Give credit where credit is due.
Filmmaker James Stern genuinely wanted to learn why so many Americans thought Donald Trump was the answer to their political dreams.
So he went on a journey in the months leading up to Election Day 2016 getting to know people Hillary Clinton deemed “Deplorables.”
Those exotic creatures known as Trump voters.
Some liberals are chased off social media for that simple act today. Actor Mark Duplass was shamed for suggesting his fellow progressives give The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro a chance.
Others don’t even deem this voting bloc to be worth their time.
And he made a movie about his attempt to speak to those with whom he couldn’t disagree more strongly.
American Chaos captures that trek. It’s a noble effort that occasionally fails at its core mission – listen ’til it hurts. And even conservative viewers will walk away thinking, “Stern is no Michael Moore.”
Stern is a news junkie and avowed progressive. When he learned Chicago Mayor Richard Daley allegedly swung the 1960 election to John F. Kennedy he couldn’t have been more pleased.
“That was a source of pride,” says Stern, who should know better than to bare his ideological teeth so early. Stern loved the late Bobby Kennedy, and he fell just as hard for Sen. Barack Obama.
So Stern was understandably aghast when GOP voters chose a brash real estate mogul to be their presidential standard bearer.
“He can’t win. America’s not gullible enough to elect a man who ripped people off with a fraudulent university,” he says, making a salient point.
Rather than fire up the Twitter he picked up a camera.
The film chronicles Stern’s journey across America, meeting legal immigrants, conspiracy theorists and coal miners alike to find out why they support Trump.
The filmmaker vowed not to argue or talk back. This was a listening tour, in the grand Hillary Clinton tradition.
Only he couldn’t stop himself from editing other, like-minded voices into the mix. Here’s a perfect example: At one point a Trump supporter serves up a cogent attack on Hillary Clinton. American Chaos quickly cuts to a staunch Clinton defender, serving up Grade A Talking Points.
Stern employs this approach throughout the film.
It’s also exhausting to see his parade of pained expressions every step of the way. Say what you will about Michael Moore, there’s something charismatic to his Everyman shtick. Stern lacks that avuncular presence. He’s nicer, more professorial, but seeing him despondent on screen doesn’t do the film any favors.
He even apes Moore’s confrontational shtick, albeit briefly. Stern’s quickie visit to Mar-A-Lago, Trump’s second home, should have hit the editing room floor.
American Chaos scores a few times all the same. Hearing Trump voters defend their man’s immigration policies is refreshing. Hearing it from the mouths of Cuban-Americans is even more potent.
“I want to know who they are … this is my home,” one long-term resident says of those who skirt the law to become Americans.
Try calling him a racist. We’ll wait.
The film’s final third spends far too much time with conspiracy theorists. Yes, the fringe of Trump voters feast on Fake News. There’s little to be gleaned from them. You wouldn’t interview Antifa goons to get the pulse of your average Clinton acolyte – even if too many liberals refuse to refute their violence.
Stern is no dummy. He correctly predicts Clinton’s “Deplorables” slam to be a game changer. And you can see his decency in the way he connects with coal miners worried about their future.
The Democratic Party would be well served to have more James Sterns in their midst. For now, his American Chaos is an earnest attempt to truly listen to outside views.
In today’s divided America that deserves serious applause.
HiT or Miss: Noble efforts don’t translate into compelling cinema. That’s the best way to describe American Chaos, a progressive film that attempts to let Deplorable Nation have their say.
[Cross-posted at Hollywood in Toto.]