Have You Ever Been Burned By A Good Review?

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Oh, I know that title doesn’t make sense if we’re talking about authors who receive great reviews about their books, reviews that encourage readers to click “Buy.” What I’m talking about are reviews of movies. Recently my husband and I have rented a few films based entirely upon a number of great endorsements posted on the Redbox site. (Yes, we’re incredible cheap. We pop our own popcorn and throw in a movie we paid only $1.29 to see. Happiness doesn’t have to be expensive when it comes with great companionship.)

Anyway, a few weeks ago we were disappointed in The Magic of Belle Island and this past weekend, not having learned our lesson about trusting online reviews, it was The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Based on literally scores of people attesting to how much they enjoyed these movies, how uplifting, funny, wholesome they were, on each occasion we sat down with high hopes for some wonderful entertainment.

I’m not sure how long it took us to realize we weren’t enjoying the experience. The acting might have been fine, certainly fine enough to cover most of the flaws we saw later. What both movies lacked were characters we wanted to spend time with. It wasn’t that they were especially shallow, they were just downright unlikeable, with few exceptions, and by the end of the movie despite an attempt to fulfill the “uplifting” promise, the characters still failed to be ones either one of us would remember, let alone miss, once the credits started rolling.

I don’t usually like to complain about such things, because I know you can’t please everyone. Taste is so personal. I know from experience that not everyone likes my books, so I shouldn’t expect everyone to have the same opinion about any given movie, either. But it’s worthwhile to explore the fact that it wasn’t the plot, the premise or the endings that disappointed me. It was the fact that I just couldn’t like the characters. What was it I didn’t like?

Was it because these were secular movies and I don’t identify with people who have no faith in their lives? Perhaps that’s part of it – a sort of spiritual void where God is absent and values are different.

In my own defense, I’ve been disappointed in some Christian movies and have enjoyed plenty of secular ones. (Recently: Snow White and the Huntsman, The Hunger Games, War Horse, Moneyball, The Help…) So it was something particular to these characters that were just not the kind of people I wanted to be around. Why? Perhaps a clue would be in a few lines of dialogue from the Marigold Hotel movie: One man says something like this to another character “If anyone sees us together, tell them you’re my mother because I wouldn’t want anyone to think we’re a couple.” I’m sorry, but that’s just so hurtful that it couldn’t evoke the laugh it was meant to inspire since both characters were of a similar age. Another character says to her henpecked husband: “When I want your opinion I’ll give it to you.” Other than the fact that I’ve heard this line before, it’s another example of just how negative the humor was, how hurtful it was to the other characters.

I think that was the key to whether or not I wanted to spend time, even just two hours, with any of these people. Why would I want to be around someone who so easily, and gleefully, insults someone else? That’s about as far from uplifting as you can get. I guess I prefer self-deprecating humor than the kind that comes at someone else’s expense.

But since we paid only $1.29  to watch these movies, and didn’t even have to put on shoes to watch them, I’m not complaining too loudly.

It did serve as a reminder to follow a basic goal in writing: create characters people want to spend time with.

In closing, I have a few fun things to add.

One, there is a great contest going on over at the new Book Fun Magazine. Sign up for a free subscription and you’re automatically entered into their contest to win a whole pile of books (new releases) from various Christian authors. Check that out here.

I also wanted to invite you back on Wednesday when I’ll be hosting an interview with my friend Susan Meissner about her new book, The Girl In The Glass. It’s always fun to feature books by friends of mine, but this one will be especially fun for visitors because Susan will be giving away a free copy to one random winner, drawn from comments left on my blog after the interview is posted. I’ll be drawing the winner on Sunday evening, November 4th. So be sure to check back later in the week for details!


  1. says

    That’s too bad about the movies. A movie that has surprised me is Children of Men. It’s terribly violent and graphic, but the characters and the story is so real and ultimately encouraging. I still think about it years after watching it. Another one that I enjoyed was The Ultimate Gift. I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed it.

    • says

      Thanks for the movie tips, Tina! I’ve decided personal recommendations are the only way to go. I wonder if people think this way about book reviews online? I guess it’s best to have a mixture of both good and bad reviews, so readers can get a wider range of opinions and go with those that sound the most balanced to them.

      Wow, that’s the first time I ever hoped for more bad reviews. What am I thinking?

      • says

        I’ve been contemplating the idea from Kurt Vonnegut “Write to please just one person.” I’m fortunate in that I personally know most of the people that read my blog. It makes it much easier to write reviews and articles, because it’s almost like writing them a letter that everyone else gets to read, too.
        If you decide to watch the movies, let me know what you thought of them.

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