Audiences labor under no such delusion. They're giving the filmmaker money and time, and they want to be entertained. It's how we're trained as an audience. Big special effects, improbably beautiful movie stars, romances where the story lines redefine the word improbable. And it's really hard to blame us. The first thing I hope for whenever I step into a theatre is to be entertained and I've got a broader definition of entertainment than most.
We are generalizing here, meaning that you can throw up names of critics who appreciate fantasy. Of course you can. We are talking about a general tendency, not an iron-clad law. The critical impulse leans towards the real because we are trained to lean that way and we are inclined by simple oppositional stubbornness to admire films that aren't like Hollywood movies. This explains that large chunk of films known as Sundancehits, small indies that get praised to the sky in Park City in January that then enter the world of the real audience and hit with a resounding thunk.
I was watching Sherrybaby and thinking, "Maggie Gyllenhall is fantastic." it's a tremendously detailed and smart performance as a not terribly bright, single-minded ex-con ex-heroin addict who will do anything to get her kid back. At the same time I'm thinking that I'm either watching a really high-end Jerry Springer or a low-end Oprah, where Sherry's desire to be a mother to her child trumps the fact that she's given no indication that she deserves to be the mother to her child, who's being raised by Sherry's brother and his wife.
It's very real. A lot of it shot hand held with digital video - though every now and then cinematographer Russell Lee Fine will throw the camera on a tripod and light a scene like a Vermeer. But you can see why a mass audience would avoid it - it's a lot like something you would see on TV. It doesn't offer the big pleasures of fantasy.
And here we come down to my own peculiar instance of the disconnect between the reviewers and the audience. My colleagues consistently adore The Death Of Mr.Lazarescu. I don't think I've seen a bad review from any reviewer I respect. But as an audience member, I have a lot of trouble giving up two and a half hours to watch a Rumanian alcoholic die of bureaucratic neglect. It just doesn't sound all that entertaining.