#297: CPH:DOX – Janeane from Des Moines (2012)

It’s ok, we can stop clenching now. With #Election2012 behind us, and the right person sitting in the White House, we can take a moment to reflect on the asinine nature of America’s political candidacy. That’s exactly what the mockumentary Janeane from Des Moines attempts to achieve, to varying degrees of success.

Filmed across 2011, the titular Janeane (played methodically well by Jane Edith Wilson), is a former Democrat turned devout Republican. A part-time care-worker, she spends most of her time in and out of bitchy, repentance group meetings at the Bible Study Group, attending God-rock concerts and travelling across Iowa state to attend political rallies for all the would-be Republican presidential candidates. With her only daughter at college 300 miles away, and her relationship with careless, unemployed husband BLAH (BLAH) on the rocks, Janeane is desperate to have her questions about healthcare and jobs answered before casting her vote. Janeane wants political answers but, as Grace Lee’s movie wryly portrays, you won’t get them from politicians.

It’s unlike any mockumentary I’ve ever seen. Instead of Christopher Guest-like improvisation, some of the ‘skits’ are so drastically overwritten and jarring. But the movie picks itself up when the distraught Janeane directly confronts the likes of smarmy Mitt Romney, charmless Rick Santorum, and zealously insincere Michele Bachmann on their murky policies. Clearly unscripted, Wilson is astonishingly good at invoking a reaction of fear and awkwardness in the candidates when she starts bawling her eyes out and shouting her problems. They attempt faux-concern, but their failure to answer her founded criticisms on job reform, corporation tax and alternatives to Obama’s health care bill is what really astonishes the audience.

Once or twice, Janeane from Des Moines really strikes comedy gold (a visit to the pro-life rally is particularly hilarious). But filmmaker Grace Lee spends so much time trying to structure jokes and an emotive depth (Janeane finds a lump on her breast,  her husband is a closet homosexual, “insert cliche here”), that she fails to highlight how farcical the presidential campaign is in the first place. Simply put, many of these presidential candidates – and moreover their sheepish supporters – are able to make idiots of themselves by their own volition. It’s good, borderline great in parts, but Janeane, Lee, and the rest of these god-blessing freedom fighters need to stop taking themselves so seriously.

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CPH:DOX is one of the world’s biggest film festivals dedicated to documentary practice, with an interest in particularly experimental audio/visual work. You can follow all of my coverage here. For more info please visit the festival website.

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