Tribeca 2011: ‘Gnarr’ is a Funny Documentary that Doesn’t Take Itself Seriously

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Directed by Gaukur  Ulfarsson
Iceland, 2011

“The message of the film is simple and positive. The deeper the shit you are in the more you should laugh, because out of disaster, heroes can come from unlikely places.” Disillusioned by his own words, Icelandic director Gaukur Ulfarrson puts forth a political documentary that is as biased and one-sided as the political parties and leaders the film is slandering against.

Gnarr follows the comedian Jon Gnarr as he runs for mayor after Iceland’s economic meltdown in 2009. Against the backdrop of a farce political party called “The Best Party,” Gnarr unabashedly uses a dainty platform of attractive promises to stir support. From free trips to Disneyland, to gift mailers for all mothers on Mother’s Day, to isolating himself with all political affiliates who have not watched the complete series of “The Wire,” Gnarr quickly demonstrates that his intentions are more comical than anything else. What starts out as a joke quickly snowballs into immense national support as the public cries out for an end to the country’s corruption. Unfortunately for Gnarr’s audience, the film is hampered by its comedic relief. Jokes, mockery of Iceland’s political system and Gnarr’s outlandish behaviors are the film’s main focus, and don’t give a precise answer as to how Gnarr’s campaign gained public appeal or whether or not we should even care.

Bias treads a fine line in documentaries, especially in political film making, tattering between the balance of what is right and wrong between both sides of an argument. For Gnarr, what we get is a single note stage act that feels more like a comedy special than a political presentation.  Incorporating comedy bits with audiences, outtakes when brainstorming with committee members, and capturing the making of their Tina Turner “Simply the Best” election campaign video, only makes their underdog story less significant. Heroes are not emerged, only jesters are praised. Without serious questions being answered as to how their campaign gained rapid support, what is perceived is a documentary that makes fun as much as politicians make false promises. In this regard, Gnarr acts as its own genre. While “mockumentaries” mimic the real world, Gnarr gives the impression that it’s a “fakeumentary” making the real world insincere with false pretenses, sarcastic pan-faced interviews, and unrealistic promises.

On the positive side, what Gnarr does right is highlighting its subject well. Documentaries are as entertaining as to whom they are about, and if merit is established solely on an identifiable and intriguing character; Jon Gnarr becomes the savior of the film. His punk rock look, funky hair, and silly demeanor are easily seen as anti-political and makes for a fun watch. Sure there are plenty of laughs, but after the laughs subside and politics are out of question, the serious questions will still remain: “Who is Jon Gnarr?” and “Is Gnarr right for Iceland? In the end, you’ll agree that all laughs and no work will only create more disasters for the struggling country.

– Chris Clemente


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