How not to write a bad review

Not everyone likes everything, and that’s fine. There is no such thing as a flawless work of entertainment, whether it’s a book, movie, play, or TV show.

The world is vast and complex, and we each perceive it from a different angle. We notice things others miss, and other people notice things we miss.

A movie’s flaws might grate on certain audience members, diminishing or eliminating their enjoyment. Someone else in the same theater might be willing to forgive those flaws, and other people might not even notice those flaws because other aspects of the film are dazzling enough to distract them. And others might still find those flaws grating, but they’ll put up with them because they enjoy other qualities within the movie.

This has nothing to do with intelligence. Everyone’s just looking at the movie differently based on their unique life experiences leading up to that point.

Some things appeal to larger numbers of people, but nothing appeals to everyone and it’s okay to express that opinion.

The key, however, is remembering that it’s just an opinion.

If you ever write a review that says, “In fact, this book is just plain awful/brilliant,” you’re mistaken. You can say “This book is just plain, awful/brilliant,” and in the context of a review, we know that’s your opinion. Using “in fact” to emphasize an opinion is like using “literally” to emphasize how your headache cleaved your skull in half.

Here’s a good example of how to approach a critical review — a Goodreads review of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (a book I thoroughly enjoyed).

The reviewer offers constructive criticism from which others can learn. She criticizes the black-or-white nature of some characters and their unclear motivations. She offers some kind words, too.

She closes with an attitude everyone should adopt when reviewing: “Good for the people who like this series, who can see things in it that I just can’t see. I really wish I could love it as they do. But I just can’t.”

That’s how you do it. Now here’s how you don’t.

An IMDb reviewer said of Breaking Bad, “I could NOT believe that someone in their right mind could recommend this show as an excellent show. … I don’t recommend this show to anyone with sense.”

Apparently, I’m not in my right mind, as the capitalization makes clear.

On the same site, an Avengers reviewer says, “Im actually pretty disgusted that this movie is making the money it is – what does it say about the people who brainlessly hand over the hard earned cash to be ‘entertained’ in this fashion and then come here to leave a positive 8.8 review?? Oh yes, they are morons. Its the only sensible conclusion to draw. How anyone can rate this movie amongst the pantheon of great titles is beyond me.”

Again, it’s that If you don’t agree with me, you’re stupid approach, which merely succeeds in demonstrating the reviewer’s arrogance and/or insecurity, as well as his lack of empathy.

Another Avengers reviewer says, “Those playing Thor, Hulk, Black Widow either phone in performances or look embarrassed.”

This is a pet peeve of mine — saying the cast “looks embarrassed” to be there. It makes the reviewer sound like he’s trying to steal authority from those directly involved in the production. He doesn’t know what’s going on in their heads, but he gives us a guess to help bolster his argument. Reviewers can speak for themselves, not for anyone else.

A Batman: The Animated Series reviewer mistakes his opinion for a fact: “People say it’s one of the best cartoons ever, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.”

Again, it’s okay to dislike things many other people enjoy. I watched the first two seasons of the critically acclaimed Mad Men, it just wasn’t my thing. All of the characters seemed like terrible people to me, so I couldn’t get behind any of them. But I see how the show is very well done in other ways — the cast and production values are excellent. I’ll admit to not liking the show, but I won’t go around acting appalled that other people do enjoy it.

I’ll also confess to having mixed feelings while reading The Hunger Games. The first book held my interest, and I consumed it in two days, but I’m very uncomfortable with the whole “teens killing teens” premise, even if it is presented as a terrible thing. I’m probably just not into dystopian futures as much as others.

I love the Harry Potter series, but I can see why others might think differently. I don’t mind them saying so. It’s okay to not like Harry Potter or any other successful franchise. It’s okay to express those opinions.

However, if you start trying to convince other people that they shouldn’t like Harry Potter or The Hunger Games — that it’s wrong to or that you must be illiterate if you do — that says more about you than the books.

Let people enjoy what they enjoy, and let them dislike what they dislike. We’re entitled to our own opinions. We’re not entitled to other people’s opinions.