Ever since my family stopped going to Mexico for the holidays (nine police beheadings finally convinced them) Christmas has become a time for theatres. Clearly an improvement, as far as I’m concerned. This year we basked in the Hollywood glory that was Sherlock Holmes and then Scott and I inhaled Pirate Radio.
There were so many things I hated about Sherlock Holmes that outweighed anything I really liked. Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes is charming, Jude Law as Watson is kind of interesting to watch, but then there’s that one girl whose generic face I can never place (Rachel McAdams, says the IMDB page) who plays…no one, as far as I can tell. There is no narrative point to her character besides the potential love story (which goes no where) and the mass appeal of a “badass” girl. And of course they wouldn’t have this woman (Watson’s girlfriend in the film) playing the “badass.” Too ugly. Or too interesting. Same thing. Likewise, I liked the idea of showing a slow motion, logical fight scene before speeding it up, but the film soon abandons that idea for the more conventional sped-up choreography. Then I loved the explanation at the end of the movie that takes up a good ten minutes…if only they could have completed the wrap up instead of leaving it open to an inevitable sequel.
But I think I’m being a little reactionary toward poor Sherlock because of all the great press it’s getting. This one and Avatar are both critical darlings, while movies like Pirate Radio are either picked apart or ignored. While I’m not sure any of them are actually better films (they are both kind of mid-level in their respective genres) I get the feeling that critics are much harsher on those “indie” films that make mistakes, just not conventional Hollywood mistakes. Yes, Pirate Radio is a bit of a mess. It’s a boys’ movie, with plenty of sexism and masturbation jokes. There’s not much of a plot, and the scenes are a hodgepodge of experiences…but that’s what’s so damn lovable about it. I get so tired of the “boy meets girl” (or in the case of Holmes: “boy vs. girl”) coming of age stories, that it’s is great to see that plot line thrown away and marked as irrelevant. Pirate Radio plays on the expectations we have in indie films, sets up long, conventional jokes, and then abandons them. And it’s hilarious. A historical fiction, with no claims of realism, the film washes over you like a collection of short stories, never giving you enough of a setting to question your faith in the filmmakers, but defining the 60s through mood. God, I loved Pirate Radio. Maybe it was the soundtrack, maybe it was my post-Christmas sentimentality…
But despite my own biases, I still think few people gave it a chance. When we write criticism through budget comparisons (what qualifies an “indie”), films like this get grouped with films like The Wrestler, and what’s the point of that? It seems to me that Pirate Radio is after the same kind of audience a big Hollywood film (like Almost Famous, for example) would be after and has completely different ambitions than an Oscar hopeful. But I think judging ambitions might be just as pointless. Why not just permit movies to make mistakes and judge them by enjoyability/importance/morality/etc? On their own terms?