Back in the early years of this website, I often took aim at the audiences of terrible movies as much as the terrible movies themselves. However, “This is an awful movie, and you should be ashamed for watching it” is not a good approach to reviewing films nor developing a readership beyond snobs and assholes, even if it was during the heyday of Brian Robbins/Adam Sandler era where movies often succeeded in spite of terrible reviews (Norbit, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, Wild Hogs, etc.). In fact, I often leveled much of my judgement at parents who took their kids to movies like Alvin and the Chimpunks or The Smurfs, chastising those parents for contributing to the mental rot of their children.
I was so young, and so very dumb.
This weekend, I took my kids to The Emoji Movie not because I had to review it, but because my kids wanted to go. I knew the movie would be bad even before I read Rebecca’s review, and it was! It was every bit as terrible as Rebecca’s review suggested it would be.
And the thing is: My kids also knew the movie was going to be bad. They didn’t care. They wanted to see it. My 10-year-old son wanted to see it because he wanted to see just how bad it was, and having just watched The Mummy a few weeks before, he’s become fascinated with the idea of awful movies. I respect that. He told me The Mummy was the worst movie he’d ever seen, and I told him he needed some more perspective. I told him, for instance, that the worst movie I remember watching with him was the Cars spin-off with Dane Cook, Planes, which he watched and loved when he was 5. He told me he wanted to watch it again, just to see how atrocious it really was.
In general, I think that’s a good approach, because if we had all ignored movies with terrible reviews, we may have never discovered Scrooge or Fight Club or Wet Hot American Summer or Footloose, all of which opened to mixed to terrible reviews. (That doesn’t mean that Planes or The Emoji Movie will ever, ever be considered “good.”)
The twins, who are 5, also knew The Emoji Movie would be bad, because I had harped on that fact over and over and over. It emboldened them. They wanted to see it because they seemed to take pleasure in how miserable it would make me. I kind of respect that, too. They even brought along a friend, and they all chanted, “We’re #2! We’re #2!” just as Patrick Stewart’s poop emoji does in the movie. The twins have no idea why that is supposed to be funny, having never heard pooping being referred to as “Number 2.” They thought it was funny because the trailers had insinuated as much, and when you’re five, that’s the only cue you need.
Ultimately, they were indifferent to the movie, but they’re indifferent to most movies. It’s not really about what’s on screen as much as it is about the movie theater experience. Their favorite part is never the movie itself, anyway, but the trailers, because it introduces them to new movies they will get to drag me to in future months. “I can’t wait to see what movie we’re going to see next, Dad,” one of my daughters said the morning before we went.
And she knew I would take her to those movies, too (Ferdinand and Ninjago were the trailers this week, for the record), because I take them to every single movie that is age appropriate for them, and whether I’m delighted or disgusted by the prospect of those movies, they win, because it’s all about getting a reaction out of me. I used to be a little more discriminating — I wouldn’t take them to Smurfs sequels or the Chipmunks sequels, for instance — but once I realized it wasn’t about the movie, but about going to the movies, I became much less so. I figure that as long as we show them the good movies as well as the bad movies, they’ll better critics.
But more than that, the weekends are a goddamn battle. Every single minute in which my children are not fully engaged feels like a war of attrition — it’s sibling infighting, demands for snacks and for band-aids for scrapes that do not need them, and requests that we play board games or watch them ride their bikes or read them books. They scatter their toys, they ransack the pantry. Banal questions, meanwhile, come at me like machine-gun fire all weekend long; there’s never a moment of silence. It is exhausting and draining, and a movie — even one as bad as The Emoji Movie — offers 90 minutes of reprieve. They get to eat popcorn. I get to take a short nap. Their mother gets the house to herself for two hours. It’s a win for everyone, and we all have our feelings about The Emoji Movie validated. The boy got to see the worst of the worst, while the biggest kick the girls got out of seeing The Emoji Movie was in seeing my disgusted reaction to it. It’s the mental equivalent of running into the refrigerator and falling on purpose just to get a laugh out of your kids. It’s a hit I’m all too willing to take.
Point being: It’s not going to make my kids dumber. Their brains will not rot, because I will continue to expose them to much, much better things and ensure that they can make the distinctions. For me, it was another lesson in parenting humility: Never judge a parent for what they allow their kids to see, because you have no idea how to contextualize those choices.