My brief and negative review of The Rum Diary led to a conversation with an acolyte who asked if it was really all that bad. I told him I thought so, but allowed that perhaps he should see it for himself and form his own opinion.
That got me thinking. Why should he or anyone else care if Walt Whiteman gives a movie zero stars, out of a possible five (and a huge moon)? Why did I use a rating "system" at all? Answer: because everyone else does. Critics of the arts -- literature, music, movies, whatever -- have become so lazy that they give someone's oeuvre a star rating, print it at the top of the piece, and then write a short and snide justification. And consumers of the arts have become so lazy that the rating at the top is about all they read.
Art, like life, is more complex than that. Maybe with something like a hotel you can develop a set of criteria, a checklist you can use to assign a star rating. (Did you know that five-star hotels must, among other things, have the toilet paper pointed every time the bathroom is cleaned?) However, using such a checklist is possible only when you're checking tangible things that you can see, touch, taste, smell and so on. So you could rate a restaurant's food and perhaps its décor, but how about ambience? Tough one.
Maybe critics shouldn't try to apply a star or any other rating system to works of art. Whether something is "good" or not has to be highly subjective. Getting back to The Rum Diary, how can one evaluate Johnny Depp's performance without having a yardstick of some kind with which to measure?
I happen to be a big fan of Johnny Depp. I thought his best performance was as the title character in Ed Wood. [Five stars!!! Ed.] Yet when I say he was terrible as the "hero" of The Rum Diary, I am merely comparing my opinion of his performance in that movie with his performance in the previous movie. Someone else might think he stank in both of them. Or that he was great in both of them. Someone else is entitled to his opinion, even if he's wrong!
Maybe all one can say about a piece of art is that it's there: on the wall, on the screen, coming out of the speakers or whatever. It attracted my attention. I looked at it. I felt something or perhaps I felt nothing. So what. Don't let me or anyone else tell you how you should feel about something. Check it out for yourself. Whether you're delighted or revolted, at least you've had the experience.
Note from Ed.: No, my last name is not Wood.