Know Your Critic

Know Your Critic: Roxana Hadadi, Pop Culture Critic

Hadadi shares how her parents influenced her love of movies, defends her favorite Rotten films, and offers her take on what makes something worth watching.

by | November 23, 2021 | Comments

(Photo by Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer, courtesy Everett Collection; 20th Century Fox (all rights reserved), courtesy Everett Collection; Paramount Pictures, courtesy Everett Collection)

Known just as well for her criticism as for her feminist and cultural essays, Roxana Hadadi provides incisive takes wherever she publishes. Whether she’s covering a new release or writing a retrospective, Hadadi’s voice is recognizable because of the way she undertakes her intellectual projects: She consistently wields sharp language and provides compelling evidence, convincing her readers (or listeners, when she appears on podcasts) to approach titles in new and insightful ways.

Hadadi’s advice for new and aspiring critics is both practical and philosophical. “In general, my advice is go out, and see and experience the world,” she said in an interview with Rotten Tomatoes. “The advice that everybody gives is to write all the time, which I think is good advice because something that’s very important for young critics is instilling the discipline of ‘I have to write a piece, it has to have a draft, I have to have an outline of what I want to say.’ ”

“My advice is to find yourself and find who you are. Then I think it’s a little bit easier to write about the things that you’re consuming because it’s easier to find your emotional reaction to them,” Hadadi said. “Then you can use your criticisms of the technical qualities of a film to understand: What is the movie intending to do? What does it do for me? How does it exist in the medium, or in pop culture, or the world at large?”

Roxana Hadadi is a pop culture critic. Beginning December 6, she’ll be TV Critic at Vulture/New York Magazine. Her work can be found at Pajiba.com, The AV Club, Crooked Marquee, RogerEbert.com, and Polygon. Find her on Twitter: @roxana_hadadi.


What makes a good movie?

A good movie for me is one that makes you feel something, whether that is anger, or sadness, or happiness, or melancholy, or joy. I think if something gets a pure emotional response from you, then it is a success. I don’t necessarily know if that always makes a movie good or enjoyable, but I think it makes it worthwhile.

What’s your favorite Rotten thing?

The answer is always John Carter. Yes, I love this movie. I’ll be honest, a lot of it is because I love how Taylor Kitsch looks in this movie. I’m sorry, he is very attractive and I am but a simple woman.

But truly, the answer that I really give as to why I love this movie is that it is daring to be very weird for a Disney film, and sort of sexy and sort of subversive. I think that as much as the story is a typical “white male savior comes to an alien place and figures out a way to help save it,’ I think the movie is very aware that that is the story that is being told. I think it works against Taylor Kitsch’s character in proving that he is not, for lack of a better term, completely hot s–t. He is surrounded by other characters that temper him.

Along those lines, I also really like Sucker Punch, which is very much derided as a Zack Snyder film. It’s one of those movies that a lot of people think it is misogynistic because it is a movie about misogyny. I revisited it earlier this year because I wrote a piece about it for The Guardian. It was very interesting to have my own long-held negative assumptions about that movie challenged because, while you’re watching it, there is a lot of the typical Zack Snyder slow-mo action sequences, too-short skirts sort of thing. But I thought that it was very deliberate in making clear that a way to work through trauma and pain is through imagining yourself as a hero and as a survivor rather than as a victim. I really respected the movie for that, which surprised me.

Those two are definitely the ones when people say, “Wow, this movie sucked,” I get very defensive.

What is the hardest review you’ve ever written?

The Report was a very difficult review to write because I had to separate my feelings of “everybody should watch this movie because thematically, I think the content is important.” I had to separate that from, “Does the movie succeed on the technical qualities of a film? Does it build tension? Does it communicate information? Is the acting good across the board?”

All of those things that I think a movie needs to do to be, like you said, a “good movie,” I have to assess those things outside of my personal feeling as to whether the content was important. I think those kinds of reviews are hard because you have to parse through, “well, do I agree with what this movie is saying about the world or whatever, and that’s why I’m saying that it’s good and why you should watch it.” You have to do an internal analysis of your own motivations in writing. That can be really difficult.

I think that’s – to get pretentious – the purpose of art. It’s to make you think about the world that you’re in and what your place is within it. I think the hard reviews are the ones that really challenge you in that space.


(Photo by 20th Century Fox)

What is your favorite classic film?

This is very much a tie between two David Lean films. It is either Lawrence of Arabia or Doctor Zhivago, which are both films that I grew up with. Those are some of my parents’ favorites. I think that I probably first watched them on a Saturday afternoon on PBS. I just think that for me, the scope of those films signifies everything that movies can be. They can build this entirely different world, and transport you to a different time and a different place.

What is your favorite movie from your childhood?

I think these are the movies that made me who I am. Between these and the Godfather films, they’re very much the core of a certain aspect of my identity. But my favorite movie when I was a kid-kid was Hook, which is another one that I think probably has a Rotten score, but that I just love with every aspect of my being. I’ve told this story on the internet before, but my parents went away for a weekend. We rented Hook, and I broke the family VCR by watching it and re-watching it so often. They didn’t love me for that one.

What, besides Hook, is the movie or show that you have watched more than any other?

A movie or show that I have watched more than any other. I think the movie is probably The Godfather, because it was a family tradition for us that we would watch The Godfather and get Chinese food for certain holidays. I called it “Kung-Pao and Corleone.”

Have you ever seen yourself on screen? If so, what did you relate to about that character or story?

I don’t know if I have fully ever seen myself on screen just because I think that is a difficult ask when you are an Iranian-American woman. Let’s be frank: Hollywood does not tell Middle Eastern stories. The data proves that to be true. So, it’s been very difficult to get a sense of exactly me and exactly my identity on screen.

But I think movies that have reflected portions of my experience have been The Big Sick, Hala, some episodes of Ramy. Probably the one that has reflected it most is Mira Nair‘s The Namesake, which I won’t talk about too much because it’ll make me cry. I think that movie is astonishing. The source material is amazing. Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel is beautiful. It is about a married couple who relocates from India to the US and starts a new life here. Then it follows their children, in particular their son.

I saw it in college, and it was during a time when I was struggling with becoming my own person versus who my parents expected or wanted me to be. There’s a lot of that similar sort of conflict in the film. It’s very much a commentary on cultural shift and generational shift, and growing into somebody who appreciates your parents in a way that you probably didn’t when you were an asshole teenager, which I very much did not. So, definitely The Namesake. It is about an Indian-American man, it is not about an Iranian-American woman, but I think a lot of the cultural beats are the same.


Is there an actor, a director, or a screenwriter whose work you always love?

Director-wise, the answer is pretty much always Marty Scorsese. I just consistently respect his ability to show you a character who you think is a villain and challenge you to find their humanity. I am just consistently floored by that, and by at least what I perceive to be his deep belief that every person, no matter the bad decisions that they make, might be deserving of your empathy. That’s something that I find very challenging to do in my normal day to day life, but it’s something that I really gravitate to in film – the suspension of disbelief. Normally, I’m a very pessimistic person. I find that Marty Scorsese’s films don’t necessarily make me feel optimistic about the future, but they help me step inside perspectives and identities that I hadn’t considered before.

My screenwriter answer is probably either Asghar Farhadi or Sofia Coppola. Both of them for me do very interesting work in grasping domestic life. Farhadi, because he is an Iranian director working often within the contemporary modern Iranian space. Being Iranian-American, I really gravitate to the very detailed nuanced ways that he shows just our culture on screen. He does a very good job finding the divide between your public persona and your intimate life in a very specifically Iranian way.

Sofia Coppola I feel like does the same thing in terms of femininity and what it is to be a girl, or what it is to be a woman, and what are the perils of that? What are the ways in which people trap you within their expectations? What are the ways that you have to navigate that or break free of that? Interestingly, I am very much an “eat the rich person,” and Sofia Coppola’s movies are very often about the white rich.

But again, just in terms of suspending disbelief, sometimes she gets to the core of something that I’m feeling from a not-white, not-rich perspective. I’m just really moved by the commonalities that she finds in the female experience.

Is there someone in your life who’s not a critic but whose opinion you admire?

For older films and for the classics that I grew up with, the answer is very much my parents. They were big movie fans, and they really shaped that in me by just always being down to watch a movie and to have me sit with them. Their real love for the medium I think brushed off on me. They didn’t really expect it. They were surprised when I started writing about movies, but it was something that they became proud of over time. I would always talk to them about the movies that they’d watch growing up in Iran, and what they started watching when they came here.

Then more recently, my partner has a very thoughtful consideration of genre films, in particular sci-fi. I think sci-fi is a genre that I gravitate to, but that I am not incredibly intelligent when it comes to talking about the history of the genre, or how certain themes came to pass or develop. He has a really strong grasp of that and has pointed me in a lot of really good directions in terms of novels and theory to read. That has been really helpful, just in helping me expand. I think that’s what you have to do as a writer. You have to grow, you have to expand, and you have to absorb the world around you. I think both my parents and my partner have helped me do that.


Roxana Hadadi is a pop culture critic. Beginning December 6, she’ll be TV Critic at Vulture/New York Magazine. Her work can be found at Pajiba.com, The AV Club, Crooked Marquee, RogerEbert.com, and Polygon. Find her on Twitter: @roxana_hadadi.

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