STUDIO: Docurama
MSRP: $26.95
RUNNING TIME: 84 Minutes
• Deleted Scenes
• Theatrical Trailer

The Pitch

“God speaks to Al Franken? I tell ya, it’ll be like The Ten Commandments with Medicare jokes!”

The Humans

Al Franken, Ann Coulter, Al Gore, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Henry Kissinger, Walter Mondale, Michael Moore

The Nutshell

Two years in the life of the former SNL-writer-cokehead-Stuart-Smalley turned pundit as he struggles to launch Air America Radio, memorializes Paul Wellstone, campaigns for John Kerry, and creates a kind of cheap booze that liquefies the homeless.

Well, maybe not that last part.

…in "The Bukkake Adventures of Stuart Smalley!"

The Lowdown

I like Al Franken. I think he’s an extremely funny and smart guy. Were I one to partake in the loving arms of another man (not that there’s anything wrong with that), I would partake in Sweet Al’s embrace. And I say this, not to flaunt my political views or creep out anyone with visions of man-love, but because how you feel about Franken will directly impact how you feel about this flick—it’s a textbook example of preaching to the converted. If you like him, you’re in for a pretty enjoyable 84-ish minutes.

The real meat here for fans is watching Al take on his most vocal conservative pundit opponents, namely Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, and Bill O’Reilly. These sections really illustrate the central concept behind the documentary, that Franken, a once-brilliant-comic writer, has only gotten sharper and funnier with his increased political awareness, and it only serves to highlight how foolish the aforementioned Three Horsemen of the Apocalypse look in comparison. Hannity comes off even more like the dimwitted, loutish grade-school bully who’ll steal your money and then force you to let him pee on you, and seeing Franken just shut him down with a well-placed barb is satisfying on so many levels. Coulter maybe even looks worse, her plasticine features barely concealing the rage that Franken inspires in her. I’ve heard she demanded that certain footage of her be cut from the flick (and if so, where is it on the DVD?), but she’d have to be eating a Jewish baby ‘cause she looks bad enough here. Anyways, O’Reilly more than makes up for that omission with a priceless little bit where he calls Franken “a vile human being.” Good stuff, all around, and again, if you’re a fan, it’s just gold.

I could stoop to Anne Coulter’s level and say she’s got a dick the size of her Adam’s Apple, but I don’t wanna be that guy.

To play Devil’s Advocate (and not “Devin’s” Advocate, thank god), if you aren’t a fan…walk away. In a way, that’s the biggest fault of the documentary; this is Al Franken as Liberal Superhero rather than Al Franken the man. Everything on display presents him as purely good, which makes the thing feel one-sided. It’s entertaining watching him fight the encroaching Republican forces, yes, but its appeal is far more limited. I hate to use this phrase, but a fair and balanced look at the man (oh kill me now) would greatly improve things—you could keep the humor of watching him lay into Coulter and Co. while adding less positive elements about him to help lift the flick past simple Democratic burn book to something deeper and more fascinating. I mean, after all, in many ways Franken is just the liberal negative of Coulter, Hannity, and O’Reilly. He may be wittier and more personable, and I may agree with him far more on political issues, but he twists the facts just as much as the other side to make his point, and adding that kind of ambiguity would be fascinating. Take the Paul Wellstone sections of the flick. Now, they stand as Al’s poignant tribute to the man. Viewed in a more morally ambiguous light, Franken could be seen as using one man’s death to motivate Democrats to action. That’s drama, baby, and I don’t care whether you’re documentary or fiction, but it’s the cornerstone of art.

Drama’s another big issue with the film, solely on a technical level, namely that there isn’t any. When Franken stumps for Kerry, there’s no narrative tension, and not just because we already know the outcome—the verite-style of filming saps the film of tension and makes everything just seem randomly constructed. I understand that Chris Hegedus and Nick Doob are students of verite-king D.A. Pennebaker, but their construction of this flick is haphazard in ways that Pennebaker’s best works weren’t, and honestly, what’s wrong with a talking-head interview here and there (especially if it’s David Byrne)? This really negatively affects the Air America section, which gets the shaft in terms of footage and can get confusing to those not in the know. You almost need to have seen HBO’s Left of the Dial ahead of time to fill in the gaps. Poor form, gentlemen.

Still, this flick’s entertaining enough if you curry to the left, and as for Mr. Franken?

I’d sire his children any day.

"Say what you will about me, but you back the fuck off Michael Medved."

The Package

For a flick that was shot wholly on digital cameras, the image is generally pretty crisp and sharp, with some minor flaws being indicative of the medium. Sound’s pretty basic, but you just don’t need an Al Franken documentary to blow the doors down, unless you happen to be Harold Ramis. A word on the box art: I really like it. It’s a cool, abstract-ish pic of Franken, and it’s way cooler than anything Photoshop generated.

Special features: there’s a trailer and 12 minutes of deleted scenes. They’re really not bad, but they neither add nor subtract from the bigger picture, which moves quicker without them

Just once I’d like to review something I could whole-heartedly recommend without a fucking qualification. Ehh…c’est la vie. If you like Franken, you’ll like this, technical issues aside. If you don’t, I dunno, rent The Green Berets or something Red-Statey like that. Anything with John Wayne will do, really.

"You can be my wingman anytime, Obama."

7.0 out of 10