56th BFI London Film Festival: ‘Grassroots’
By Matthew Rodgers On October 17, 2012 @ 4:31 pm In Movies & TV | No Comments
Contextually, a movie about politics couldn’t have been timed better, and one providing a voice to the disenfranchised youth could have been a contemporary zeitgeist ofSocial Network proportions. Unfortunately Grassroots is the movie equivalent of Sarah Palin; initially intriguing, fundamentally flawed, and in Joel David Moore’s central performance, one of the most armchair thumpingly annoying characters projected upon a white wall in a long, long time. Remind yourself whilst watching it that we’re meant to believe that people would vote for him. Never mind “Four more years!” at times this is barely tolerable for four more minutes.
The importance of grassroots politics isn’t up for debate here, this is being judged as a movie, as a piece of entertainment, and the only person who lives up to that is Cedric, and his surname is “The Entertainer”, so that was a given.
Beginning quite promisingly, we meet Phil Campbell (Jason Biggs), who has just been fired from his entry-level journalism job and is stuck in the proverbial rut, symptomatic of a generation struggling against the tide of the economic downturn. He lives with his girlfriend, Emily (Lauren Ambrose), in a flat-share with a couple of students. Hardly the American dream, is it?
Fast turning into a couch-surfer, he finds a little motivation by agreeing to become the campaign runner when his best friend, Grant (Joel David Moore) decides to run for a seat on the city council. Their modus operandi is to expand the city’s limited monorail reach in order to oppose the plans of current city Mayor, Richard McIver (Cedric the aforementioned Entertainer), who is implementing an idea to build a heavy duty transport system to suit the “fat cats”.
All good political battles live and die by the quality of the candidates, and the bill for Grassroots struggle to get their points across. The most interesting angle is that of Biggs, given more than a soapbox to stand-on, he is at least afforded a little background with his relationship strife, although his treatment of Cobie Smulders criminally underused monorail campaigner means that his likeability factor is at the lower end of the scale. It’s a barely formed love triangle that also wastes Lauren Ambrose, so underdeveloped that her character motivations do little beyond painting her as the “bad guy”.
None of their shortcomings compare to those of Joel David Moore’s excruciating turn. Dialled up to eleven and given no dimension beyond the fact he’s a music critic, his would-be politician is a self-righteous, rude, arrogant little upstart -- that although highlighted in the plot, still doesn’t have enough of an arc to believe that anyone could be empathic towards him or his cause.
Based “loosely” on true events in the wonderfully framed Seattle (Gyllenhaal has at least painted an authentic look at the city) , Grassroots feels like a gross-out comedy but without the gross or the comedy. Yes 10% No 89% Not Sure 1%.
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