Political movie preaches to the right-wing choir
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
This is Movie Man No. 1,000 (the big hoohah was last week).
So it’s fitting that the milestone comes during a genre that the Movie Man has seldom visited the last couple of decades, the documentary.
About the filmThere’s reason documentaries don’t make much money in theaters; you can usually see whatever is being covered – war, poverty, concert films, injustices, ballroom dancing – any night on a PBS station.
And true devotees of docs can find them on Netflix or, like so many indie movies these days, POD (pay on demand).
2016: Obama’s America has garnered more than the usual amount of publicity. Aside from being released so close to the election, the doc has gotten a gigantic push from conservative talk show hosts.
That urging from the right to have listeners support the movie has moved 2016: OA into an eventual fourth place on the all-time money-making doc list.
The recordholder did something no one thought possible: break the $100 million barrier. That was Michael Moore’s 2004 Farhenheit 9/11 that, after opening at a stunning $23.9 million in just 868 theaters, went on to rake in $119.2 million. Second is March of the Penguins (2005, Movie Man No. 625, a 7) at $77.4 million, followed by Justin Bieber: Never Say Never ($73.0 million; its $29.5 million opening is a record).
Currently, a pair of Disney Earth Day releases are barely ahead of 2016: OA – 2009’s Earth (MM #822, 7, $32 million) and 2012’s Chimpanzee ($29 million). However, at $28 million entering the week, 2016: OA will easily reel them in.
So, that’s saying something. While Hollywood is renowned for its traditionally liberal stance, it’s rare when a movie can make waves in the opposite direction.
Of course, this sort of movie, so succinctly dated, has a startlingly short shelf life. Even if the president does get re-elected, the movie will probably look pretty hilarious in 25 years, much like we chuckle today at the “amazing abilities of computers” in Hackers (MM #95, 3) from 1995.
The plot (well, it’s a doc...)
Dinesh D’Souza says he has much in common with our current president, Obama. Both were born the same year, married the same year, have distinct immigrant ties. D’Souza, a conservative of course, believes he has our leader pegged, that he is fueled by “anti-colonialism” and “dreams” from a father he barely knew.
After detailing their similarities, D’Souza begins drawing lines – sometimes literally onscreen – to illustrate that radicals are Obama’s “founding fathers” and that the president, if granted a second term, will do everything he can to derail the current way of life in America and make us more like everyone else.
For those who espouse “American exceptionalism,” that’s blasphemy. D’Souza carefully spends the last 15 minutes of 2016: OA noting that taxes will explode, the “United States of Muslim” will arise around Israel, and the U.S. world standing as the lone remaining superpower will wilt away when our nuclear capability is reduced even further – perhaps to zero if Obama has his way. It will all depend on your vote! the director intones at the end.
Kudos to the doc for not dumbing things down. It’s more scholarly than the Movie Man expected.
And graphics are used effectively.
Like any argument, facts are presented and sometimes ballooned while others are shrugged aside, but D’Souza shows how difficult it was to get Obama’s half-brother to take the bait D’Souza dangled multiple times.
Special kudos to D’Souza for not visiting the “birther” argument. He dispenses that sub-anti-Obama trend in about eight seconds, quickly noting that two newspapers in Hawaii contained announcements about his birth.
What doesn’t work
Documentaries aren’t long for a reason – with the exception of Ken Burns’ marathon public television films, most docs struggle to reach the “real movie” 90 minute mark. 2016: OA nearly makes it at 86 minutes, but even then it’s loaded with filler: wobbling camera shots of tenements and vistas, lingering zooms on still photos, talking head segments.
Most grievious is how much time D’Souza spends on himself. Much of 2016: OA seems to be a documentary on the director, not his subject. Then there’s some time spent on why Obama has done the things he has done – that weak anticolonialism bit again (which D’Souza just doesn’t convincingly sell).
Finally, the last few minutes are jammed with what the title of the movie was supposed to address: the future under Obama. The director could have used much more evidence for his argument.
There’s one vulgarity here, from a now-famous speech by Rev. Jeremy Wright beseeching God to condemn America. Otherwise, it’s typical doc stuff – charts, interviews, visits to childhood homes, shots of colleges and professors, etc.
It’s highly unlikely that 2016: OA is going to change anyone’s mind.