Instagram recently changed its algorithm to spotlight “top comments” (i.e. comments that receive the most likes and/or responses) on posts, which I was initially annoyed about because I’m old-fashioned and just like things to be chronological! I changed my tune, however, when it drew my attention to an altercation underneath one of Busy Philipps’ Instagrams about I Feel Pretty, the recently-released film written by Busy’s husband Marc Silverstein that co-stars Busy herself.
A commenter pointed out that I Feel Pretty has a 34 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, to which Busy replied:
“I mean. Marc and Abby [Kohn] wrote never been kissed which was critically panned at the time and universally loved to this day almost 20 years later. most of the time, critics are fucking assholes to romcoms, 27 dresses has a 47 [percent], 10 ways to lose a guy [sic] has 42, he’s just not that into you [has] 40 [and] sweet home Alabama 38! Who cares about what a bunch of MOSTLY MEN think?? This movie is great and people who have seen it love it.”
As of now, Busy’s response has 5,208 likes. Clearly, it resonated with people. Though I’ve read and agree with certain critiques of I Feel Pretty, it resonated with me, too. I use Rotten Tomatoes all the time to determine whether or not I should devote two-and-a-half hours to a particular movie, but I’d never stopped to consider the irony that many of my favorite films have abysmal scores: The Family Stone has a 51%. How Stella Got Her Groove Back has a 49%. No Strings Attached has a 48%. The Holiday has a 47%. The Proposal has a 44%. Maid in Manhattan has a 38%. Coyote Ugly has a 22%. The Wedding Date has a 10%. I could go on.
As I catalogued the critical maligning of movies that have consistently entertained, comforted and delighted me at various points of my life, I became increasingly perplexed. I dispatched a series of slacks to my fellow Man Repeller team members to find out if their favorite romantic comedies were treated similarly, and if so, how they felt about it.
First, I asked Amelia:
Me: What’s your favorite romantic comedy?
Amelia: Great question, almost impossible to answer given I have a million different favorites because, in the way Mindy Lahiri considers best friendship a tier, I consider “Favorite Rom Com” a tier. But my immediate answer (because I was just thinking about this movie yesterday) is Failure to Launch.
Me: How do you feel about the fact that Failure to Launch has a rotten tomato score of 24%??????
Amelia: Well, what’s a good Rotten Tomato Score? Obviously 100% but I bet no one gets a 100%, so what’s considered good?
Me: Allow me to present you with this screen grab I took from Wikipedia, which indicates that any movie with a score of less than 60% on Rotten Tomatoes is considered “rotten”:
Amelia: I feel incensed about that score then. But not surprised given it’s about a woman who baits men into moving out of their parents’ homes by essentially tricking them into thinking she’s in love with them, somehow getting them to fall in love with her (paraphrasing but she says something like: “It’s easy to make someone fall in love with you — all you have to do is pretend to like the same things and laugh at their jokes”), and then breaking up with them (kindly and amicably of course). But WHATEVER. It’s such a sweet movie!!! And I love the nautical setting. I always forget where it was filmed but whenever I rewatch it I Google “where is Failure to Launch filmed?” (Oxford and Annapolis in Maryland; New Castle, Delaware.; Cape Henlopen State Park, Lewes, Delaware; Leesburg, Alabama; and New Orleans, Louisiana, in case you were wondering.) Also, so many good people are in it! Kathy Bates and Terry Bradshaw are Matthew McConaughey’s parents and there’s a random subplot where Sarah Jessica Parker’s roommate who is played by Zooey Deschanel tries to literally kill a mockingbird.
Then, I asked Haley:
Me: What’s your favorite romantic comedy?
Haley: Pure Luck! With Martin Short
Me: How do you feel about the fact that Pure Luck has a record low of 9% on Rotten Tomatoes? [Ed note: I have no evidence that 9% is a “record low,” but it seemed plausible and I was trying to make a point.]
Haley: GET THE FUCK OUT. Rotten Tomatoes is trash. Pure Luck is a perfect movie. It stars Martin Short and Danny Glover!!!!! I used to rent that movie over and over when I was young. I don’t know if it’s ever been released on DVD…and I only say that because the best Christmas gift I’ve ever gotten was when my brother found a way to burn the VHS tape onto a DVD for me and house it in a custom “pure luck” box to make it look like the real thing. The premise of the movie is incredible. Don’t even know if I should spoil it…
Then, I asked Crystal:
Me: What’s your favorite romantic comedy?
Crystal: Hi! That’s like picking a favorite kid. But probably Love, Actually.
Me: How do you feel about the fact that Love, Actually has a 63% score on Rotten Tomatoes?
Crystal: It’s a travesty and I’ll hear nothing of it. It’s a lovely film — both realistic and implausible at the same time. You can get lost in the absurdity of it all AND connect with some part of one of the intertwining stories.
Last but not least, I posed the question to Matt Little, who asked why I was asking.
When I told him, he said he has “very mixed and complicated feelings about Rotten Tomatoes,” which made my ears prick up like a chipmunk on Christmas morning. He sent me the link to an article published on Wired entitled, “You Should Ignore the Film Ratings on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes,” which actually confirms Busy’s assertion that “mostly men” are writing the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes: “Rotten Tomatoes ranks selected critics’ reviews, and tweaks the rankings to favour films with a large number of positive reviews, [and most] of Rotten Tomatoes’ selected critics are men.” The article also cites a 2015 incident in which Meryl Streep attacked Rotten Tomatoes for featuring more male critics (at the time, there were 168 female critics on the site’s approved list, compared to 760 men).
An article published on Salon calls this phenomenon the “Tomatometer gender gap.” Salon conducted its own survey of 100 films on Rotten Tomatoes that were “made and marketed with a female audience in mind” (i.e. movies that center around women’s experiences) and found that they received 8.4 percent fewer favorable reviews from men on average. “When women are not seen and heard, our experiences are missed,” Melissa Silverstein, the founder and publisher of Women and Hollywood, said in response to the survey results. “When we think of criticism we always want to think about it in a binary way—that everyone will agree if a movie is bad and the vice versa. But that’s just not true. We all bring our baggage and our experiences to every movie we see.”
Her assertion that we tend to think of criticism as binary struck me as true, at least for me personally, in the sense that I’ve often glanced at the Rotten Tomatoes score for a movie for objective and therefore neutral assistance vis-à-vis whether or not I should watch it, without considering the fact that the score is based on subjective and therefore biased reviews.
The argument could be made that “chick flicks” (to use the pejorative term for movies geared toward or starring women) aren’t necessarily groundbreaking cinema, hence the subpar reviews, but then again, the same one could be made for “action flicks” like Deadpool, which has an 83 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes, or Guardians of the Galaxy, which clocks in at 91 percent. Hmm. Even if the latter films resort to just as many cheesy plot tropes and problematic stereotypes as many beloved chick flicks do, their ratings seem to skew favorable.
According to statistics published on Women and Hollywood, women account for 50% of moviegoers, and yet, on the top grossing films in 2017, only 24% of protagonists were women, only 8% of directors were women and only 10% of writers were women. It isn’t new information that most of the levers in Hollywood are still being pulled by men, but it’s worth considering that not all those levers are obvious ones. Sometimes they are as subtle as a single critique, which might sway a single view like me to spend money on a movie or skip it.
At any rate, Busy has me convinced a whole bunch of romcoms deserve a recount. What do you think? (And by “what do you think,” what I really mean is please tell me your favorite romantic comedy and expound on the justice of its critical reception in the comments.)
Feature photo via Social News.