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Turning Red’s ‘cringe’ factor might be its biggest strength

Bruno Cooke March 13, 2022
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Since its Disney+ release on 11 March, Turning Red has been turning heads. Most like it; some don’t. For those airing their thoughts on Pixar’s latest feature on Twitter, or in reviews, Turning Red’s “cringe” factor is one of its most divisive features.

Why so many people find Turning Red cringe-inducing, or simply ‘cringe’

Digit’s Turning Red review uses the word “cringe-inducing”, while others have called it “cringe-worthy”, “cringey” or simply cringe.

Note that, while the verb “to cringe” does mean “to recoil in distaste” – a decidedly negative feeling – it also forms the basis of a legitimate genre of comedy. Cringe comedy derives its humour, writes Time, from social awkwardness and people’s lack of self-awareness.

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Turning Red | Official Trailer

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Turning Red | Official Trailer
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Whether or not something intends to induce cringing is almost impossible to say. As audiences, generally, we want to feel as though we’re reacting in the way we’re supposed to – that the writers are in control.

If something about a movie turns you off, you might find aspects of it cringe-worthy, but that’s different to cringing at cringe comedy, which is designed to induce that sort of reaction.

But the main reason people are cringing while watching Turning Red seems to be as a reaction to caricature-like characters. Or, conversely, because of how relatable its characters are.

Turning Red’s 13-year-olds are ‘cringe’ in a way many people find realistic and relatable

Lots of audience members have reported cringing unbearably while watching Turning Red. But for most, it’s because of how relatable the characters are, rather than because of any weakness in the writing.

Meanwhile, numerous fans have taken to Twitter to defend the movie’s ability to induce cringing. 

One called it “the most teenage relatable movie ever”. Another wrote that those who find it unpleasantly cringe-inducing likely have little experience of talking to girls of that age, while growing up.

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“You’re not allowed to be genuine anymore”, wrote one audience member. “It always has to be behind a wall of irony or cynicism.”

Finally, one user tweeted that Turning Red is an audiovisual manifestation of the phrase, “Do not kill the part of you that is cringe – kill the part of you that cringes” – “and it’s wonderful”.

Reviews

Critics appear to have taken more warmly to Turning Red than audiences. It has a Certified Fresh Tomatometer score of 95%, based on 180 reviews, while its audience score is a relatively low 64%.

However, not all critics loved it. Writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, Richard Roeper described the film as “underwhelming” and “sputtering”. 

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Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

He rounds off his review by noting that, “for all the great intentions” behind what might have been “an organic moment of expression”, Meilin’s proclamation – “My panda, my choice, Mom” – sounds more like a tweet.

Others, such as the BBC’s Nicholas Barber and Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal, gave the film glowing reviews.

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Bruno is a novelist, amateur screenwriter and journalist with interests in digital media, storytelling, film and politics. He’s lived in France, China, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, but returned to the UK for a degree (and because of the pandemic) in 2020. His articles have appeared in Groundviews, Forge Press and The Friday Poem, and most are readable on Medium or onurbicycle.com.