Yes we kind of can

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILMREVIEWS - DON­ALD CLARKE

GRASS­ROOTS ★★★ 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 AfricanAmer­i­can 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.

Po­lit­i­cal novice Ja­son Biggs

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