Lights, Camera... Romance!

Despite the prevalence of androgynous behaviors in our society, there are startling differences -- beyond the voluptuously visual of the fairer sex -- between men and women. One way this manifests itself is in movie reviews.

There’s a trend, especially among millennials, to “cut the cord”; nevertheless, there are still many millions of digital cable TV subscribers. Perusing the Internet, I noticed that many are disenchanted with their interactive TV guide movie ratings.

If we are fortunate enough to have our basic needs met, entertainment can be a component of our holistic wellbeing. A good movie is a welcome distraction from the sordid politics of personal destruction; a respite from the invective pervading our polarized society. The problem is, I apparently don’t know what a good movie is; or, more disconcertingly, the movie critics don’t know.

Given this divergence, the movie reviews that appear on cable TV’s interactive guides should show the author’s name, at least for context. It’s a bit like identifying people who review stocks instead of movies. In order to track their alignment with our goals we need to know the analyst’s name who downgraded a company’s stock the day before it surged; or upgraded it before it plummeted.

There’s usually a series of stars for each movie on cable TV, followed by a brief review by someone who must have been watching something else entirely. I inquired with my cable provider: Who writes these things? The response was confusing, saying at first the reviews come from TV Guide, then adding that the descriptions and star ratings come from TIVO.

I just wish they’d come with attribution. The 4-stars ratings are somewhat trustworthy since they meet a certain threshold of quality, perhaps Oscar awardees, that even a biased reviewer cannot twist. Movies with 1-3 star ratings are more amenable to subjective revisionism.

One star is often a contrarian indicator – I’ve discovered I quite enjoy some of them, if only for the bemusement, if not amusement. Being blissfully ignorant in Hollywood’s ways, I don’t get overwrought by cinematic minutiae, and I’m content to relax with a movie even if it’s deemed inferior by the so-called experts. Or by my voluptuous wife…

Often, she’ll ask, “[W]hat are you watching, honey?” “Top Gun,” I might reply. “Oh, that was disappointing!” she replies indignantly. Confused, I spend the rest of the movie trying to find something wrong with it – I can’t, perhaps because I was once on support staff for a Navy Strike Fighter Squadron. I turn to the interactive cable guide and notice the reviewer essentially agrees with my wife.

I investigate further, and pull up my cable provider’s review for a James Bond movie; again, two stars, though I could have sworn 10 years ago it got three. I randomly read more reviews, noticing a trend: those with words like sentimental, tender, heartwarming, compassionate, sensitive, bittersweet, poignant… are generally favorable. Conversely, movies containing words like forceful, dynamic, raucous, rollicking, action, body count, car chase, pulse-pounding, smithereens, screwball, bravado… seem to get lower ratings.

It seems that unless the action-oriented, sci-fi, or raucous comedies are above reproach; that is, when they are in the pliable range, they are dissed by snobbish reviewers. By contrast, tender romances and heartfelt dramas glow under the androgynous halo effect. Subscribers who fork over exorbitant sums for cable TV deserve to know who’s concocting this revisionism. I suspect gender is playing a role.

Sure enough, statistics show disparities in favored movie genres between genders; broadly, men prefer action, women romance. There are few agreements about ranking the top 25 films; for example, The Sound of Music ranks third for women, but not even in the top 25 for men in this study. The authors note: “males and females live in rather different worlds when it comes to movie preferences.”

Absolutely, when it comes to movies, men really are from Mars, women from Venus. For example, women movie critics enjoyed the updated version of Ghostbusters much more than male critics.

Women might be more sophisticated in these matters and have subtler tastes. At least in my household, I’m quite happy to watch National Lampoon’s Vacation, even as my sophisticated wife indulges foreign films with subtitles. The point is we both deserve to know the author of a movie review since it may affect our decision on how to use our precious free time.

Consider an old James Bond movie. Perhaps the reviewer updating her ratings database is a millennial female imposing her modern values upon From Russia with Love. After all, by today’s standards 007 might be considered a little sexist, so the reviewer’s gender may be relevant if there’s wiggle room to reappraise the classic 1960s spy thriller.

Similarly, a younger female viewer conditioned to blur distinctions between the sexes might want to know that a movie is being reviewed by an old fuddy-duddy male who’s skeptical of female superheroes. Even if the review is an amalgam from an online movie repository, someone still subjectively compiled it.

Turns out, according to the research, that girl’s brains are structured to give them an advantage in discussing feelings and emotions. See, for example, brain differences between genders. Interestingly, the researcher notes that the female brain will revisit emotional memories more than male brains. I think that’s why, with notable exceptions, they tend towards sentimental movies. It may account for the fact that 70% of female critics liked Twilight, and only 43% of male critics did; 78% of female critics liked Love Actually, but only 58% of male critics did.

I’m not disparaging female movie critics -- many may be smarter and more nuanced in discerning artistic endeavors. Studies show they’re underrepresented compared to their higher rates of movie attendance. Consequently, a movie like Sisters may not be getting a fair shake because of the condescending dismissiveness of male reviewers. I just read the review from my cable provider, and it describes Sisters as a “raunchy and ridiculous comedy,” a description somewhat dissonant from the 3 stars it attained. This misleading review could dupe someone naive into wasting time -- unless they knew the reviewer and her track record.

Men’s and women’s brains operate differently. Let’s acknowledge and celebrate our differences by including the reviewer’s name who’s giving our favorite movies short shrift. Men prefer action flicks, but for women it’s “Lights, camera, romance…” my cue to go and play darts instead.

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