Movie Mom

Movie Mom

Criticwire Survey: Should You Look Down on YA Movies?

posted by Nell Minow

The folks at Criticwire have a weekly survey of questions for movie critics.  This week’s question is especially important.

Q: Many of the positive reviews for “The Fault in Our Stars” boil down to either “It’s good for what it is” or “It gets the job done.” But in an essay at Slate that deals in part with John Green’s source novel, Ruth Graham says that one of the reasons more adult readers have turned to Young Adult novels is because it offers the pleasures of literary fiction without its challenges: “Adults,” she writes, “should feel embarrassed about reading literature written for children.” So, as a critic, what’s your feeling about measuring a movie—whether it’s “The Fault in Our Stars” or “X-Men: Days of Future Past” — against what it sets out to do as opposed to what it could do? (Likewise, do you damn “Orange Is the New Black” for not being “Oz”?) Do you take it on its own terms, or do you set your own?


My answer:

One of the reasons more adult readers have turned to Young Adult novels is that they are so damn good. There is a reason that YA and graphic novel sales are flourishing while what is considered traditional “literary” fiction is collapsing on itself, smothered by its preciousness, pretension, and neurasthenic post-modernism. It is often said that if “The Catcher in the Rye” was published today, it would be categorized as a YA novel. And yet it is still read with thoughtful appreciation for its art and depth, even by those who believe they confine themselves to work with literary aspirations.

This is not to say that best-selling YA books are all literature, any more than best-selling books for adults meet that standard. But too often books are put in the YA category just because they are about teenagers. Well, so is “Romeo and Juliet.” Stories are about teenagers for the same reason that stories are about war and death and vampires and zombies and MacGuffins that have to be found or the world will explode in 24 hours. As Augustus says in “The Fault in Our Stars,” it’s a metaphor. The heightened emotions and discoveries of that time of life intensify the elements of a story to provide a dramatic framework.


Graham should be ashamed by trying to embarrass anyone who is moved by a work of fiction. One of the most liberating discoveries of my life was learning that no one’s childhood is long enough to read all of the great books written for children and teenagers. I reread my favorites with increased pleasure and deeper understanding. I read new authors with great appreciation, and keep in mind that one generation’s low culture is quite often understood to be literature by the next.

That said, all movies should be measured against their own aspirations and the expectations of the intended audience. Otherwise, all movie reviews would read: “Well, it’s not ‘Citizen Kane.'”

Previous Posts

The Art of More -- Coming to Crackle November 19, 2015
[iframe width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0"] An intense, one-hour drama set in the high-stakes world of New York auction houses, “The Art of More” ...

posted 8:00:00am Oct. 10, 2015 | read full post »

Interview: Jon Gries of "Endgame" (and "Get Shorty" and "Napoleon Dynamite")
I'm a big fan of actor Jon Gries, who always brings something very specific and interesting to his roles. In "Endgame," the story of a championship chess team from a school in a poor community from writer/director Carmen Marron, it would have ...

posted 3:27:36pm Oct. 09, 2015 | read full post »

Meryl Streep Calls for More Women Film Critics
The Hollywood Reporter quotes Meryl Streep on the disproportionate number of male film critics on Rotten Tomatoes:  "The word isn’t 'disheartening,' it’s 'infuriating,'” she said. “I submit to you that men and women are not the same. ...

posted 8:00:10am Oct. 09, 2015 | read full post »

Big Stone Gap
Even in small towns, big things can happen. Sometimes the most famous movie star in the world stops by and makes international headlines. And ...

posted 5:51:50pm Oct. 08, 2015 | read full post »

Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore), a 23-year veteran of the police force, learns that she has terminal cancer. And then she learns something even ...

posted 5:50:17pm Oct. 08, 2015 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.