Everyone’s a critic.
Or so the old saying goes.
Indeed, we often hear from our readers, telling us that they disagreed vehemently with what our critics said — remarks along the lines of “How could you people like that [movie, TV show, Broadway show, concert]? We saw the same thing and we hated that [movie, TV show, Broadway show, concert].”
And vice versa.
So we thought it would be an interesting experiment if our four critics — Rafer Guzman (movies), Glenn Gamboa (music), Barbara Schuler (Broadway) and Verne Gay (TV) — could all take a guest (someone who was not a professional critic, but wasn’t shy about expressing their opinions) with a passion for the same type of entertainment to attend an event with them, in effect becoming critics themselves.
After the event, the two would compare notes and see just how much they agreed — or disagreed — on what they had just seen.
Patricia Flynn, a retired schoolteacher and former principal in Syosset, sees more than 40 movies a year and often finds herself disagreeing with Newsday film critic Rafer Guzman. We sent them together to an advance screening of “The Best of Enemies.”
Set in 1971 in Durham, North Carolina, the film tells the true story of a segregated town trying to decide whether to allow local black students, whose school has just burned down, attend an all-white school. An outsider, Bill Riddick (Babou Ceesay), establishes a committee with two opposing co-chairs: Ann Atwater (Taraji P. Henson), an African-American activist, and C.P. Ellis (Sam Rockwell), the president of the local Ku Klux Klan. As the movie’s title suggests, their relationship changes dramatically.
Flynn and Guzman discussed their thoughts after the screening. (In his review, which ran on April 5, our critic gave the movie 2 1/2 stars.) This is an edited version of their conversation.
Guzman: What did you expect going in?
Flynn: The trailer told me almost everything about the movie! I'm like, “OK, so this is one of those feel-good movies where the two races get together and mend some fences.”
Did you enjoy it once it was unfolding?
I gave it a two — like a low two.
Wow, that's low!
There were some things in there that honestly irritated me, that I knew weren't true-to-life. For example, the school. They made it seem like they didn't want the children in the white school, which could be true. But maybe because I'm an educator, I know there's so many state mandates about how many children you can have in a class. . . . But they made it sound like it was done for prejudicial reasons.
I think the film is working from an assumption that most of us would take to be true — that the South, in 1971, was not a friendly or accommodating place to African-Americans. But are you saying that’s not true, or the movie didn’t convince you of that, or do a good job illustrating that?
No, I already knew that. I almost thought that it was repetitive.
You felt it was repetitive — did you feel that in “Green Book"?
It was, but it had a point to it. I identified with the characters more. Underneath, I could see their pain and I understood them. In this case, I saw where they were coming from, but it was very surface. I just didn't feel that the story was worth putting a whole movie out about it.
I was struck by the idea that these two polar opposites really did come together and make these extraordinary trade-offs. The idea that a group of black people in the South would allow a Klansman to display his robe and hood and his marketing materials, just in exchange for them singing a little gospel music at the end of each meeting — I thought that was pretty incredible.
Yes, definitely. I mean, it would have been one thing if he was just a member of the Klan — but he was the leader of the Klan!
The Ann Atwater character, I thought, was a little thinner than the C.P. Ellis character. In “Green Book,” I felt that Mahershala Ali's character was the more interesting of the two. He was much more complicated and conflicted and mysterious. Here, [Atwater] seemed a little one-dimensional.
But now Bill Riddick — I feel like he was the hero! I loved him! There’s a part where the movie portrayed that he wants to give up. Like, “This is going to be tough.” You could see it in him. What a great accomplishment he made.
Right! It was surprising to find out that so many of these moments in the movie were real.
I liked when Ann Atwater said [to a group of African-American men], “Read that KKK material! See where they're coming from, see why they’re acting like this and what our enemy is up to.” That was insightful.
So, your ultimate verdict?
I would give it a two. You know, I'm looking at it as a viewer, somebody who's going to the movies. I don't really know that much about cinematography and all of that. So when I look at a movie, it's like: “Will I enjoy this movie?”
Do you feel like you’re a tough critic?
I almost feel like I’m a softie sometimes. I go see things with friends and they think I’m a Pollyanna. But I kept telling myself: “Be honest about what you really think.”
Hey, that’s all anyone can expect.