Last year I saw the trailer for Happy Death Day and I knew the movie was made for me. I seriously thought it looked awesome.

When I mentioned it to my friends, though, there was usually a lukewarm reaction. When the reviews came out, the verdict was the same. I heard from at least one person that they saw it and it sucked. So I never ended up seeing it, even though it was the heyday of Moviepass at the time and it would have been free.

I regretted this decision for a year, every time I thought about it. Then one day, they announced a sequel, and I finally found the energy to rent a DVD and catch myself up. Hype train.

This isn’t a movie review, although I’m technically going to talk a bit about Happy Death Day and my experience with it. (Spoiler warning.)

This is more of a movie review review—essentially a critique of the default way we all write and/or seek out criticism. Along the way, I want to share a fundamental way of thinking that I think has made me a genuinely happier person.

Let me put forward (my simplified model of) the model that underlies most criticism:

Movie -> | Attributes                    |   \            
         | ---                           |    \         Watched by
         |  (for example)                |     \        a generalized,
         |  + good cinematography        |      \       ambiguous "audience"
         |  + well-written               |      <---    who can be assumed to be
         |  + A-list stars               |      /       up to date on Star Wars
         |  - a little too long          |     /        and maybe Pixar movies
         |                               |    /       
         |                               |   /

It’s a simple model because it has to be. To keep consumers satisfied, the film industry somehow has to communicate to the average moviegoer whether they’ll enjoy an experience. That way, folks can choose which movies to spend their money on, and no one gets fed up with total garbage (in theory). In some cases, the model’s “audience” might be more specifically targeted, like trying to communicate to Horror fans that they’ll like your film, but more sensitive viewers should stay away. There is a very real limit to how specific that can go, though, before the critic isn’t actually speaking to an audience, and is rather just writing in a public journal.

Essentially this model boils down to the following premise:

Goodness is inherent in certain attributes of a film. If the good attributes outnumber the bad attributes, the viewer will enjoy it and it is a Good film.

I think most people recognize to some extent that the truth is more like this:

  | Happy Death Day                |             
  | ---                            |               Watched by Nat,
  |  - promiscuous protagonist     |               who never gets bored of the
  |    gets killed                 |               premise of Groundhog Day,
  |  + BUT she always wakes up     |               religiously watches horror movies,
  |    again and becomes a total   |   \           LOVES horror deconstructions like
  |    clever badass               |    \          Scream and The Cabin in the Woods.
  |  - But in the end she learns   |     \         
  |    to settle down in a         |      \        Deeply regrets missing a free
  |    boring monogamous LTR       |      <---     pre-show of Get Out because none
  |  + The love interest is a      |      /        of her other friends thought
  |    great example of a male     |     /         Jordan Peele could pull off a
  |    character who isn't just    |    /          horror movie, but still glad she
  |    toxic and actually respects |   /           was totally right. (Duh!)
  |    consent                     |               
  |  + Hilarious ending ("You've   |               Especially likes genre fiction
  |    never seen Groundhog Day?!")|               with femme protagonists.
  |  + Doesn't just end with the   |               
  |    very best, most unrealistic |               Invested in sex positivity.        
  |    timeline becoming the real  |
  |    one                         |               Super spooked by Peewee Herman's
  |                                |               Big Adventure as a kid.
  |                                |

A movie contains a frightening array of attributes that aren’t inherently good or bad, and fit together in very complicated ways. Similarly, every viewer is a unique individual whose thoughts, feelings, preferences, and prior experiences could never possibly be accounted for. When you watch a movie, it’s like a chaotic chemical reaction between two unstable compounds. You are carrying at least half the energy of the experience INSIDE YOU before you even sit down! That’s recognition of references, understanding of punchlines, recognition of obscure actors, weird phobias, you name it. Whether a movie is “Good” or not, at least in the sense that matters to you, is so far from inherent to the film that I’m often astounded by the critical elitism so many people go spouting all the time.

My life changed when I started to see enjoyment as a chemical reaction. Not to mention, when you experience something, you’re not an inert set of molecules helplessly tossed around by chemical laws. You’re an active participant who can shift between mindsets to make the most of what you’re watching even if it is OBJECTIVELY bad. Like how when Happy Death Day went into somewhat of a Second-Act slog, I took out my notebook and started to outline an entire worldview.

Watching on DVD had at least one advantage that made me feel less bad about missing the full theatrical experience: the ability to rewind and SoundHound this song from the soundtrack without bothering anyone: Love Stuck

The fundamental flaw of film criticism is it doesn’t account for you, the infinitely complex soul that’s watching. That’s not criticism’s fault, and it shouldn’t be even fixed. Rather, the solution is foryou to become the active participant and live in a more enriching personal paradigm. Such as, focusing less on reviews and more on recommendations from friends, random chances (if you can afford to risk money on potentially bad movies), learning about your favorite genres, etc.

And if you really really think something looks good, go see it, EVEN IF the reviews warn you off!!

P.S. If you’re wondering what unique chemical reaction arose between Happy Death Day and my childhood memories of Peewee’s Big Adventure… it’s because one of the scenes uses warped, canted-angle shots that made me flash back to this nightmare. Yikers.