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Movie review: 'Sarah Palin: You Betcha!' offers little that's new on the polarizing politician
Director Nick Broomfield's latest documentary, "Sarah Palin: You Betcha!" doesn't tell you anything you didn't already know about the former governor of Alaska and 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate, and it won't change any minds.
If you walked in thinking she was a vapid, inept idiot who's more concerned with surface than substance, you will walk out thinking the same thing. Similarly, if you're a fan of Palin and believe she's a straight-talking breath of fresh air, a woman of the people with vision for the country, then you will continue to believe that.
Actually, there's such jokey condescension in Broomfield's approach ' the title alone says it all ' that his film will undoubtedly fortify her supporters who feel she's been unfairly targeted; this is the woman, after all, who coined the phrase "lamestream media" in an effort to diminish her perceived attackers.
In his typical style, Broomfield ("Kurt and Courtney," ''Biggie and Tupac") inserts himself in the action, traveling to Wasilla, Alaska, where Palin once served as mayor, and spending months on a "quest for the real Sarah Palin." Trekking through the ice and snow in a furry hat with ear flaps and a red-and-black-checkered flannel jacket, he's like Elmer Fudd on the hunt, wielding his microphone as his weapon. His pursuit also calls to mind Michael Moore's "Roger & Me," as he stalks an elusive target with increasingly contentious results.
His dry, monotone British accent and the absurdity of his fish-out-of-water presence are good for consistent laughs, and he does come up with some lively interviews with the insular locals ' the few who are willing to talk to him, that is. But rather than enlightening us, Broomfield (and co-director Joan Churchill) trot out old material and end up with a portrait of a petty 12-year-old girl in an ambitious politician's body.
There's the Katie Couric interview in which Palin couldn't name a single newspaper or magazine she consistently read, and the Charles Gibson interview in which she smugly bumbled to answer his question about President Bush's doctrine. There's the video of Palin cheerily chatting before the TV cameras as Thanksgiving turkeys are being slaughtered in the background. It's a greatest-hits collection of lowest moments.
But Broomfield also lines up an array of former friends, supporters and colleagues who repeat a couple of prevailing themes. One is of Palin's radiant charisma, and her ability to make you feel like you're the only person in the room when she's talking to you. The other is the assertion that once she perceives someone as a threat or finds that someone is no longer useful, that person will not only be jettisoned by Palin but ostracized by her entire family. The phrase "thrown under the bus" comes up a lot, and it makes you wonder how enormous this bus must be.
Shunned former allies describe her as if she were the meanest mean girl in school, the leader of a coveted clique, one that you're either in or out of depending on her ever-changing assessment of your loyalty. It's juicy stuff but not very informative.
Broomfield does get a rare sit-down with Mike Wooten, the former Alaska state trooper whom Palin reportedly had fired following an ugly divorce from Palin's sister. (The state Legislature found that she had abused her office in the case that became known as "Troopergate.") Wooten pokes holes in Palin's image as a loving, hardworking mom who's juggling a career and kids: He says she would often shoo the children away to play in the backyard, and that he was actually the one who helped raise them.
The one who provides some truly startling perspective is Pastor Howard Bess, who has dared to clash with Palin over one of the chief topics that define her: religion. Palin is a born-again Christian, and has enjoyed the fervent support of evangelicals nationwide. Bess suggests the possibility of a Palin presidency in which God might be giving her instructions to start a nuclear war, for example ' she's that certain of herself in her status at the anointed one.
Now is that a scary prospect? You betcha.
"Sarah Palin: You Betcha!" from Freestyle Releasing, is unrated, but with nothing necessarily objectionable for children. Running time: 91 minutes. Two stars out of four.