Grassroots

Fri, Nov 9, 2012, 00:00

Directed by Stephen Gyllenhaal. Starring Jason Biggs, Joel David Moore, Lauren Ambrose, Cobie Smulders, Tom Arnold 15A cert, limited release, 98 min

COULD THERE BE a more bizarre time to release a film about US politics? With the presidential election just ended, this is rather like erecting your Christmas tree on Twelfth Night.

Anyway, this neat, loose-limbed comedy provides a gentle comedown from the past months. Liberally inclined but awake to the left’s pretensions, Grassroots offers strong (though politely delivered) arguments for decency in politics. There are worse causes.

Jason Biggs plays Phil, a recently fired journalist who swings into politics when his slacker buddy Grant (Joel David Moore) runs for Seattle’s city council. Grant’s main policy, which will appeal to fans of a Simpsons episode, is to turn the city’s tourist monorail into a mass transport system. Phil isn’t entirely convinced, but he has nothing better to do. Before too long, he’s despairing at his own candidate’s lack of nuance.

Though (as the title makes clear) Grassroots is concerned with how ordinary folk can engage with the political system, the picture does occasionally play like a funkier, more thoughtful version of the recent comedy The Campaign.

Experienced director Stephen Gyllenhaal does allow us some broad comic set pieces, such as Phil’s despair when, just as the campaign is surging, a rally gets double-booked with a heavy metal concert. But the film spends most of its time teasing out worrying aberrations in the democratic process. Grant’s opponent is not a monster but an articulate African-American who, we deduce, has had to contend with a fair degree of prejudice. In one telling exchange, Phil’s girlfriend asks him to ponder the motivations of all these citizens turning out to vote against a black candidate.

The film is, unfortunately, a tad insubstantial in the narrative department. Based on a real incident, Grassroots feels like more of a competently executed sketch than a work of any great importance. It is, however, pleasant to see mature film-makers attempting a balanced analysis of US politics. There’s been too much yelling recently.