If James Lipton of Inside The Actor's Studio were to ask me what my least favourite word was, I'm pretty sure I'd say "overrated." Everytime I see or hear the word, it just kills me inside. The fact that it's become such an overused word is what makes me hate it. When a word like "overrated," is overused, it doesn't lose it's meaning but the meaning does lose its power and its relevance. If every movie is "overrated" then what's the big deal? It's the same thing as calling a movie "contrived." SO many movies have been labelled with that word that it doesn't seem to matter if a movie is contrived or not. In fact, I think almost every movie is contrived- but that's a different discussion.
"Overrated" has become so overused that it's even been directed at film which haven't been universally praised. I've seen Hanna, Joe Wright's film about a teenage assassin played by Saorise Ronan, on a few "overrated" lists. This is surprising because while the film got mostly good reviews from critics, it didn't strike me as a film they loved with an intense passion. It had a pretty quiet release in April of last year. And it only started being talked about again at the end of the year when it appeared on some ten best lists, as well as the "overrated" lists.
My favourite film of 2010, Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island, also appeared on an "overrated" list.. Personally, I'd put that on my "underrated" list. I can't see why the film was overrated. While it wasn't a total critcal disaster, with Roger Ebert, Richard Roeper and Peter Travers giving it very positive reviews, Michael Phillips and A.O Scott both thought it didn't work, as did others. It seems that the only reason why Hanna and Shutter Island were labelled overrated was because some people thought that anyone liking either film was "overrating" it. If that is the case, there's a certain arrogance to this logic. If you didn't like a film then you didn't like it. That some people did doesn't make it overrated.
Even when a film does get universal praise I still think it's a little arrogant to say a film is "overrated." It suggests this person knows the truth about the film while others don't. It fails to consider the notion that film viewing is a lot of the time based on an emotional response as much as an intellectual response. I think the reason while many films are "overrated" is because critics or general audiences have a strong emotional reaction. It not's that they can't or don't think. It just means that whether or not the film is the greatest thing since sliced bread, the emotional reaction to the elements that really worked become the focus rather than what didn't work. Not everything about Inception was the most groundbreaking or amazing thing but certain scenes and moments, the shifting gravity fight, slow motion van drop, Paris street folding and the infamous ending, are what stick with the audience afterwards and are what really counts.
This is why "overrated" also strikes me as a somewhat reductive phrase. It almost wants in to reign in any emotional reaction or praise on part of the viewer. Again, every time people start liking a movie, it becomes overrated. Why can't a movie just be well recieved instead of being made in to the bad guy, being told it has no business being liked. The word also suggests a mechanical reaction to film viewing, as if a movie has to be "properly" rated. It's almost impossible to do this because people are going to have wildly different reactions to a film- things they liked, things they disliked. Two people can love a movie for different reasons.
I think my main gripe with the word "overrated" is that it doesn't really say anything about the actual film, it's themes, it's characters, it's actors or direction. It almost falls under "padding the word count." It's not direct or to the point about the film.
It's award season, which means this word is going around a lot, particularly in regards to The Artist. I think this has to do with people seeing the film after hype has been built up. Unfortunately, it's hard for anyone, including me, to go in cold to movies due to the hype, either positive or negative, which sometimes surround them. I sympathize with people who use the word but I hope one day people get bored using it. There's so much more exciting and interesting things to say about a film.