The summer (not-so-)blockbuster Palin doc

Posted on 18 Jul 2011 at 5:28pm
Sara Palin

There’s a new documentary out about Sarah Palin. Who knew?

Well, apparently, some folks knew about the film — called The Undefeated — because the film’s distributor, ARC Entertainment, told CNN that the documentary averaged $5,000 per screen on Friday and Saturday nights of its opening weekend (July 15-16), and that screenings at several locations were sold out. ARC also suggested that the film will go into wider release sometime later this month.

(It opened in 10 cities last weekend. Perhaps if that hadn’t also been opening weekend for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, more people would have gone to see the Palin doc. Maybe, but I doubt it. I don’t think the audiences for the two films have much overlap.)

The Hollywood Reporter says the film earned $60,000 to $75,000 in its opening weekend. Just in comparison Harry Potter raked in $168.5 million in its opening weekend.

Anyway, the story on CNN was posted from Kennesaw, Ga., one of the 10 cities in which The Undefeated opened, and the sell-out crowd there loved the movie. Casey Cunningham said it was “incredible … inspiring.” Carolyn Garcia said it was “motivational.” And Sahar Hekmati said, “”I think she’ll be the modern-day Ronald Reagan; that’s what I got from it.”

The director, Stephan Bannon (who from CNN’s description apparently styles himself as the conservative version of Michael Moore), insisted that he did not make the documentary for the”Palinistas.” Instead, he told CNN, “The audience is really a middle American audience that knows her only as ‘Caribou Barbie.’ I think I’ve driven a stake through the heart of ‘Caribou Barbie.’ I think if enough people see this, they’ll agree with me.”

Now while the fine folks of Kennesaw, Ga., obvioulsy liked the film, the critics were not so impressed. Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy called it a “documentary stitched together with a thousand sound bites,” adding that “this entirely partisan account of the phenomenon that is Sarah Palin looks like a campaign film for a campaign that at least for the moment isn’t happening.”

McCarthy also questioned the documentary’s title, The Undefeated, since Palin actually lost her most recent and biggest campaign (for vice president), and then resigned early from the Alaskan governor’s seat.

But hey, maybe just looking at that one review isn’t being fair to the movie. Other critics probably liked it much more. Let’s check:

Richard Corliss with Time Magazine says: “In this endless (1 hr. 57 min.) Sarah paean — which uses Palin’s voice from her audio book Going Rogue plus backup from a dozen or so supporters — Bannon applies so much idolatrous airbrushing to his portrait of the divine Sarah that the movie might be called Going Rouge.” Hmmm. Not so complimentary.

In the Los Angeles Times, critic Richard Abele wastes no time telling us what he thinks of the movie; his opening paragraph declares: “The Undefeated, the new political image-branding effort from ex-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, is really a troop-rallying campaign infomercial as imagined by Michael Bay: hero-worshipping, crescendo-edited at a dizzying pace, thunderously repetitive and its own worst enemy as a two-hour, talking-points briefing.”

Robert Levine, reviewing the documentary for The Atlantic, didn’t like the movie any better: “Underlining and bolding his talking points with earsplitting soundtrack flourishes, aggressive montage, and an overall state of high anxiety, the filmmaker creates an exhausting, repetitive journey into Palinland. This sort of town-crier tactic —’Wake up America, we’re going to hell,’ is the general attitude — is consistent with the message promulgated by Bannon’s heroine. On some level, many Americans of all political stripes agree with it. But when that notion is seeped so resolutely into the core of a movie, it makes for a headache-inducing experience.”

And Levin’s conclusion: “The biggest obstacle facing The Undefeated isn’t its hagiographic leanings, the press’s scornful treatment of its heroine, or that most hedonistic Sodom: left-wing Hollywood. This Sarah Palin hosanna is done in by the simple fact that its director needs to go back to film school.”

I don’t think Warner Bros. and the Harry Potter folks have anything to worry about when it comes to The Undefeated stealing away viewers.

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