Cinema Review: Grassroots

DIR: Stephen Gyllenhaal  WRI: Stephen Gyllenhaal, Justin Rhodes  PRO:
Matt R. Brady, Peggy Case, Michael Huffington, Peggy Rajski, Brent
Steifel  DOP: Sean Porter  ED: Neil Mandelberg  DES: Laurie Hicks  Cast:
Joel David Moore, Jason Biggs, Christopher McDonald, Cedric The
Entertainer, Cobie Smulders, Tom Arnold

Since appearing in raunchy Dane Cook comedy My Best Friend’s Girl in
2009, things have been quiet on the movie front for Jason Biggs. Aside
from his return to the American Pie series (American Reunion), which
helped to launch his career back in 1999, the New Jersey native has
worked primarily on television and short films, including the
short-lived CBS series Mad Love.

However, he is back on the big screen now courtesy of Grassroots,
which is brought to us by respected filmmaker Stephen Gyllenhaal,
father of high-profile acting siblings Jake and Maggie. Like this
week’s People Like Us, Grassroots is also based on actual events, but
Gyllenhaal’s film is much closer to the truth than Alex Kurtzman’s
offering.

It does contain the humorous disclaimer: ‘Most Of This Is True’, but
the protagonists at the heart of the action; Grant Cogswell (Joel
David Moore) and Phil Campbell (Biggs), are a real-life pair who lived
through the events depicted in the film.

Set in Seattle circa 2001, Grassroots starts with Biggs’ Campbell
losing his job as a journalist at a local newspaper and, with little
on his plate, he is coaxed into running a political campaign for
Cosgwell (Moore), his best friend and an unemployed music critic. He
is running for a position on the Seattle City Council against the
hotly-fancied incumbent, Richard McIver (Cedric The Entertainer, in a
surprisingly restrained role), who has served in his present role for
15 years.

Though initially he seems like a complete no-hoper, Cosgwell’s
campaign starts to gather legs, with his passion and drive garnering
him considerable support as election day beckons.

His big trump card as a challenger to McIver’s throne is his
commitment to the role of a public transportation candidate, as he
favours an extension of the city’s restricted monorail over a planned
mass transportation system.

The mention of a monorail does offer up memories of the classic
Simpsons episode, where Homer becomes the driver for the ill-fated
maiden voyage of Springfield’s very first monorail. This is a slight
problem when you consider that the writers of the Simpsons used this
parictular form of rail to brilliant comic effect, and it is meant to
be a serious subject here, but to the credit of Gyllenhaal and his
writing partner Justin Rhodes, they do handle it in a manner that
seems both natural and realisitc.

Indeed, much of the political rhetoric used in the film does feel
quite genuine, and though Cogswell’s emergence as a major candidate
comes across as a major contrivance, it is only because that is how
events largely panned in the real world.

The involvement of 9/11 also looks somewhat tacked on, but this had a
major bearing on the race, particularly in the primaries. The big
problem the film will face, however, is the fact that it is being
billed as a broad comedy, which isn’t a surprise given Biggs’ track
record and also the involvement of Moore, who appeared in smash hit
comedy Dodgeball: A True Underdog’s Tale.

In truth, the film isn’t really a comedy at all, but a sub-plot about
Cogswell dressing up a bear if he doesn’t get his way upon his
potential election does blur the lines between comedy and drama to a
certain extent.

How you feel about the character of Cogswell will have a massive
impact on audience’s opinions of the film itself, as he often comes
across as volatile and obnoxious, and occasionally immature for a
thirtysomething contender. This is entirely the point that Gyllenhall
is trying to make, but could prove to be off-putting for some people.

It is to the credit of Moore (who had a key supporting role in James
Cameron’s Avatar) that he manages to give a winning performance
despite Cogswell’s grating qualities, and Biggs is on solid form as
the brains behind the extravagant operation, which is crucial given
that Campbell wrote the book that this film is based on.

Aside from Biggs and Moore, however, the talented supporting cast are
largely underused with Cobie Smulders (How I Met Your Mother, The
Avengers) get little to do as a monorail worker, while Six Feet
Under‘s Lauren Ambrose is given the thankless role of Campbell’s
frustrated love interest.

The one ace in the hole, however, is Cedric The Entertainer, who
downplays his usual comic schtick, and gives us a sense that McIver
may not be as conniving as Cogswell makes him out to be.

In the end, there is probably little in Grassroots that hasn’t been
seen before, and it doesn’t hold a candle to high-quality political
fare like Primary Colors, but it has just the right level of
exuberance and panache to make it a worthwhile trip.

Daire Walsh

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details) 

98 mins

Grassroots is released on 9th November 2012

Grassroots –  Official Website

 

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