“Lady Bird” lost its perfect Rotten Tomatoes score because one critic gamed the system

Come on.
Come on.
Image: A24
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One bad apple really can spoil the bunch.

Lady Bird‘s perfect run on Rotten Tomatoes is through. Greta Gerwig’s coming-of-age tale had surpassed Toy Story 2‘s standing on the site this year as the movie with the most consecutive Fresh reviews and zero Rotten reviews against it. Then film critic Cole Smithey stepped in.

The reviewer, who calls himself “the smartest firm critic in the world” on his site, gave Lady Bird its first Rotten review this week.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. And, as a film critic, that’s Smithey’s job. He took contrarian reviews against popular and acclaimed movies like Dunkirk and Logan on Rotten Tomatoes, as well. But this was a little different.

It wasn’t that Smithey didn’t like Lady Bird—he gave the film a B- on Rotten Tomatoes, which isn’t a bad grade. He marked other movies he gave that score to, like The Anderson Tapes (1971), Beverly Hills Cop (1981), and Ghostbusters (2016), as Fresh, and not Rotten, based on his Rotten Tomatoes profile.

Smithey didn’t think Lady Bird deserved the perfect score it had received, which ranked it among the greatest films of all time on the site.

Therein lies one of the flaws of Rotten Tomatoes’s Tomatometer. Unlike review-aggregators like Metacritic that weigh reviews based on how respected the critic is when factoring them into the overall number, Rotten Tomatoes’s percentage score simply shows the overall share of critics who submitted positive reviews. So when Smithey marked his rather neutral review as Rotten, that was the end of Lady Bird‘s perfect run. (The film still has 100% based on reviews from top critics on the site.)

Smithey did downgrade Lady Bird to a C+ on his own site. His review is mixed:

Although dramatically flat, Greta Gerwig’s coming-of-age directorial debut covers its Mumblecore tracks with jabs of humor and a breeze of earthy authenticity…

But to be clear, Lady Bird is far from a perfect film, it’s just not the mumblecore disaster you’d expect from Greta Gerwig—one of the mumblecore movement’s prime progenitors. There are dozens of coming-of-age films that far outweigh this lightweight contender.

The Tomatometer score doesn’t account for this kind of nuance in criticism. Another Rotten Tomatoes metric that would’ve accounted for Smithey’s point about the perfect score, and perhaps persuaded him to mark the movie as Fresh, is the one based on reviewers that scored the movie on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the highest. That’s not the one that’s prominently displayed next to titles on the site though, or other places like iTunes and Fandango.

Lady Bird has a 8.8/10 from all critics who used that metric, which shows that while people liked the movie overall, it wasn’t perfect, as Smithey said.