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A Critic's Dilemma

Criticwire By Matt Singer | Criticwire August 8, 2012 at 12:17PM

Should a critic tell an audience their favorite parts of the movie? Or will that ruin the surprise?
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"2 Days in New York."
"2 Days in New York."

(For the purposes of this post only, please pay attention to the man behind the curtain.)

Later today I've got to write a review of the new film "2 Days in New York," which is now available on VOD and iTunes and opening Friday in limited release. Overall, I enjoyed the film and I feel very clear about what did and didn't work. But I'm wrestling with something and I'm not sure what to do. Here's the problem: describing my favorite part of the movie would almost certainly make you want to see it, but it also might compromise your experience if you do.

The film is about a couple, Marion (co-writer/director Julie Delpy) and Mingus (Chris Rock), whose relationship is tested when Marion's overbearing family comes from France for a visit. That's the A plot; the B plot involves Marion preparing for a gallery show of her photographs where she also plans to auction off her soul to the highest bidder. Both plots converge on opening night at the gallery, which serves as the climax of the film.

Then... well, then there's a scene. A scene that completely surprised me. It made me laugh once out of shock, and then several more times thanks to the quality of the writing and acting. It might be the best scene in the movie; it's certainly the most memorable. After spending all of "2 Days in New York" on the fence, this scene definitively won me over. 

By any definition, mentioning this scene isn't technically a spoiler. It doesn't really affect Marion and Mingus' relationship, or Marion's relationship to her family, or the outcome of the gallery opening -- and even if it did, "2 Days in New York" is not exactly a movie about complex plot machinations that must be left to the viewer to discover on their own. Looking online, it appears that a fair percentage of my colleagues had no qualms about citing the scene in question; it's mentioned in a bunch of other reviews of the movie. But part of why I loved this moment was the degree to which it blindsided me, and talking about it -- even like this, I guess -- could diminish that surprise.

Being a film critic is not a tough job -- not in the way that, say, being a NASA aerospace engineer or a port-o-potty repair man is difficult -- but this is one of the tough parts of the job. I've got to tell you what I saw and what I think, without telling you too much about either. I've got to be as specific as possible, without being so specific that you feel like you've already seen the movie, or so vague that you don't have a sense of what it's like or about. Ironically, if the film was terrible or the sequence didn't work, it would be easier to discuss, because I'd feel less guilty about giving it away. The fact that I dug it so much makes things trickier; I feel more of a responsibility about preserving the surprise. 

So what do I do? I did like the movie, so I will probably tell people "2 Days in New York" includes a great scene that I don't want to discuss, and hope my readers trust me. But that feels like a bit of a cop out. The thing that makes me enthusiastic is the same thing I can't mention. I have to make up my mind soon, but I could easily spend a lot longer than 2 days in New York debating this.

This article is related to: 2 Days in New York


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