Critical Response / Review Essay

This critical response paper will be a short assignment of 3–4 pages in which you write a critical review of a film required for the course. This assignment is aimed at giving you the opportunity to practice film criticism and learn how to write about visual content.

Choose a film to review from those we have watched so far in the course (I suggest either The Danish Girl or Carol as strong possiblilities); you may wish to make some comparisons between these two films as historical representations of sexuality, or between your chosen film and others we have watched this term (Screaming Queens, Celluloid Closet, Rope, The Children’s Hour). You should focus your review on a particular question specifically relevant to LGBT film, though what you choose to address is up to you. You may choose to respond to other reviews you have read; if so, please quote directly from them. Because we are writing these in an academic context, it may also be helpful to contextualize your criticism with a reference to one or more of our scholarly texts as well. In any case, for full credit, use at least one scholarly or popular source beyond the film itself.

Some possible angles/critical questions to pursue: 

  • Censorship, self-censorship, and/or representation of sexual minorities
  • The problem of history and representing sexual/gender difference in the past to a contemporary audience
  • Cinematography and the use of the camera: lighting, angles, focus, color, etc. (if you include this sort of criticism, please choose one or two scenes of particular interest and describe what you see)
  • Casting - what choices were made and what are their implications for identity politics?
  • Embodiment - to what degree is the body shown, and to what end?
  • Visibility - how are gender and sexuality rendered visible in this film? Does the film reinforce or reference normative behavior in its portrayal of sexual/gender deviance?
  • Audience - is this intended for a queer or heteronormative audience? Is there a possibility of resistant reading?
  • Endings - what is the “message” given in the film?

The above questions reflect themes we have discussed that are specific to films with LGBT themes or content. Remember that ultimately a review is an opinion piece, in which you consider what was attempted by the director of the film (its purpose), its strengths and weaknesses, and to what extent it succeeds or fails as a representation or work of art.

It will be necessary to do some description for your reader - a brief synopsis of a scene or basic plot is fine, but beware of excessive plot summary at the expense of providing analysis! Do include the film title, names of characters and actors, director, and the year in which the film was made. You can look to published film reviews in major newspapers for a format to follow in incorporating these elements.