The Coffee Shop Effect

My wife and I used to be huge fans of American Idol.  This show had acts of all varieties – rock, country, soul, singer-songwriter, etc.  Over time I noticed that I tended to look forward to the  singer-songwriters the most.  After hashing it around for a while I came to a realization:  sometimes an artist’s performance might be given more credit than it is worth because of the context and/or backdrop.  If I were to walk into a coffee house and see a folk singer singing in the corner I would probably be more than happy to sit there for a while and listen.   In other words, the singer already has a couple of pluses in his proverbial pocket for he has sang a note.

So how does this apply to film?  The same effect can absolutely happen.  Consider some of these scenarios:

  • A true story
  • A sad story
  • An uplifting story
  • Coming-of-age story
  • A fantastic performance by one or more actors

I’ve seen this happen in some of the recent films that I have watched.  For example, I recently viewed The Darkest Hour and it checked several of these boxes (true story, uplifting story, fantastic performances).  And the movie was…. just ok.  Last night I viewed Lady Bird and had the exact same feeling – there were good performances and the interaction between the mother and daughter was a highlight of the movie but it wasn’t a great film my any stretch of the imagination.

I think if I were to sum up this theory it would be this:  when reviewing a film or anything else there does have to be some level of separation between the technical and the emotional.  The emotional impact surely means something but it certainly should only be a part of the reviewing process.


The brilliant Ron Bennington had a similar (and brilliant!) take on this effect:

Put a jazz band in a club and maybe 10 people will show up.  Put in on the lawn of art museum and you’ve got five thousand.

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