"Mister America" Movie Review

Magnolia Pictures
Mister America has a strong central comedic idea - a documentary crew follows a fool as he runs a misguided campaign for district attorney of San Bernardino county. The realism of the documentary style makes the absurdity of the film’s main character (played by, and named, Tim Heidecker) and his dynamic with the world that much funnier. This central idea, however, was borne out of the “On Cinema” universe, and I found that this connection ultimately took away from the central conceit of the film, making it less successful as a comedy.

The main issue with Mister America’s “On Cinema” connection was the introduction of too many disparate ideas. When the ideas and plot points were more in-line with the central concept of this movie, and were logical extensions of that, I found the movie very enjoyable. This included everything from Tim’s petty and ego-driven motivations in running a campaign, his attempts at campaign strategy, and his misguided attempts at talking to the public (who are real, unsuspecting, San Bernardino citizens). I especially enjoyed scenes featuring Tim and his campaign manager (played by Terri Parks). The dysfunctional, yet warm, dynamic between the two was great - both are motivated to run a political campaign for different misguided reasons, yet neither knows much of anything about running a campaign. This leads to many inspired moments with the two - their political planning sessions, and especially Tim’s frustrations with her, were movie highlights for me. 

However, the fact that it is part of “On Cinema” meant the inclusion of a number of plot points and ideas from previous “On Cinema” storylines that were more out-of-place, and not as enjoyable, in the context of the movie. These ideas were very wide-ranging and on the further reaches of absurd, straining the semi-realistic tone of the core movie past its breaking point.

An example is the inclusion of Gregg Turkington (played by Gregg Turkington), who is the other main character in the “On Cinema” story. Gregg’s defining characteristic in the context of “On Cinema” as a whole is as consummate movie buff who wants a platform, but has nothing to say. He is a man who wants Tim to stop whatever outlandish tangent he is following that month and simply review movies, but also really does not have any notable movie opinions to share when given the opportunity.

From a bird’s-eye view, Gregg’s role in the film is as antagonist to Tim, someone with a detailed past history with the main character (with therefore a lot of dirt to share) who doesn’t want to see him succeed. This is a great character to add to a movie like this, with the potential to add a unique and funny dynamic to the film. However, instead of adding to the drive of the movie, Gregg’s scenes feel mainly like their own separate film - one about a man who really wants to refocus the documentary to be about old, obscure VHS tapes (The Shaggy DA being the main one in this movie). These scenes are consistent with Gregg and Tim’s “On Cinema” dynamic up to this point, and they are funny in their own right. However, they do not fit very well in context, shifting the direction of the movie from “campaign mockumentary” to “mundane movie-discussion mockumentary”.

Another example of an “On Cinema” connection that causes tonal problems is the trial that directly precedes - and ultimately leads to - the events of this film. This trial, broadcast online in its entirety, was arguably the biggest production to come out of the “On Cinema” storyline up to that point. Tim barely escapes this case with his technical innocence due to a hung jury - one juror out of 12 refuses to vote guilty, under questionable circumstances. After securing his innocence, he immediately seeks to run for District Attorney against one of the major candidates, Vincent Rosetti, who was the main prosecutor on his trial - with his campaign manager who, coincidentally enough, was that 12th juror.

Similarly to the Gregg Turkington character, this element in the film would have been successful had it been executed differently. Having Tim’s motivation to run for office mainly come down to his wanting to “get back” at the lead prosecutor - as a result of a case where his guilt is pretty apparent - is a great way to start things off. It is just realistic enough to be believable, and it plays well into the ego-driven nature of his character (as well as the fact that he is most definitely not in the right).

However, in this case, the charge itself becomes the element that throws off the balance. Tim is being tried for the vape-related deaths of 19 concert-goers who attended a music festival that he organized. Because of the extreme nature of this crime, and because things are set up in the story that indicate that Tim is most likely guilty, Tim’s character loses some of his humor. Without this element, Tim’s worst traits are that he can be extremely self-centered and rude, has misguided views on race, and doesn’t mind weaseling out of facing justice. With the added element of his crime, he becomes a mass murderer who shows no apparent remorse. The crime is so extreme that Tim’s funny moments are now paired with the consistent reminder of it, which only distracts from the humor of these moments.

The distractions of Gregg’s presence and the nature of Tim’s crime are two of the most conspicuous “On Cinema” contributions that take away from the flow of the film’s central idea. However, “On Cinema”’s long and winding history means there are a lot of other elements included as well, all leading to what could have been a slightly absurd mockumentary becoming a bit more confused. While the core of Mister America is a movie about a foolish man running a foolish campaign, the “On Cinema” prologue turns it into a movie about a foolish man running a foolish campaign, who also is responsible for the deaths of 19 people, has an antagonistic history with a movie buff, fronts two bands, and makes self- serious films with himself as a Bond wannabe. Ultimately, the excess of ideas confuses the tone of the movie, detracting from the film’s strong central components.


Popular posts from this blog