The advocates of ROMA might be a little counterproductive right now. Alfonso Cuaron’s masterful autobiographical movie is a wonder to behold, and those who have beheld it are those who have likely seen it in a theater on the festival circuit. This has led to the conventional wisdom that the “best” way to see ROMA is on the biggest screen possible with the best possible sound. Only a theatrical experience will do for this beautifully shot masterwork of cinema.
The problem is that most people will never get to see ROMA in a theater. The film is getting an extremely limited theatrical release on Wednesday. It will be on a few hundred screens in major cities. So if you live in one of those cities, you should go see it in a theater because theatrical viewing is important. But if you can’t make it out or if you don’t live near a theater that’s playing ROMA, you’re going to be okay seeing it on Netflix when it arrives in December.
I saw ROMA at TIFF and yes, it’s gorgeously shot and the sound design is incredible. But the most important part of ROMA is being able to lose yourself in it. It’s a slow, methodical movie about time and place. Cuaron is trying to put you inside his memories, and if there’s an argument to be made about the theatrical experience, it’s not about the size of the screen or the volume of the speakers. It’s about being in a dark room with no distractions and giving yourself over to the movie.
The good news is that you can do that at home. If you have a nice size TV (I assume if you’re reading this your primary television isn’t a 17-inch CRT monitor) and even a modest surround system, you’re going to be fine. The surround is probably where some folks are going to run into an issue since you’ll need a receiver as well as the speakers, and that can run you into about the $300 range for a 5.1 system. But even without surround, you’ll still be able to get lost in ROMA—assuming you do the work first.
The key to watching ROMA is to tune out all distractions. Put your phone on silent and then put it in another room for two hours and fifteen minutes. Make your viewing space as dark as possible. Go to the bathroom before you start the movie. Basically, treat your viewing space as if it were a theater and that’s the best way to view the movie. The success of ROMA doesn’t come from going to a theater; it comes from giving the film your undivided attention.
It’s great to advocate for the theatrical experience, but not at the line where people should see ROMA in a theater or not at all. ROMA is absolutely worth your time. Just don’t treat it like your average Netflix background material.
ROMA hits Netflix on December 14th.