The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Should film critics disclose their naps?

with 47 comments


A film critic falls asleep during the press screening in such a way that the colleagues take notice.

This doesn’t prevent him (or her) from later on giving the movie in question a 5/5 star rating without mentioning the sleeping incident.

When can only speculate about the reasons. Maybe the critic didn’t even know about the nodding off. Sometimes you don’t. I’ve heard that people who think they’ve been sleepless for an entire night many times actually have had small micro naps, of which they remember nothing afterwards. Maybe the critic didn’t consider it relevant or important enough to bring up in the review. Or perhaps he or she had already seen it. This was just an additional optional viewing that didn’t change anything.

However in all honesty I think it’s more likely that he or she is too embarrassed about it to admit – especially if it, as in this case – happens at the screening of a prestige arthouse movie, Béla Tarr’s The Turin Horse.

Some film critics probably wouldn’t mind sharing that they fell asleep to a blockbuster film. It’s even an opportunity to do some humble bragging: your taste is so sophisticated and you care so little about the big dumb action that you fall asleep. But a prestigious film festival hit is another issue. You want to be a believer and you want to be where your peers are. Not a naysayer, not someone who’s depending on story and action to take place to stay awake. So you keep a straight face, celebrate it with a 5/5 and hope that no one will tell on you.

It’s very unlikely that anyone will, at least not publicly. Critics will whisper to each other when they meet, but they’re too loyal to each other to call someone out by name. Why would they? The status of the film critic profession isn’t where it should be anyway, why make it worse by letting people know about this? Besides: you never know – maybe it will be your turn to fall asleep on next screening. It happens to the best.

I suspect this kind of event is more common than we think. A film blogging friend of mine has seen this taking place at press screenings, and yesterday there was another incidence when an established film critic tweeted the story above. She had witnessed an unnamed critic sleeping through the screening and then giving it 5/5 and now she questioned the rating. How could you give a 5/5 if you fell asleep? It shouldn’t be able to get more than 4/5, she argued. Other people who joined the discussion on Tiwtter suggested even bigger reductions on the rating if you’d fallen asleep. “No more than 2/5 if a movie makes you fall asleep” was one idea.

Then there were others who argued in another direction, pointing out that it’s not always the movie’s fault if you fall asleep. There may be external factors at play. You’ve simply slept too little lately and would fall asleep regardless of movie. And if that’s the case, it’s not fair to blame and shame the movie for it.

Why I want disclosure
I’ve previously written a confessional post about being a cinema snoozer. I fall asleep pretty easily when I’m watching movies, especially if I’m at home on the couch. If I’m on my own I usually back the movie to a point where I was fully awake and give it a new try. If this doesn’t work and I keep falling asleep, I’ll save the movie for another day, when I’ll make sure to be better prepared in terms of having enough of sleeping the night before and enough of coffee during the day.

I wish critics were more honest about falling asleep during movies. It’s not because I’ll dismiss or distrust their review if they’ve slept a minute or two; I think they’re perfectly capable of judging a movie anyway.

I want to know about it because it’s helpful when I’ll plan my own movie watching. If the critic fell asleep, it’s a strong indication for me that I should try to look up an afternoon screening rather than a late night screening and that need to make sure I have enough coffee before watching it. It’s a question of providing useful consumer information.

But most of all: it’s a question of trust. If we find out that a critic lies to us on this point, giving a 5/5 review to a movie that he or she only partly watched, how are we supposed to believe in anything he or she says? Openness and honesty goes a long way. And film critics should disclose their naps. Or alternatively rewatch the movie and stay wake the second time around.


photo credit: Nicholas Erwin via photopin cc

Written by Jessica

April 26, 2013 at 1:20 am

47 Responses

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  1. So that’s how The Turin Horse got five star reviews! Lol 🙂

    I actually never thought about this being a possibility but I don’t doubt that it happens often. Perhaps they can’t admit that they fell asleep because the review of the movie is due before they can try to see it again or the fact that their credibility might actually go down a little if they say that they did. No doubt that they’re embarrassed too. That’s one advantage to being a film blogger instead of a film critic. No one cares if a blogger falls asleep and admits it. Honesty is always the best policy when it come to writing movie reviews. Excellent, thought-provoking article, Jessica!


    April 26, 2013 at 1:45 am

    • Thanks Garrett! Yeah, I’ll shamelessly admit if I got sleepy during a movie and I know I’ve done it a few times here. Most of the times when I feel it coming, I start to slap and pinch myself in a rather painful way to stay awake. If this is futile and I actually fall asleep, I might refrain from writing about it a all. It has happened to me a couple of times. But then again I’m a blogger, not a critic. No pressure on me to deliver!


      April 26, 2013 at 7:54 am

  2. Full disclosure: for the first time in a few years, I fell asleep in the cinema during ‘Upstream Color’. (From reconstruction with my wife, it was about 10-15 minute about 2/3rds of the way through, and according to her, I did not miss much.). I feel better now.


    April 26, 2013 at 5:11 am

  3. You know what they say, prone to sleepiness is a key “getting old” sign! 😉


    April 26, 2013 at 6:47 am

  4. I can understand a critic nodding off and subtracting stars because they were bored, but I find it odd that anyone would give 5/5 stars to a movie that put them to sleep.

    Mark Hobin

    April 26, 2013 at 7:01 am

    • Well if it’s a case of a very short slumber – a minute at the most – and the movie is top-notch and if you maybe were tired entering the theatre, I think you could still give it a high ranking. But transparency is required imo.


      April 26, 2013 at 7:47 am

  5. I’m also an easy sleeper during films, and every time I fall asleep my significant other always tells me that it should be part of my review. Sometimes I’ll work it in if it seems pertinent or interesting (or I think it’s the film’s fault). I most often fall asleep when I start a movie too late, and that’s never the movie’s fault. But to sleep through most of a movie, as the example given says, and then give a movie a full rating? That’s nuts! Is that really where professional film criticism is at? I should hope that’s not the norm, but it might explain some award wins through the years!

    Great piece, Jessica, as always!


    April 26, 2013 at 8:15 am

    • Thanks Will! The worst part about getting sleepy when you watch movies is when you’re in a theatre. There’s no rewind and I’ve paid for it! I don’t think I’ve ever returned for a second viewing due to nodding off during the screening. It would be just too much. What if I fell asleep a second time? If it happens at home on the other hand, I’ll just go back and pick it up again. Provided that I watch it alone. It’s worse when you’re in a company. Then I almost feel guilty for nodding off during something that was supposed to be a communal experience.


      April 26, 2013 at 9:03 am

      • Yeah it’s always more frustrating in the theater. I saw Fellowship of the Ring seven times, and only twice did I stay awake the whole time. I always seemed to fall asleep during the scene at Weathertop, so when I stayed awake that one always felt like a new scene. This is a good example of how I can fall asleep even when I’m highly interested in a film. There’s just something about a darkened theater that makes me relax and nod off.


        April 28, 2013 at 9:07 pm

        • I know, I know too well that feeling. And this can happen to me even if the armchairs aren’t even comfortable at all. I don’t know what it is… I guess I just feel completely relaxed, not having anything else that craves for my attention. And then my body thinks it’s an excellent opportunity for some deeper rest…


          April 28, 2013 at 9:09 pm

  6. It’s an interesting question, and I suspect that the stakes are very different for professionals versus bloggers. After all, even if their readers might appreciate the heads-up that an afternoon matinee might be better, their boss may not be so forgiving! I do think the type of film matters too. It’s definitely more embarrassing during a critical indie film than during the latest Adam Sandler schtick. (In fact, would anyone even care if they fell asleep during a Sandler film?)

    The disclosure thing does make me wonder whether it applies to other things too. Do I need to disclose if I went to the restroom during a film (in theaters where I can’t rewind)? I would think that it only matters if you missed a key scene and therefore didn’t understand something. But how would you really know what you missed? Even if it didn’t change your ability to follow the plot, there may be some hidden gem in the background or camera angle that would change your take on the film?


    April 26, 2013 at 10:27 am

    • I hope it doesn’t happen that critics go to the restroom during the movies they’re supposed to review. Imagine a literature critic tearing out some random pages that won’t be read? But who knows… maybe that happens too. Perhaps it’s jsut as well we don’t know what’s going on….

      Re: critics vs bloggers I tend to put the same demands on both categories.


      April 26, 2013 at 11:00 am

  7. As I read this Jessica. I was guilty of falling asleep during Jack Reacher last night. I had drafted up the majority of a review and thought about posting it. I then reconsidered as I wouldn’t have been entirely truthful. I wasn’t impressed with the film but I think that’s because I may have missed important plot developments. I’m now going to rewatch it before making my judgement. Integrity and truth is key, if you want people to respect your opinion.

    Great post, by the way.

    Mark Walker

    April 26, 2013 at 11:26 am

    • Thank you Mark!
      And kudos to you for reconsidering publishing that review under those circumstances! If you’ve put the time and effort into watching a movie and writing a post about it, it’s painful to put the post away. On the other hand: if you didn’t care for the movie all that much, it’s not exactly enjoyable to watch it a second time, just for the review. And yet you did it. And if this post hadn’t happen to come up, no one would have known.
      That’s what I call intergity. I wish more were like you.


      April 26, 2013 at 11:29 am

  8. Interesting article Jessica. I don’t think any ‘proper’ critic whose actual job it is to review movies would admit to falling asleep unless they’re at the absolute top of the profession and pretty untouchable, or they could be at risk of losing their job.

    I think you could still give a film 5/5 if you only missed a couple of minutes but if you were asleep for like half an hour then there’s no way you could give a perfect score. It could just have been that the person was super tired even if they were enjoying it. From what I’ve heard The Turin Horse is pretty slow though!

    I like the point you make about some people might be more likely to admitting falling asleep during a blockbuster but not during an arthouse film. I bet there are loads of people who would do that!

    You could then get onto the subject of studios buying good reviews whether the critic liked it or not, but that’s a different discussion for a different time 🙂

    • Thank you for your long and thoughtful comment!
      I think you’re right: it’s less likely that professional critics will admit falling asleep than that bloggers will do it. There’s too much prestige to lose. You may appear unprofessional and you don’t want to dI’o that.

      Studios buying good reviews? I don’t think I’ve even heard of that. It sounds like something to look into and discuss another time indeed.


      April 26, 2013 at 2:09 pm

  9. Well, if it’s their job I would say sleeping isn’t allowed or they should rewatch it. I never fall asleep because a movie is boring, just simply because I’m tired. In my review of Shutter Island I have admitted to have fallen asleep during the movie and I’m not afraid to admit it. Recently I’ve noticed that if I go to a late screening I usually won’t make it through the whole movie. I nodded off at both Skyfall and Lord of the Rings, which I both rewatched in order to form a good idea about them. If I can I’d rather see a movie at the cinema during the day if possible. I guess getting older has its setbacks 😉


    April 26, 2013 at 2:19 pm

    • In my case I’m not sure age is a factor; I was just as prone to snoozing during film watching when I was younger as I am now. It’s the way I’m wired and I have to plan around it, which mostly means having as much coffee as I can stomach without running the risk to have to go to the restroom during the screening. It’s a balance to keep.

      Daytime watching is definitely an alternative. I will probably see The Turin Horse, but I’ll try to catch a daytime screening in the weekend rather than a late screening in the week.

      Slow movies are definitely more of a challenge to me. The Tree of Life for instance required a lot of self damage.


      April 26, 2013 at 3:28 pm

  10. I’ve had sleeping problems for years and I often fall asleep during movies. My children laugh at the time that I slept in a theatre through half of The Princess and the Frog. I also didn’t write a review, and followed it up later with a proper watching. At times I fall asleep for just a short period and then back the movie up to where I began missing it. Sometimes I know I’m falling asleep, note the place where I’m crashing and then catch up to it.

    But I really try not to sleep in movies I see in the theatre. Tickets are expensive, and going to the theatre is a treat for me. So I like to stay as awake as possible. However, I did sleep for about five minutes in Life of Pi at a midnight showing, but I still really loved the film.


    April 26, 2013 at 4:34 pm

    • I feel with you. It’s so annoying when it happens, especially in a theatre, and it’s so hard to do anything about it. The body refuses to obey. You can hit yourself a bit, but there’s a limit to how much of self abuse you can take without taking away some of the enjoyment of the movie. It’s definitely less of a problem at home. In a theatre it’s saddening.
      Life of Pi.. well as much as I love the movie (and I really, really did) I don’t think a loss of five minutes of the long on-the-ocean part of it can ruin it.


      April 26, 2013 at 11:38 pm

  11. Years ago I read a local critic’s review of The Nightmare Before Christmas. He started out trashing it then wrote that he fell asleep about 15 minutes in because it was so bad and woke up after it was over. I felt like writing to the paper to tell them that this critic owed them a refund on whatever they had paid him to write the review.

    In my opinion, if the person writing the review fell asleep during the movie then this COMPLETELY invalidates the entire review. They are supposed to be giving us their informed opinion, yet they have not seen the entire movie.

    This person almost was bragging about how he fell asleep. To me it was just a bald faced attempt to excuse his own lack of professionalism.

    Chip Lary

    April 26, 2013 at 5:41 pm

    • That critic sounds just arrogant and dumb… It’s a brilliant movie. And neither slow, nor long. Actually I’m not sure he told the truth about falling asleep, maybe it was just something he wrote to make a point.


      April 26, 2013 at 11:30 pm

  12. So I take it you listened to the latest Matineecast…

    Ryan McNeil

    April 26, 2013 at 11:11 pm

    • I did but I can’t recall that you had a conversation about movie sleeping. Did you? Now I feel embarrassed. I often listen to podcasts in bed as I’m going to sleep. I might have dozed off when you mentioned it.. 😦


      April 26, 2013 at 11:28 pm

      • You might have skipped over it, since it came in the middle of the UPSTREAM COLOR review. I admitted that I went into the film a little more sleep deprived than I care to be, and as a result, I took a really long blink and missed ten minutes.

        In the end, I think every case is different. Did you nod off for five minutes and miss some character development? That’s likely on a par with needing to step out and visit the loo mid-film. Did you zonk out for a full twenty minutes and miss a few plot details? Sorry – mistrial.

        Ryan McNeil

        April 29, 2013 at 9:46 pm

        • I see! Yeah, I think I skipped over it since it’s a movie I want to see. But at least you were honest about it. I think the case I’m referring to is more problematic. He’s a professional, everyone sees him sleeping, he give it 5/5 and doesn’t mention at all in his review what happened. It sadly makes me lose a bit of the respect I had for him. Again: in this case he probably didn’t miss a lot from all I’ve heard. The peeling of a potato. At the most.


          April 29, 2013 at 11:00 pm

  13. I’m even ok with a 5/5 review if the reviewer takes a nap… as long as they admit it. It’s kind of all or nothing for me. Either take your nap and then don’t review the film, or take it and confess.

    I guess it’s easier to say that not knowing what kind of assignments they get and what kind of deadlines they’re on. If the critic’s boss says “I have to have a review no matter what” and they fall asleep, I’m sure their boss doesn’t want them saying “Yeah, I snoozed. Sorry. But 3 out of 5 stars anyway.”

    Still… I think full disclosure is best. I’d have so much respect for a critic who admitted it.


    April 27, 2013 at 3:07 am

    • I think full disclosure is a much better choice for the critic as well. How do you know that you’ll get away with it without anyone telling on you? In the case of the incident that inspired this post, not all critics were as discrete as the one who first reported about it on twitter. Another critic has now named the sleeper on a podcast. And the word is spreading, hurting at least my respect for this critic. Had he just said something: “it makes you a bit sleepy, I even dozed off a bit, but nevertheless I love this film, just prepare with coffee and a good night’s sleep”, no one would have thought bad of him.


      April 28, 2013 at 9:18 pm

  14. Well, I’ve had a lot of pushback from people who want disclosure of any number of things, did I watch the film at 1.5x because it was tedious, did I turn it off because it was bad, did I at any point pause or otherwise not devote 100% of attention to the film, and I remain firmly against the need to disclose information that isn’t relevant to the review I’m crafting from an artistic writing standpoint. My reviews are meant to be crafted into a coherent narrative, not simply be journals of every possible thought I have on a film.

    I don’t know if I’ve proper fallen asleep at a film and missed big chunks but certainly there have been films (Skyfall, Sherlock Holmes 2, Where The Wild Things Are) where I remember being so tired that I’d fade out for a minute here or there and never really felt it important to mention. This happens when you work odd shifts as I do and are fitting in films when sleep might be better advised. It probably has an impact on the perception of the film, but I file it under a general “life happens” disclaimer that I feel should be presumed to exist on any review. Do I have to disclose if an annoying viewer was distracting me? Where does it stop in having to note deviations from the ideal?


    April 27, 2013 at 4:36 am

    • That is an interesting question you’re putting. If you ask me, I actually think the circumstances around your movie watching are relevant to write about. Not necessarily because it’s needed to read your review in the right context, but because it often makes for better reads. I’m a fan of reviews told from a subjective pov, which don’t even bother about pretending to be objective.


      April 28, 2013 at 9:21 pm

  15. In my critic experience, if the movie is the cause of your nap, then you definitely mention it. If it’s not, then it’s a case-by-case basis, but I do think it’s a good idea to put your film-viewing in context with the mindset you’re in, as you’re watching it. I remember when I saw the original “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, my intent, was to watch five minutes and then fall asleep ’cause it was the middle of the night, and I was tired of reading subtitles after a half-a-dozen bad foreign films that week, and instead, tired as hell as I was, I couldn’t turn the film off. The situation, helped exemplify my positive review. On the other side, a movie that you watch wide-awake at noon, with an IV Starbucks in you, and you still fall asleep, it really exemplifies the eh,- for lack of a better word, boredom level of the film. Sometimes, it makes no difference, in that case, I wouldn’t say anything, but it varies. Depends on the film, depends on the situation.

    David Baruffi

    April 27, 2013 at 5:47 am

    • That’s true. If you really suspect your nap is because of the character of the movie you ought to say so. And if your nap was due to other circumstances you should probably rewatch it if you’re serious about review writing.

      It’s funny how some movies can surprise you, having you awake when circumstances were such that you thought you’d fall asleep. It happened to me recently when I watched The Place Beyond the Pines. I watched it late night show a Friday when I was exhausted after a long work week. I expected a long and slow movie that totally would make me doze off, like Blue Valentine did. But this didn’t happen. I was clear awake all way through, which says something about how engaging this movie is.


      April 28, 2013 at 9:00 pm

  16. I don’t think they should necessarily disclose their naps but if they fell asleep they should at least watch the film again so they could give an informed opinion. I remember falling asleep at Inglourious Basterds. I liked the film but I was just so freakin’ tired that day. I couldn’t help it.


    April 27, 2013 at 8:51 am

    • I know. It’s almost impossible to stay awake through willpower once the sleepiness sets in. It’s so physical.
      And yeah, re-watching the movie is definitely an alternative.


      April 28, 2013 at 8:56 pm

  17. This isn’t quite exactly what you’re discussing (which is definitely a worthwhile discussion) but one of my good friends fell asleep the first time he saw his favorite movie, The Thin Red Line. We were movie theater employees at the time and we were watching an employee-only showing of it after midnight and so he was tired to begin with and that is a long and slow film but then he came back the next day and watched it again and…….that was all she wrote.

    I guess that’s a long of saying that I imagine critics who screen multiple films in a day and have other duties and obligations probably are prone to falling asleep – even during good ones – but should have the duty to rewatch them before giving proper reviews. I mean, if it’s genuinely considered your ‘job’………


    April 27, 2013 at 5:18 pm

    • Ouch. I’d never consider watching a Malick movie starting after midnight, even if it was for free. Tree of Life was a beast when it comes to sleep fighting. I beat up myself terribly, scratching and pinching myself. It was rather painful. But worth it. 🙂

      If it’s your job, I agree. It’s kind of a duty to stay awake. It’s what you’re paid for.


      April 28, 2013 at 8:55 pm

  18. Based on my limited and anecdotal experience going to press screenings, that kind of thing happens often. It’s part of the reason why I trust bloggers more than professional critics when it comes to new releases.

    Now it makes me wonder how many judges have nodded off in the courtroom….

    Bonjour Tristesse

    April 29, 2013 at 1:48 am

    • Nodding off in courtrooms does happen. I read about a case where they had to run the whole process once again since the judge had fallen asleep. I guess it’s the job of the lawyers to keep track of such things making sure their clients get a fair trial


      April 29, 2013 at 7:20 am

  19. I agree with others that professionals likely can’t admit that they’re “sleeping on the job” any more than someone can who works in an office. However, I agree that it’s pretty awful when they are still giving rave reviews of movies they clearly didn’t see.

    I will take issue with your note about the bathroom breaks, though. I’m hardly a professional, but I tend to drink some type of soda, coffee, or beer while seeing movies and sometimes have to step out for a bathroom trip. Of course, there’s a science to picking the right time and not missing anything essential. Plus, I don’t give ratings either, so it’s a bit different.

    Dan Heaton

    April 29, 2013 at 9:11 pm

    • Re: bathroom breaks, I understand they’re unavoidable sometimes. Especially if you have some kind of medical condition. Those breaks are not related to the movie at all and for that reason I don’t think they deserve the same disclosure as naps, which can come as a result of a very slow and not very engaging movie and for that reason should be mentioned. As long as you plan your bio breaks really well, it shouldn’t intervene too badly. This said I find the size of the sodas that some people bring to the theatre mind boggling. It’s as if they’re really doing anything in their power to make sure that they WILL need to go to the bathroom at least one time, if not several.


      April 29, 2013 at 9:16 pm

      • Jessica, I’ve learned my lesson with the big sodas. Those are never a wise choice; plus, they’re priced ridiculously high too.

        Dan Heaton

        April 30, 2013 at 4:22 pm

  20. There’s a critic who attends the press screenings here in Dublin who constantly leaves the cinema to answer phone calls. I wish I knew which publication he writes for.

    • That critic shouldn’t be allowed into press screenings.


      April 30, 2013 at 10:42 am

  21. […] Should film critics disclose their naps? […]

  22. […] Should film critics disclose their naps? […]

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