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Grassroots - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Directing: C+
Acting: C+
Writing: C
Cinematography: B
Editing: B

There's a rash of movies both set and filmed in Seattle as of late: Safety Not Guaranteed; Your Sister's Sister, and now Grassroots. Two of them are excellent and Grassroots isn't one of them.

It could have been, maybe. As a local Seattleite, it's been fun to see these movies showing the real Seattle -- or, at least, the real Western Washington: the other two movies are largely set and filmed on the Olympic Peninsula. Still, the few scenes in Seattle proper a a breath of fresh air after the number of movies set in Seattle but filmed in Vancouver, B.C. And Grassroots, at least, is set completely in Seattle, and we get to see a lot of it. That part's kind of fun. It's also based on a true story that took place in 2001, so I kept looking for any buildings in wide city shots that were not there at the time. I couldn't find any, so, no architectural anachronisms that I could see. So I'll give it that.

That's about all I'll give it. This is the story of Grant Cogswell, political opponent to Richard McIver in the race for a City Council position. Cedric the Entertainer plays McIver with smooth-politician understatement. Joel David Moore, on the other hand, plays Cogswell as a borderline psychotic just this shy of shrill. Did writer-director Stephen Gyllenhaal tell him to do that? Did Moore just go for broke with this rather unrealistic portrayal? Well, one of them should have been slapped until they snapped out of it.

There's a surprising number of, if not big, then mid-sized names in this movie. Cogswell's best friend and campaign manager, Phil, is played by Jason Biggs. He's decent but not great, like he is in everything. Six Feet Under's wonderful Lauren Ambrose plays his girlfriend, whose presence as a character makes little sense in this story. It feels like an obligatory romantic element. Ambrose is better than this movie. Tom Arnold as a bartender -- well, he kind of fits in.

This movie has many flashes of potential, mind you. Granted, that does not include the bizarre inclusion of Cogswell's polar bear outfit, in which we see him walking the streets of Seattle, but never with a hint of an explanation for it. Is it supposed to telegraph that this is a kooky movie? Because it isn't, really. Moore makes a valiant effort at making Cogswell kooky but really makes him grating. The cliched anti-establishment platitudes that keep coming out of his mouth don't help.

There is some food for thought. Cogswell ran on the platform of expanding the monorail -- something I personally voted to have happen no less than three times, and we still don't have it. This issue, which permeates the entire film, will have far greater meaning to locals in Seattle than to anyone else in the country. McIver pushed for Light Rail, which Cogswell dismisses as a drastically terrible idea, over and over again. He talks about how much it will destroy the city, and how unnecessarily huge the trains will be, and we all know now none of this is true. Our Light Rail line is filled with stations augmented with lovely art. Cogswell also keeps harping on how much better the Monorail is because it's non-polluting and runs on electricity</i>. Doesn't Light Rail?

Probably the biggest misstep in this movie is the use of 9/11 as the catalyst for a pivotal scene. Cogswell literally breaks down sobbing. Seriously? I wonder how that scene would play to New Yorkers. Yes, that was a tragedy that affected the whole country, but I doubt the rest of the country wants to see those attacks used as the backdrop for a motivational speech meant to keep a Seattle City Council campaign going.

This movie is very much flying under the national radar, and it's easy to see why. But it's not for the usual reasons, because honestly, for an obviously low-budget movie, it makes good use of limited production values. The look is more "independent film" than cheap. I've seen far worse looking films. But there have also been far better-acted and better-written ones. The biggest problem is Cogswell himself. He's just a tad too over-the-top to come across as believable. He feels very much like a movie-version of him. I'd rather learn more about the real guy.

Jason Biggs and Joel David Moore struggle to make GRASSROOTS watchable.

Overall: C+
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