Grassroots Movie Review
There's a terrific sense of righteous anger in this scruffy comedy about disenfranchised people shaking American politics to its core. But the film plays it far too safely, dealing lightly with important themes while refusing to take a real stand on anything. It also never makes the most of its likeable, fully invested cast.
Based on a true story, the film is set in 2001 Seattle, where long-time buddies Phil and Grant (Biggs and Moore) are both unemployed journalists. When Grant decides to run for city council, Phil helps with the campaign. Grant's main passion is public transportation, which he sees as a social justice issue since it's what allows lower-income people to work and improve their lives. And his counter-culture approach makes him stand out opposite the unruffled incumbent (Cedric). On the other hand, Phil's girlfriend Emily (Ambrose) starts to worry when Grant's campaign becomes a centre for frat-boy antics, including rather a lot of pot-smoking. But this populist approach is like a breath of fresh air to voters.
Watching these no-hopers take on a well-oiled political machine is pretty inspirational, especially when the characters have so much raw charm. Biggs is superb in the central role, grounding even the most chaotic scenes in earthy honesty. By contrast, Moore feels a little overwrought as the hyperactive Grant, which makes us wonder why anyone would take him seriously. Although he nicely brings out Grant's inner resolve. And both Ambrose and Cedric add complex layers to their rather thinly written characters.
So it's a bit annoying that the film feels strangely simplistic. The script skirts around politics to the point that we never even know which party these people are part of. Being set in 2001 gives director-cowriter Gyllenhaal (father of Jake and Maggie) the chance to wallow in the aftermath of 9/11, which seems to derail the story even as it adds some emotion. And in the end, the script sidesteps the intensely divisive nature of American politics in a way that seems deeply irresponsible in an election year like this one. But then, it's the film's gleefully irresponsible tone that wins us over.
Cast & Crew
Director : Stephen Gyllenhaal
Producer : Matt R. Brady, Peggy Case, Michael Huffington, Brent Stiefel
Screenwriter : Stephen Gyllenhaal, Justin Rhodes