Politics, be it the people involved or the topics which they draw their focus on, are tough to handle in any way outside of the realm of patronizing and polarizing bits of propaganda either for or against, when brought to the big screen. Be it the politically charged and one-sided fair from the likes of Michael Moore, or the brash (yet insanely entertaining) work of Alex Gibney, politics is a tough topic to tackle through a fair lens.
However, that’s seemingly what directors Nick Broomfield and Joan Churchill attempted to do with their last film, Sarah Palin – You Betcha! With the impossible-to-avoid preset notions of the former Republican wunderkind-turned-pundit-turned-joke-punchline, Broomfield and his co-director set out to craft a portrait of where this woman came from, with as much depth as they could.
That said, it’s ultimately as uninteresting to watch on the big screen as its subject matter is when she pops her face up on the small one.
Simply put, You Betcha tries its hardest to let its viewer know exactly where this iconoclastic woman was born and raised, and also how it fueled, and to this day fuels, her insistent strive for power. Featuring brief interviews with family, friends, colleagues, campaign managers, and even a few choice appearances made by the woman herself (albeit caught slyly at book signings and rallies), the film does give the viewer a somewhat engaging look into the life and world of Sarah Palin, but for those who know anything about the hockey-mom, there won’t be too much to delve into.
Before jumping into this review, I feel as though it’s important to get biases on the table. I don’t like this woman. I don’t agree with her political stance, as faulty and wavering as they appear to be. Abusing power is her calling card, and it’s one that has been used again and again throughout her career. However, she’s also enigmatic and beloved by the millions and millions of drones and “flying monkeys” that she has fired up within the Republican base, and subsequently the Tea Party. Therefore, while I may not have agreed with the woman, it goes without saying that her time in the mainstream media’s spotlight is massively important, thus giving this film an inherent importance of its own. That said, and with my often called extreme leftist political stance aside, I can safely let you know that while it may be “important”, the film lacks any and all pertinence.
The film’s major flaw is that, for a woman so driven by her bloated self-image and belief that everyone is out to taken that image and thus burn it to the ground, it paints a middling portrait when tossed on the big screen. Neither revelatory nor pertinent, the film simply lays there on screen. There are a few brief glimpses of something special, particularly in the ideas that Broomfield, a storied documentarian with credits like Biggie And Tupac (one of the best music documentaries around) to his name, attempts to bring in. However, its these glimpses that aren’t followed through on.
Best example. One of the most interesting possibilities the film offers comes in an interview with one of Palin’s former school mates. After a cavalcade of brief chats with people saying that Palin had been the selfish paranoid brute that she became known for since day one, one would imagine that a chat with a woman from her same class in school would have been captivating. However, it comes off as simple, and ultimately, makes Broomfield out to be a filmmaker who can’t quite get this material right. The entire film lacks that sting that one would expect from a film like this, or the well studied questions that someone like Craig Ferguson (Inside Job) would have been able to mine from this material, making this simply a film that doesn’t confirm or deny one’s stance on the icon.
Equally poor on the audio/visual side of things, You Betcha may be a bigger disappointment craft wise than actually qualitative. With a melodramatic score giving you every intention of what Broomfield is attempting to do with this picture, the director appears to be giving this woman a fair look, but with the score, the filmmaking, and particularly the film’s final coda, this is nothing more than a poorly made, ultimately uninteresting hit job on a woman that, despite the fact that frankly I deserve she herself deserves it, comes from such an interesting and paranoid universe that we ourselves deserve a better film.
Overall, for those who don’t know much about the woman, this will be a wonderful picture. Yes, it’s about as anti-Palin as it comes, but it’s also uninteresting in its execution. Broomfield adds a bit of charm to the film through his antics, and if you agree with the stance he takes, you’ll find lots to enjoy. As a piece of cinema, one is left with a lot to be desired after watching this film. However, if you are privy to the left side of the political spectrum, one could do worse than sitting in front of this sucker for 100 minutes. I know it sure made my day, which is more than I can say for quite a few of the political documentaries we’ve seen over the past few months.