It’s a “surreal experience” to have a movie with sky-high fan scores, yet a 0% fresh score on review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes, says Andrew Marcus, the director of the documentary Hating Breitbart – about the late right-wing lightning rod Andrew Breitbart. With no critic giving the film a positive review, but a 96% positive user-reviewed experience, Marcus has found himself with the dubious honor of possibly having the biggest discrepancy between user and critical reviews in the site’s history.
Marcus wanted to make a film about Breitbart when he was on the ground covering the Tea Party protests that were cropping up in 2009. “I noticed a disconnect between what was being proclaimed in the media [about the Tea Party] and what I was witnessing on the ground,” Marcus explained to EW. Watching Breitbart make two speeches, Marcus came to realize that Breitbart was fighting the same battles as the Tea Party was. “By telling Andrew’s story we realized we could tell this larger story. He really personified the fight.”
That fight – about perceived media prejudices and validation for the Tea Party movement– is exactly the kind of topic that seems destined to be polarizing, so it wasn’t a huge surprise to Marcus when the reviews came in. ”I think there’s a lot of factors that go into [the difference between critical and user reviews]. People who seek out documentary are passionate to begin with,” Marcus said. “We’ve certainly been making people aware that there are places they can go where they can go and rate the film. So I think people who are enthusiastic enough to have found the film, to have found us on Twitter or Facebook, they’re likely to rate the film. That makes them passionate. That explains why they have a high rating. I think equal forces are at play that inspire a low rating on the critic side.” Marcus also discussed possible politically motivated critical bias in which critics took their anger about Breitbart out on the film.
But Marcus may not even have to worry about his current dubious honor for long, according to Matt Atchity, editor-in-chief of RottenTomatoes.com. Atchity points out that “biggest range ever” label that some sites are ascribing to the film doesn’t tell the whole story – it mostly is a result of the super-small amount of both critical and fan reviews. The film currently has eight critical reviews and 629 user reviews. (For comparison, The Internship has 113 critical reviews and 31,000 user reviews.) “The smaller pool you have the bigger variations you have, especially between users and critics,” Atchity told EW, explaining that the numbers quickly come closer together once more critics and fans alike see the film. “The other issue is that the user number tends to be a self-selecting pool. …The Hating Breitbart documentary has really only been made available to people that decide to order it from the website. You’ve got to really work to see it, which kind of implies that you’ve got to want to see it.”
Atchity points out that better, larger examples of sustained discrepancies between fans and critics include The Boondock Saints (20% positive critical reviews; 93% positive user reviews), or – in the opposite direction for a while – Drive. “Boondock Saints, it’s kind of the same issue as what’s happening with Hating Breitbart. You’ve got a movie that critics don’t care for but that has a very passionate audience. Years after that movie appeared at Sundance people are still talking about Boondock Saints like it’s the best movie ever made.”
Does this mean fifteen years from now there will be midnight Hating Breitbart screenings? Stranger things have happened.