Is Ebert Unfair To Certain Movies? You Make The Call!

Reading another Ebert thread on this board, I was reminded of something that always kinda bothered me about his reviews. Specifically, it was a comparison between his reviews for Dirty Dancing and Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo . What do you think is the main difference between these movies? Well, Ebert gave Dancing a single star while Breakin’ received three. OK.

From Ebert’s *Breakin’ * review:

Here is a movie that wants nothing more than to allow some high-spirited kids to sing and dance their way through a silly plot just long enough to make us grin.

From his review of Dancing :

The actors playing the staff in this movie are such good dancers, and their dancing is so overchoreographed, that there’s no question these are just ordinary kids who can dance pretty well. Nope. It’s pretty clear they’re in a movie.

Hmmm. He calls the plot of *Breakin’ * “silly.” Here’s what he says:

The plot is so familiar that if you’re a fan of Mickey Rooney musicals or even the Beach Party movies, you may start rubbing your eyes. But the movie is a lot of fun.


With just a few minor modifications, this story could be about Mickey and Judy, or Frankie and Annette. But what does it matter, when the whole point of the enterprise is to provide an excuse for song and dance?

Here’s what he thinks about the plot for Dirty Dancing :

The title and the ads seem to promise a guided tour into the anarchic practices of untrammeled teenage lust, but the movie turns out to be a tired and relentlessly predictable story of love between kids from different backgrounds.


Can you figure out the rest of the plot? What’s your best guess? Does Grey turn out to be a great dancer? Does Swayze fall in love with her? Do they dance together in front of everybody, while her father fumes and her mother keeps a cool head, and then does Orbach finally realize his mistake and accept the kid as his daughter’s boyfriend? Are there stars in the sky?

Well, maybe I’m reading way too much into this but how come one movie about dancers with a goofy plot is a three-star movie while another movie about dancers with a goofy plot is a one-star movie? This has always bothered me.

Any thoughts?

Roger Ebert is giving his personal opinion. He enjoys some movies and is annoyed by others. I don’t think the term “unfair” applies. It’s not as if he is in some official position as a Movie Judge.

Any time I disagree with Roger Ebert (which happens often), I remind myself that he will never be able to live down the embarrassment of being the author of “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.”

Ebert is willing to give a good review to a fairly dumb movie if it executes its formula with a little style, but doesn’t act like it’s anything better than a dumb movie. I think he’s docking Dirty Dancing for acting all serious and special about itself.

Yep, that is what it seems to me. He doesn’t mind the bad movie that realizes it is one and isn’t taking itself serious at all. However the bad movie that takes itself seriously… well…

This was the key difference between him and his late partner Gene Siskel. Siskel had a set of rules he felt any and all films had to adhere to and when they didn’t, down went the thumb. This was usually the reason for some of their biggest disagreements.

I can’t understand why he hated Harold and Maude so much. I mean, it may not be everyone’s cuppa, but he really despised it for some reason; actually seemed to find it offensive. I can understand someone saying from today’s perspective “Oh, it’s just feel-good hippie crap!” but he panned it when it was new, and he didn’t even seem to think it was a decently-made film. :dubious:

He does seem to judge some movies more harshly than others, even within the same type/genre, depending on his mood. The best example I can recall of this was when he gave a glowing review to **The Phantom Menace ** and then dissed Attack of the Clones, citing flaws that were, almost each and every one, also present in the first film (wooden acting, atrocious dialogue, etc). It seemed the difference wasn’t really in the movies themselves; he was just in a more forgiving mood when he saw Episode I.

Of course, to be fair, a *lot * of people were initially in denial about the awfulness of Phantom Menace. But he could have added something to his **Clones ** review to gain some credibility back, like: “Oh, and about Episode I, which I claimed to love in '99: yes, it sucked, too. I see that now. I feel your pain. Sorry.”

Roger Ebert has said many times: Pay no attention to the stars. He doesn’t like the system, but is stuck with it. So comparing the stars of one movie with that of another is useless.

What he has said that if a movie succeeds in its own terms, he gives it more stars than a more ambitious movie that fails, even though, for most people, the more ambitious movie is considered better. But he always warns readers that it’s the review that counts, not the stars.

As far the the review are concerned, any review is just one person’s opinion. However, Ebert is one of the best writers in the business, and make clear exactly why he likes or dislikes a film. You can agree or disagree with his reasoning, but no film critic other than you is always going to match your tastes.