Movie review: ‘Roma’ and the new Netflix paradigm

Brad Keefe
Photo courtesy of Netflix

One of my most anticipated films of awards season, “Roma” also is a perfect example of a conundrum in modern movies.

The Spanish-language, black-and-white film is from director Alfonso Cuaron (“Gravity,” “Children of Men,” “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”). It's (rightly) being hailed by critics as a masterpiece, and is already in the heat of the Best Picture discussion.

It also happens to be a Netflix movie.

“Roma” is already in limited theatrical release in the U.S. and is slated to hit Columbus theaters on December 14 … the same day it arrives on Netflix.

The early release is a clear appeal to the Academy. “Please consider this a ‘real' movie.” If the bias against films that hit streaming services first is waning among the public (and some in the critic world), for the old-school Academy, it's certainly still a barrier.

But is the way we consume movies changing? Yes, clearly, and probably more rapidly than it ever has.

I struggled with this conundrum earlier this year when Netflix made a big splash on Super Bowl Sunday. The company announced the latest movie in the “Cloverfield” universe would be dropping on the streaming services … right after the game.

That was exciting news, until the movie hit and proved to be pretty disjointed and more of the direct-to-video level of quality.

“Roma” is not that. It's among the best work from one of the best filmmakers in the world.

Cuaron's semi-autobiographical film examines many facets of the Mexico City neighborhood in the 1960s. It's somehow both intimate and sweeping, small and large, occasionally at the same time.

It's a work of art, but it's also not built to be a crowd-pleaser. As I mentioned: subtitles and black and white.

I'd also suspect that the arthouse crowd that will see it in the theaters and the curious average Netflix user looking for something to add to “chill” will have very different reactions.

My recommendation is to see “Roma” in a theater, the way God/Cuaron intended. It is gorgeously shot and edited, has amazing sound design and is such an emotional ride that it's best experienced with others.

But if you won't take that advice, watch it at home. It's a paradigm shift that one of the year's best films will be so widely available.

The larger question about “Roma” is what this experiment will do to the quality of films that hit streaming first … and what that means for how films get made going forward.

Opens locally/streams on December 14

5 stars out of 5