what should technically be great, but doesn't feel that great for some reason.
NC: The first one I could think of was The Truman Show.
(Cut to footage of The Truman Show)
NC (vo): Everyone said this was a phenomenal, clever comedy/drama way ahead of its time. And... it was! When I saw the movie, I didn't really see anything wrong with it; [Jim] Carrey was fine, the direction was smart, the writing hit all the right notes. So how come I wasn't crying at the same time Jim Carrey was crying? How come, even though I wanted to know what was going to happen at the end, I wasn't quite at the edge of my seat?
NC: Could it be the style was too good, creating too much of a disconnect from the character?
(Cut back to more footage of The Truman Show)
NC (vo): Well, even if so, that distance would help me see him as an average Joe, still making me feel sorry for him. In a strange way, distance in this kind of movie could actually help me feel more for him. Was it too much talking and not enough visual emotion? Doesn't seem like it. The visuals are stunning and very strongly emulate what the characters are going through. Everything seems right for a great movie. So how come I don't feel the same thing that I felt in other great movies? Why am I only slightly invested, but not incredibly invested?
NC: (crossing his arms) Let's try another one with a powerhouse of great actors, based on one of the greatest plays ever written, The Crucible.
(Cut to footage and still shots of The Crucible)
NC (vo): Based on the Arthur Miller classic, this movie about one of the darkest times in American history not only works as its own disturbing tale, but also as an allegory to the then-prominent McCarthy trials, as well as a gathering place for some of our best actors, like Daniel Day-Lewis, Joan Allen and Winona Ryder. Again, everything seemed perfect: the text is perfect, the actors are perfect, the direction seemed perfect. So why wasn't I seeing it as one of the greatest things ever made? It was suspenseful, it was emotional, but it wasn't... great. Everybody talks about the power of the play, but nobody talks about the power of the movie, which is almost line-for-line from the play. Again, I don't know anybody who hated it, but it's hard to find a person nowadays who says they love it. What was missing? What could possibly be missing? Everything needed seems to be right there!
NC: (looking puzzled) Maybe they're too safe to leave that big an impact?
(Cut to footage of Bram Stoker's Dracula)
NC (vo): Well, that wasn't the case in Bram Stoker's Dracula. This, by any means, is an amazing film, combining old school effects with new technology, telling the story of Dracula the closest to the book, while also having one of the most amazing visual styles ever put to cinema. It was faithful, it was smart, it was clever, it was amazing, absolutely amazing! And yet, the reaction from everybody is always the same:
NC: (shrugs) "Eh?"
NC (vo): These are, again, great performances... Eh, for the most part. (We are briefly shown Keanu Reeves in that movie) ...amazing visuals, and even clever storytelling. But still, a lot of people, including myself, can't quite get that sucked into it, despite it being very different and unique from any other telling of Dracula, while also strangely enough being the most faithful.
NC: Maybe some of it has to deal with the element of surprise.
(Cut to alternating footage of In the Bedroom and Cinema Paradiso)
NC (vo): Films like In the Bedroom and Cinema Paradiso were nominated for Oscars when they came out, and you can clearly see why: they delivered the good movie you think you're going to get... and... that's about it. You watch a little bit of the film, and you can figure out very quickly what kind of movie it's going to be. And it does it with a lot of skill and passion, but nevertheless, you're aware of what you're going to get, so nothing really catches you off-guard.
NC: I don't know if it's unpopular to say or not, but you can kinda say the same thing about E.T..
(Cut to footage of E.T.)
NC (vo): Everyone thinks this invented the "hiding a cute something" story. But this has been done many times in movies prior; E.T. just made it the most popular and inspired the most ripoffs. With that said, even though it's done well, don't you know every step it's going to take? Even though it does it beautifully and with great patience, can't you predict every moment before it happens? Now, this isn't always a bad thing; we've seen lots of other movies we could predict beginning to end, and we still love them.
(Cut to alternating footage of the films the Critic mentioned)
NC (vo): All these films I've listed add their own uniqueness to make them stand out, even if we can kind of predict them. So why is it so hard for so many to get behind them nowadays?
(Back to E.T.)
NC (vo): E.T. was huge when it first came out, and we still remember it, but... admitted, it's not as celebrated now as it was back then.
(Cut to a shot of the original How the Grinch Stole Christmas cartoon, showing the Grinch having had a change of heart)
NC (vo): Unlike some other children's classics that get more and more popular with time.
NC: But again, there's seemingly nothing wrong with it, or any of the other movies I was talking about.
(Cut to a montage of footage of all of the films that the Critic mentioned earlier)
NC (vo): Everyone can identify with them, but they're not generic. They stand out, but not for the wrong reasons. They accomplish exactly what they were meant to accomplish. They're actually about as perfectly told as movies in these genres could be told. So how come many of us can't get into them as much as we should be getting into them?
NC: Does it make sense to criticize a film for being too good? (looks confused)
(Cut to a montage of footage of Brazil)
NC (vo): I then started to think about my favorite movies and what made them stand out. Brazil, for example, is my favorite film, with its dark, surreal, comedic take on an overblown Orwellian future. But even I acknowledge it has a few problems: the action's not always that great, the pacing can be slow in a few areas, and the plot can be hard to follow at times.
(Cut to a montage of footage of Amadeus)
NC (vo): Amadeus, another one of my favorites, is about as perfect a movie as you can get. But even it took the risk of throwing in historical fiction, purposefully getting things false, thus always making it worth conversation. I don't think the film would have been as strong if it just told the straightforward story of Mozart. It would've been good, but not great.
NC: As I started to think more and more about my favorite films, I started to realize, maybe perfection really does lie in imperfection.
(Cut to footage of The Smurfs)
NC (vo): It's kinda like the example I used in my Smurfs review, when I said, "What would you rather watch?"
(Cut to two alternating clips of the original Super Mario Bros. game; one shows Mario moving backwards and never stops moving, while the other shows Mario slowing down and stopping at times)
NC (vo): "A Mario game where everything goes one speed, or a Mario game where there's stops and mistakes?" The flawless version is interesting and takes great skill, but the one with the mistakes is more suspenseful and therefore more engaging.
NC: Maybe the same way we want good things and bad things to happen in a movie story, maybe we also want the movie itself to have good things and bad things.
(Cut to another clip of E.T.)
NC (vo): Perhaps we do want to see stuff wrong with it. Perhaps it emphasizes how...
(Cut to another clip of The Truman Show)
NC (vo): ...human it is, how fallible it can be, so we know that when we reach the truly great moments, it's all the more deserved.
NC: They say great entertainment should feel flawless, but maybe it's the flaws that make us realize that it is great.
(Cut to still another montage of the movies he talked about earlier)
NC (vo): Not that any of these movies I mentioned before are bad. Quite the contrary. There's a story about a producer who applauded at the end of every movie, no matter what it was, because he knew how hard it was for a movie to get made. Any film is difficult to get working, with so many people, financers, producers and so forth, all trying to turn out their idea of a good product. The fact that a film can be perfect to a fault is not something to be ashamed of; it's actually quite admirable. But at the same time, it does make you realize how important it is to have chinks in the armor; a slight dent in the face to show it was made by human hands.
NC: What is film but a means to realize and treasure how unique being human is.
NC (vo): And the more human a film feels, including having the faults, the more we're most likely going to identify with it. Again, that's not to say these films are "inhuman", in any way, or whatever films you feel match this criteria. It just emphasizes what a variety of both subtlety and extremes we're offered, whether they be good, bad, too bad or too good. I feel like I can't be alone in noticing this in certain movies, but as always, all art is subjective. So tell me in the comments below what films you've come across that left a similar experience; the films that you know should be phenomenal, but don't feel phenomenal to you for some reason, even though nothing seems to be wrong. I'm not saying they need to be judged or ridiculed, but they can at least be explored. What films should've left you bawling with emotion, but for an almost unexplainable reason, didn't? What puzzle had all the correct pieces, but didn't click together? Let's see if there's really something to entail being too perfectly told.
(Cut to a shot of a movie audience)
NC (vo): List them below, talk about them, and see if anyone else can understand this realm of being perfectly flawed.
NC: I'm the Nostalgia Critic; I remember it so you don't have to. (gets up from his chair and leaves)