Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Wonderfully Average

I saw Inside Man this weekend at the flicks. A decently crafted heist thriller with good performances, solid scripting and deft direction.

So why do I feel like I'm slagging it off?

Reading the reviews, it's amazing to note how much faint praise is being directed towards the film, and how damning that praise feels. Check out that first line again - decent, good, solid, deft. All of which reads, it seems to me, as 'not bad'.

But is that what I meant? I enjoyed the movie - I reacted well to it, thought well of it afterwards. I took something away from the experience. Since when has massive competence been a bad thing? Or, rather, a 'not bad' thing.

Not bad is neutral. 'I have nothing negative to say about it'. Only I have POSITIVE things to say, surely? Decent, solid, deft... these are compliments, aren't they?

I feel like championing this film now just because nobody else is. That the ho-hum reaction deserves a bit of a kick. You SHOULD go and see good movies. It's a hell of a lot better for you than, I dunno, Scary Movie 4 or something.

(Not to denigrate solid comedy, but I suspect SM4 ain't solid comedy - not if films 1 to 3 are anything to go by. The writer, Craig Mazin, whose blog I admire greatly, reasonably points out that reviewers generally compare those flicks to genuinely great comedies - Airplane, say. But for me the Scary Movies have yet to be up to...well, what shall we say, the 'not bad' standard.)

I remember having this same vibe when I first saw Arlington Road, which is an amazingly well-made thriller and I tried to make everyone I knew go see it. But even as I try to think of ways to describe it now, I'm leaning back towards good, solid words...

Because, I suppose, critics - by which I mean anyone who's passed the 'it's awesome' teenage phase - should be measured in their response. Call a film magnificent and, well, everyone's going to think you're be talking about the next Godfather or Citizen Kane or Fight Club.

The English language has more words than any other, so how come I still don't have the right vocab for this? Why don't we have a few more gently positive descriptions, uncontaminated by the faint-praise virus? Not every writer is Sorkin or Whedon...but there's nothing wrong with being David Fury, is there? In being the guy who writes the 'not bad' episodes. The stuff that's solid, entertaining, thought-provoking.

Not every film or TV show or piece of pop music has to be era-defining, does it? It can't be, and it would be exhausting to experience. I love solid, decent stuff. And solid decent stuff makes the extraordinary possible.

So - celebrate the Wonderfully Average. Let's agree that these are things worth experiencing. Forgettable sitcoms that made you laugh, music you danced to just that once, movies whose titles you can never quite remember. Not the bad things. The not-bad ones.


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