Film Theory: Middlebrow Sensibility

Research in Progress: June 26, 2021

Film: Middlebrow Sensibility

They are often feel-good inspirational features about serious issues and noble heroes.

Triumph of the spirit and will against all odds.

Films that don’t actively use their visual registry to produce meaning

Liberal films  that do nothing in terms of visual elaboration to compensate for their verbal explicitness or conventional narratives–in other words, films without personal or pronounced style.

Noble films that make important social statements about the world, or real-life events and personalities.

A Beautiful Mind (2001):

The story of schizophrenic scientist has Oscar bait all over it, from the moment that mainstream director Ron Howard and star Russell Crowe had committed to the project.

Unlike many of its competitors, the movie did live up to its hype.

Fried Green Tomatoes:

A feature that sanitizes and sentimentalize its brutal issues (racism), and glosses over  the novel’s more explicit lesbianism.


Sort of a sanitized  version in a salable package, full of goof intentions and noble sentiments.



“Shine is the generically perfect Miramax movie–emotionally effusive, middle-brow glitz.”


Lumet’s solid, if old-fashioned, courtroom drama, with a strong and measured performance by Paul Newman



Beautiful Mind

Friendly Persuasion

Fried Green Tomatoes


Places in the Heart


Verdict, The


Directors of middlebrow movies

Fred Zinnemann


Actors: Oscar Winners (1997)

In 1997, Robin Williams (Good Will Hunting) vs. Burt Reynolds (Boogie Nights): Reynolds character can’t distinguish between vulgarity and art.

Robin Williams tells a self-proclaimed genius (Matt Damon) that nothing is at fault. Williams won, possibly because his role was more reassuring, even if it echoed the role of Judd Hirsch in Ordinary People (the warm, sensitive Jewish therapist).