Christopher Guest and friends have built a cotton industry out of making mockumentaries. Perhaps you’ve seen them? Guest’s films are structured like true-to-life documentaries only the peoples, places, and events are entirely manufactured. While they poke a great deal of harmless fun at the idiosyncrasies of everyday people, I enjoy them more because they essentially upend the documentarian, pulling back the curtain to reveal the fact that these filmmakers more often than not are just as guilty as shaping reality as they are in capturing it. One clever bit of truth – along with a healthy amount of obfuscation – ends up setting the stage for a great joke, one had on the audience who embraces the mission because the message has been handily misinterpreted for the sake of the narrative.
YOU’VE BEEN TRUMPED suffers a bit from similar misdirection for Producer Richard Phinney and Director Anthony Baxter would have you believe that things like business, government, and finance are conducted in a vacuum where one dastardly villain who goes by the name Donald Trump holds all the cards, and he’s not afraid to play them only when he and those around him benefit.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last two paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
A proud group of Scottish homeowners decide they want to keep their houses when Donald Trump comes calling with hopes to build a billion-dollar luxury golf resort and destroy the local ecosystem.
See what I did there? I provided you a one sentence synopsis – much like the producers of YOU’VE BEEN TRUMPED did – and, having read it, you realize this one is right up your alley. You rush out and buy the video, take it home, pop it in the DVR player ... only to find that most of these peoples’ legitimate gripes (and, for the record, there ARE plenty) aren’t so much with ‘The Donald’ as they are with representatives of their local government, law enforcement, and the like. However, director Anthony Baxter – draped in the mold of an affordable and international Michael Moore – cleverly juxtaposes his excursions of trespassing and hijacking press conferences and media appearances to underscore his central message: America is bad, Trump is the new-age equivalent of Darth Vader (in the Original Trilogy, not the Prequels), and common folk need to celebrated for remembering where their ancestors used to dance.
Now, this isn’t the say that there isn’t a solid attempt at investigative journalism here because there is. The fact is that those who understand how the world works know that some of what average folks ‘postulate’ and ‘pontificate’ isn’t exactly how wheels get greased. Baxter wasn’t dismayed, however, and – as the ‘journalist’ – he was entirely ready, willing, and able to suggest and point fingers back at Trump’s wealth as being the instigator of all events evil that get screen time in this much-too-long and frequently-too-meandering “David & Goliath” tale (to use HIS words). Principally, these folks have solid complaints that should be explored against their government … but Trump – with his thick wallet and uncharacteristic hairline – remains the all-too-easy target in the director’s sights.
The last scene – Baxter stands alone, at night, in a country phone booth desperately trying to get Donald Trump to take his call and maybe even accept the long distance charges (that last bit’s a joke, people) – sadly almost plays out like it WAS lifted from a Guest mockumentary. Did he think that he was actually going to get accepted while making certain the receptionist heard every click-click-click of his depositing coins in the payphone? Reality can be like a cold shower – some find it chilling, others find it refreshing – and, perhaps, if Baxter hadn’t behaved so obviously inept, I wouldn’t be so skeptical. The problem is that – like him – the audience can think for themselves, and this schtick went out-of-vogue twenty years ago.
Sadly, this is the kind of ‘gotcha journalism’ that forces most of middleground America to turn away from documentaries. It isn’t that TRUMPED doesn’t present a message worth celebrating – in fact, everyone everywhere always roots for an underdog – because, much of the time, it does; in the end, however, I end up remembering that these virtuous dissenters spend most of the time doddering on like grandpa and grandma after Thanksgiving dinner. The turkey’s tryptophan should be respected, but, instead, Nana and Poppa ramble on and on about the way things used to be, and all the rest of us were ready for pie an hour ago.
YOU’VE BEEN TRUMPED is produced by Montrose Pictures. DVD distribution is being handled by New Video. As for the technical specifications, this documentary looks and sounds as good as the next one, though I’ll admit that Baxter could’ve used more subtitles in capturing some of what his Scottish participants said; he used them sparingly, but there were a few other exchanges that would’ve been served by the technique. Lastly, there are an assortment of special features, including footage of the opening of Trump Golf Course, Trump In Parliament, an interview segment with Moyers & Company, and stumping for some Occupy Wall Street projects (which may tell you everything about Anthony Baxter that you need to know).
RECOMMENDED. Yes, it’s a documentary, and, yes, it’s journalism, but it’s also some obvious sleight of hand that would’ve been better served by being (A) less obvious and (B) a bit shorter. At 100 minutes, TRUMPED ends up being overkill, and that’s never a good feeling.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at New Video provided me with a DVD copy of YOU’VE BEEN TRUMPED for the expressed purposes of completing this review.