Roger Ebert Home

Meet the Writers: Jessica Ritchey

Editor's note: To give you a chance to get to know our writers better, we've asked them to respond to some questions. Here's Jessica Ritchey. 


Where did you grow up, and what was it like?

I grew up in a small town in western North Carolina. It was, is, a beautiful place ... but it was very much a retirees town. A place where people, and ideas come to retire and ossify into rigid immobility. So there was always this contradiction between this wild and free landscape and the tightness and hardness of much of the locals.

Was anyone else in your family into movies? If so, what effect did they have on your moviegoing tastes?

Oh my Dad, the fact that I’m writing about movies is directly due to him. He had a marvelously expansive taste in film. “Dad Movies” like westerns, John Wayne was his favorite star, to Rom Coms with Meg Ryan. He knew all the old movie stars and would often have interesting behind-the-scenes stories on what we were watching. He was also unconcerned with ratings. My mother considered “shut up” a bad word and would turn off TV movie trailers she thought were too "intense," which was pretty all of them. While my Dad was more like “Oh hey, 'Predator' is on! You'll like this, it’s like a war movie with a monster in it.” He was right by the way. 

What's the first movie you remember seeing, and what impression did it make on you?

I have dim memories of having to be carried out of a re-release of “Snow White” because the wicked stepmother in her witch disguise scared me too badly. But I definitely remember watching “Follow that Bird” and being scared Big Bird would never find his way home. That’s still an existential fear for me, and it always moves me with characters in movies find “home” even if it’s not in the form they were counting on.

What's the first movie that made you think, "Hey, some people made this. It didn't just exist. There's a human personality behind it."

“Beauty and the Beast,” the 1991 version. I remember seeing a lot of pre-release promos about the animation department and all the work that went into it. And it was fascinating to see rough pencil sketches, complete with smudges and erased lines talk and dance and become finished work. I think it really impressed me because I knew on a conscious level “I am looking at thousands of drawings made by people” when I saw it but I was utterly sucked in. It’s a beautiful, moving film. And Belle and the transformed Prince’s kiss at the end was the first time a movie kiss ever made me feel funny, so there’s that too.

What's the first movie you ever walked out of?

I can’t remember. In general I’m too stubborn to cry “uncle” with a terrible film. But when I’m at events like “B-Fest” at Northwestern I’m more likely to just go into the lobby and take a break. Life is too short to try to sit through "Street Trash," no sir, no ma’am.

What's the funniest film you've ever seen?

Can’t narrow this down to one. Favorites include “Blazing Saddles” and “What’s Up, Doc?” Basically anytime Madeline Kahn is in a movie and opens her mouth. I also love “Galaxy Quest” and “The Emperor’s New Groove”. Interestingly both of those are spoofs of a certain type of picture, Star Trek movie and Disney adventure, that are also really good examples of each. That’s a thing that way too many painfully unfunny parodies forget now. And the curtain line from “Some Like It Hot” makes me laugh out loud, every time.

What's the saddest film you've ever seen?

Wong Kar-wai’s “In the Mood for Love”. Which is beautiful and a masterpiece but I’ve got to be in a good place to be able to watch it. As it is pretty much like having open heart surgery performed on you with no anesthesia.

What's the scariest film you've ever seen?

The original “The Wicker Man” is one of my favorite films and I’m still sucker punched by the ending. I remember being haunted for days by “Onibaba,” by the monsters we make of ourselves and how we’re our own worst enemies more than any supernatural threat could ever be.

What's the most romantic film you've ever seen?

Oddly, “The Fisher King”. It has moments of such sorrow and misery, and yet at its root it’s this effervescent swoon of being in love with life, with love, with second chances. It’s a love letter to New York City and it’s love story between Robin William and Jeff Bridges along with their relationships with their respective partners. It’s a movie about love among grown ups where you can screw up spectacularly and lose everything. But then find out that’s not the end of your story. I love its colors, and I love Michael Jeter stealing every scene he’s in.

What's the first television show you ever saw that made you think television could be more than entertainment?

Looking back now I see how important “Sesame Street” was in introducing me to artists, dancers, and musicians that I never would have encountered otherwise. But for a proper answer to the question I think watching “Twin Peaks” in reruns on Bravo before it became the Real Housewives channel. “Twin Peaks” was so otherworldly and strange, and yet it had its own kind of warmth and clearly loved its actors. Catherine E. Coulson’s The Log Lady was a particular favorite. How do you come up with an idea like that? And not just treat it as a punchline, “Ha, ha this crazy lady with a log.” But go deeper and have Coulson be dryly funny and wise, a sweater clad mystic who hangs out in a diner and dispenses delphic wisdom from time to time. That’s another thing I have my Dad to thank for introducing me to, he loved it and watched it when it originally aired.

What book do you think about or revisit the most?

John Berger’s “And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos” is one of those books that can shake you awake. And make you slow down and really listen and observe what’s going on around you. Excellent things for a critic to do.

What album or recording artist have you listened to the most, and why?

Probably Stevie Wonder, because “I Was Made to Love Her” is one of of those songs that can make it alright for at least a little while. I’m more a songs than album person, but Paul Simon’s “Graceland” is one I’ve been returning to a lot lately. “The Boy in the Bubble” as a soundtrack for a terrible and frightening time that still has it’s moments of joy and wonder.

Is there a movie that you think is great, or powerful, or perfect, but that you never especially want to see again, and why?

A Clockwork Orange” saw clearly where we came from, where we were at, and where we were going. But I’m squeamish about sexual violence, so once was enough for me.

What movie have you seen more times than any other?

I think you’d need a computer to calculate how many times I’ve seen “Chungking Express,” “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and “Wrath of Khan.”

What was your first R-rated movie, and did you like it?

“The Terminator” and it’s still one of my favorites, and one of my favorite love stories. It gave me a taste for action movies, and the expectation that action didn’t mean sacrificing character or mistaking sloppy spectacle for cleanly directed set pieces.

What's the most visually beautiful film you've ever seen?

“Black Narcissus,” the shot of Sister Ruth looking like one of the Furies as she comes out the door towards Sister Clodagh is why I love movies.

Who are your favorite leading men, past and present?

Cary Grant, Jeff Bridges, Michael B. Jordan, Toshiro Mifune. For starters, and I think I have to give a nod to favorite character actors like Lance Henriksen and Keith David who always make me smile when I see them pop up in something.

Who are your favorite leading ladies, past and present?

Barbara Stanwyck, Pam Grier, Eva Green, Jessica Chastain, Jane Russell. And again, let’s hear it for character actresses like Margo Martindale and CCH Pounder.

Who's your favorite modern filmmaker?

Wong Kar-wai, who I wished worked more. And Ava DuVernay, whose versatility and remarkable C.V. should already have her viewed as one of the premiere American auteur directors. And my ambivalence over auteur theory is summed up in that not being so. 

Who's your least favorite modern filmmaker?

Tom Hooper. It takes a special gift to make a show as huge and melodramatic as “Les Miserables” feel like a cramped cabaret show performed on a dinner table. And his continued encouragement of Eddie Redmayne shouldn’t be overlooked either.

What film do you love that most people seem to hate?

"Interstellar." I wasn’t a big Nolan fan so I was my surprised by how much I loved this. It’s awkward, it’s Nolan trying this “emotions” thing, and so it’s human. It’s a sad, gentle end of the world story that still believes in our ability to save ourselves. It was a very necessary story for me to see in late 2014 when everything started falling apart in earnest both nationally and personally. 

What film do you hate that most people love?

The Matrix.” I think it’s an empty knock off of “Dark City” with a lot of “Blade” thrown in. And I’m still pissy about how it ruined action movies for the next decade or so because everybody had to do bullet time effects.

Tell me about a moviegoing experience you will never forget—not just because of the movie, but because of the circumstances in which you saw it.

At the aforementioned “B-fest,” the closing film one year was the delightfully silly "MegaForce." A friend from London had made the trek there, I finally got to me him in person. And two more friends, from Maine and Canada respectively, were there too. We’d spent lots of weekends watching movies together on Skype but this was the first, and would be only, time we were actually all together in the same room. It was so great. Laughing at the movie’s effects and getting sick on candy, it felt like an alternate timeline where we had grown up in the same neighborhood and would go the local theater every week to see the latest movie.

What aspect of modern theatrical moviegoing do you like least?

I’ve been lucky with not having too many people on their phone ruining it experiences. I’m more irritated by having to sit through ads before the lights go down. Then having to sit through more ads before the trailers start.

What aspect of moviegoing during your childhood do you miss the most?

The ticket prices, and the sense of it being an event, a treat. Of trailers that made you want to see the movie instead of rolling your eyes right out of your head.

Have you ever damaged a friendship, or thought twice about a relationship, because you disagreed about whether a movie was good or bad?

Not really. It helps that I have woefully pedestrian taste in a lot ways, keeps me from getting to cocky about what other people like.

What movies have you dreamed about?

All the movies female directors could not get off the ground.

What concession stand item can you not live without?

Icee. Blue raspberry flavor.

Jessica Ritchey

Jessica Ritchey is a writer based in the orbit between Washington D.C. and Baltimore. She credits a VHS copy of "Singin’ in the Rain" as her introduction to a love of movies.

Latest blog posts

Latest reviews

Deadpool & Wolverine
The Way We Speak
Find Me Falling


comments powered by Disqus