Friday, November 16, 2012

Political Actors

Janeane from Des Moines is an unusually and cutting new movie that essentially pulls a Borat on the GOP contenders for President in run-up to the 2012 Iowa Caucuses.  It opens with a clip from ABC News where Diane Sawyer introduces footage of a desperate and emotional Iowa housewife named Janeane Wilson begging candidate Mitt Romney to "save small families" because they are falling apart.  The rest of the movie tells the story leading up to this moment, as we watch Janeane, a religious conservative Republican simultaneously going to candidate events to decide how to cast her vote and trying to keep her personal life from falling to pieces.

The secret is that Janeane Wilson is actually Jane Edith Wilson, a highly-talented Los Angeles-based actress who grew up in Ames, Iowa, and who fearlessly plays this character and takes her straight into the belly of America's political beast, sitting down in a diner with Rep. Michelle Bachmann and Rep. Steve King, questioning Gov. Rick Perry's wife on her way to the campaign bus, lobbing questions to Rick Santorum, Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich on the campaign trail.  Off the trail, "Janeane" faces her husband's layoff and their subsequent loss of health insurance, her alienation from her grown children, the potential loss of her house and a serious threat to her own health.

All of this done with a straight face, no winks, the only clues to the deception being the end credits which lists both actors/roles and politicians playing "Himself" or "Herself."  Knowing that the politicians have been duped by Janeane creates an initial feeling that the enterprise might be unfair.  It's a grueling road through Iowa, pressing the flesh and trying to master retail politics.  But as Director Grace Lee had said, the politicians are themselves all acting.  When Bachmann attempts to pander to Janeane by blaming President Obama for the rise in tax prices we see that moment when Bachmann looks to King for affirmation of her contention, not sure if she should run with the lie or not.  She does.

The main question Janeane ends up asking all the candidates regards healthcare, and the GOP candidates give her nothing to go on, just platitudes about health savings accounts (not a solution for the laid-off) and lowering costs (which Obamacare attempts to address).  What Janeane learns is that Planned Parenthood, which she's disparaged as a death-factory, is her provider of last resort, and the Obamacare the candidates want to kill is actually the solution.  This may be the first feature film where Obamacare is kinda the hero.

As a friend of Grace Lee and family, I may be biased in favor of her sensibility by familiarity, but from what I hope is an objective filmmaking point-of-view, I think she's created something new.  It's a combination of documentary, mockumentary, drama and agitprop, all executed with technical skill and beauty.  When seen in the context of Lee's previous features, both The Grace Lee Project, a very funny documentary investigating the proliferation of Asian-American women sharing her name, and American Zombie, a metaphoric mockumentary standing up for zombie rights, Janeane for Des Moines is essentially an essay on "What's the Matter with Kansas?"  Why do conservative Middle Americans vote against their own economic self-interest and well-being?

While the passing of the recent election is probably not doing a ton of favors for Janeane's shelf-life, and already the 2012 GOP candidates feel like characters trapped in a time capsule as the media discusses potential 2016 candidates like Rubio, Christie and the younger Paul, conservative Middle America hasn't suddenly vanished with the reelection of their Antichrist, President Barack Obama.  This movie will remain relevant and cautionary.

Unless or until, of course, the Affordable Care Act becomes a part of everyday life and the benefits are felt by all.

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