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This weekend's release of Darren Aronofsky's mother! has been met with a remarkable response. It's an incredibly divisive movie which seems to fascinate and disgust in equal measure. If there's one thing that can be said about it, it's that the movie is truly unique. As such, it makes sense that the film would accomplish things few other films before it had done. In this case, that means achieving the dubious honor of receiving an F grade from CinemaScore.
The CinemaScore organization has been polling filmgoers on opening night to get their impressions of movies for almost 40 years. Attendees exiting theaters in major cities around the country on a movie's opening night are asked to rate the movie they just saw with a letter grade from A to F. These scores are then averaged together to come up with the film's CinemaScore. The thing is, the grading system rarely produces anything as low as a C, nevermind an F.
People generally go to movies they think they will like and if they're going on opening night, they're especially excited. This tends to skew CineaScore results toward the positive. Even recent critical and box office duds like The Dark Tower and The Emoji Movie earned a B via the same poll. CinemaScore's website doesn't include a single new release (the list currently goes back to July) with a score below a B-, except for mother! When Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street received a C, people flipped out a little because that was shocking.
Clearly, this movie set off its audience. As I said in my review, this would be a movie that some people will hate, but I also thought there would be others that would find it fascinating. If that had been the case on opening night, there would have been as many A grades as F grades, causing the movie to balance somewhere around a C. Apparently, that didn't happen. Those that found the movie had nothing redeeming about it at all were clearly overwhelming anybody who was impressed by it.
What's most interesting is that this shows a fairly significant shift in the relationship between audiences, critics, and films. It's much more common to see movies embraced by audiences that are panned by critics, but mother! has been getting mostly positive reviews from critics, while the audience appears to take a much dimmer view of the material.