Lisa Schwarzbaum on loving movies, being a critic, engaging with you, and the beauty of agreeing to disagree

Lisa-Schwarzbaum

Fourteen years after the fact, I still occasionally hear from readers angry that I didn’t like Fight Club. Four years later, I still occasionally receive messages from people upset that I liked The Twilight Saga: New Moon too much. Eight weeks since opening day, both lovers and haters of Les Misérables still have a thing or two they want to tell me about my review. I’ve spent 22 years at Entertainment Weekly, 19 of them as a critic—a glorious tenure that ends this week. And I’ve heard from hundreds of readers fired up about movies and passionate enough to respond to something I’ve written in the magazine’s pages or online.

Often the mail has been gratifying: I love that too! I hated that as much as you did! Sometimes the messages have been harsh: You suck! EW should get rid of Lisa! (Passing fun for the writer but crap for me, you-suckgrams have become a depressingly regular aspect of anonymous, online comment-board culture.) The pissed-off wife of a wildly successful producer of high-octane action schlock once sent me a popcorn bucket filled with stones because…well, I’m not sure why, something about throwing stones at her husband’s work. Anyway, she wanted to remind me that, while her beloved’s pictures rake in billions, my stuff would be gone in 60 seconds. On the flip side, I once received an effing cool email from Josh Brolin telling me, and I quote, “You can f—ing write!” and promising to be in my movie. Not that I have any plans whatsoever to write a screenplay.

A writer always wants to feel she’s connecting with readers. And certainly, agreeing with me or disagreeing with me is a heartfelt form of engagement. But as I move away from regular criticism for EW (my plans include a book, an online project, speaking engagements about popular culture—oh, and a dog!), here’s a party favor I want to leave you with: What matters is not if we’re in sync about a particular movie but why.

My part of the conversation is to use my own experience, analytic ability, aesthetic understanding, points of reference, writing skills, and—lucky me!—EW platform to explain how I come to, say, adore the Lord of the Rings trilogy or despair of the hideous Saw sensibility. (I even explained carefully why I was giving away the ending of Pay It Forward—but some readers went into a hate-mail rage nonetheless. Seen it lately, by the way? I didn’t think so. It’s still hideous hooey.) Your mission is to read with an open mind, watch movies with an open mind, and use the places where we diverge as inspiration for an ongoing conversation about this ever-changing medium we love together.

Grades, stars, thumbs, and assorted icons are inevitably crude, if handy, quantifiers of quality—they’re shorthand, attention-getting invitations to the party. Once we’ve both shown up, though, let’s have a good time pondering both the complexities of Django Unchained and the simplicities of A Good Day to Die Hard. Because then we’ll never run out of things to say to one another.

So keep exploring. Keep responding. And just so you know: The experience of talking with you for two decades has been A+.


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