Of F-Words and the Art of Movie Reviewing

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 Whenever I happen to mention to someone that I review movies for Plugged In, the response is almost invariably the same: “Wow. That sounds like an awesome job.”

And, in many ways, it is. I love reviewing good movies with redemptive themes and having the chance to tell Plugged In’s readers about stories worth their two hours and 10 bucks. That’s the awesome part of my job as a Plugged In reviewer.

But …

A fair number of the films we review are neither good nor redemptive. In fact, I’d say for every movie I see that I could wholeheartedly recommend, I probably review two or three that I’d be hard pressed to make a case for anyone seeing.

And then there are the films that function as new boundary markers—and not in good way—for the kinds of stories Hollywood is telling these days.

I saw one of those a couple of weeks ago: Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. The movie tells the real-life story of stock trader Jordan Belfort, an utterly debauched man who made millions lying to customers about stocks and bilking them out of their money. And I do mean debauched. The film sets at least 22 graphic sex scenes in front of us. Then there are all those f-words that have been making the news as of late.

My f-word tally came in at 525. But shortly after we published our review, news stories began popping up putting the “official” count at 506. That figure, it turns out, came from another site. A writer for slate.com, Forrest Wickman, a bit skeptical of that “official” count, decided to do his own and came up with 544. And he notes that another site found “just” 414.

So … who’s right?

The short answer is this: I can’t say with absolute, scientific pin-point accuracy. That’s because there are so many f-words in The Wolf of Wall Street that at times it’s hard to make hash marks in a notebook fast enough to keep up with the profanity exploding from characters’ lips. I suspect you could sit five people down at a screening of this movie with the sole instruction of numbering the film’s f-bombs and you’d likely come up with five different tallies.

On top of that, there are nearly 200 other profanities as well. My total count was 710 vulgarities in a 180-minute film—which, for those scoring at home, works out to one nasty word about every 25 seconds … for three hours straight. And that doesn’t even begin to get into all the other egregious content in The Wolf of Wall Street, which overflowed in virtually every other category as well.

That brings me back to my opening story about folks who think being a Plugged In movie reviewer sounds like a fun job. The reality is this: Reviewing a film’s content the way we do it is actually pretty intense. Each of my fellow reviewers and I work hard to make sure that we see and accurately record every film’s sexual, violent, profane, drug-and-alcohol and other negative content, as well as its positive and spiritual themes.

Getting all that down on paper means that we’re writing almost constantly over the course of two to three hours. For The Wolf of Wall Street, I took 140 pages of notes. Sure, some pages were just scores and scores of f-word hash marks. One page of my notes consisted only of 70 such slashes. But it’s not uncommon for me to take 40 or 50 pages of notes even in a “normal” film. So for me (and I think my fellow Plugged In reviewers would agree), reviewing a movie in this way is closer to participating in an athletic event than a relaxing experience. By the time the credits rolled for Wolf, I felt like I’d run a marathon and that I’d need to see a hand masseuse to work out the cramps.

All that is in the service of providing you with the most accurate reviews we possibly can so that you can make good decisions for yourself and your family regarding whether something or not is worth your time and money. We strive mightily to note content concerns as precisely as possible. And if at times there are discrepancies between our reviews and someone else’s (or if we get an email from readers suggesting that we’ve missed something significant), we’ll generally send someone to watch the film again to ensure that we get it exactly right.

Although in the case of a film like The Wolf of Wall Street, the difference between 506 f-bombs and 525 is likely one we’re not going to spend too much time to investigate further—because either way, it’s far too many.