At the dawn of the 21st Century, television networks were floundering in search of the
next great thing and executives hit upon what has come to be called "reality TV." Although
supposedly unscripted, the footage can easily be manipulated and edited to create heroes
and villains. The proliferation of these programs -- like rabbits in a crowded hutch -- arguably
has devalued just what the small screen can accomplish as far as entertainment. In many
ways, as carbon copies are developed by rival networks, the idea of reality programs has
become as much a parody as anything.
It's perhaps intriguing that filmmakers have begun to explore the idea of these
shows for satirical purposes. Already in 2006, there has been Paul Weitz's tepid
AMERICAN DREAMZ. Now, on a belated release comes PUBLIC DOMAIN from
Canadian filmmaker Kris Lefcoe. Originally release in Canada in 2003 and having
played the festival circuit in the U.S., the film receives a belated New York City debut
at the Anthology Film Archives.
Lefcoe uses inventive camera work to create his darkly comic look at the
reality TV craze. The basic idea of the show within the film is that viewers watch
and vote on which candidate has the most pathetic life. The "contestants" have had
their homes invaded and hidden cameras have been placed throughout their abodes
so that all of their lives can be captured. As the film opens, the range of entrants
has been whittled down to three. Bonnie (Nicole de Boer) is a single mother of a teen
(Jamie Johnston) who displays decidedly antisocial behavior. She's the sort of woman
who would listen ad nauseum to her vinyl record collection instead of making out with
her date. Terry (Nadia Litz) is a willful, rebellious teenager with a coke habit and a depressed
mother who spends her day in bed. The final participant is Peter (Mike Beaver) who appears
to be suffering from agoraphobia and hasn't left his home for eight years, not even to retrieve
the mail from the box on his porch.
As the lives of the three finalists unfold before the cameras, the two hosts of the
game show (Don McKellar and Jason Jones) make snide comments and discuss
problems they experience such as how to sit properly without squishing their testicles.
How one reacts to the film will depend on what one finds humorous. There is some
genuine drama in the plight of the three main game show contestants. De Boer is
wonderful as the self-centered woman who gets a wake-up call when her neglected
child makes a drastic move. Litz is also quite good as the scheming Terry who will
go to any lengths -- including pimping out a fellow student -- to get her next fix. Beaver
perhaps has the most difficult role but he manages to invoke some viewer empathy
in his character's plight.
On the whole, I wasn't all that taken with the film, although there is promise in Lefcoe's
premise and direction. Perhaps, I've had my fill of the whole reality show craze; perhaps
my sense of humor just doesn't "get" what the filmmaker had in mind. (I will grant you that
there are very distinct differences in American and Canadian humor!) Whatever the case,
I sort of enjoyed aspects of the movie but wasn't bowled over by it.
MPAA Rating: NONE
Running time: 77 mins.
|© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.