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by Eric Kohn
September 10, 2011 2:01 AM
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TORONTO REVIEW | The Flawed Thinking of "Sarah Palin - You Betcha!"

A scene from Nick Broomfield's "Sarah Palin You Betcha!" Content Films.

Nick Broomfield, the conspiratorial documentarian behind "Kurt & Courtney" and "Biggie & Tupac," makes no apologies about using suppositions and hearsay in his quest for a special kind of truth. The problem with his insipidly titled "Sarah Palin - You Betcha!," co-directed with Joan Churchill, has nothing to do with the morality of his technique and instead lies with a lack of new ideas. Palin hasn't exactly faded from view since her sudden arrival on the world stage during the 2008 election, but with the way Broomfield treats her as fresh material for an exposé of her Wasilla roots, one might think she did.

Broomfield's project is plagued by two flawed assumptions: That his audience, which obviously excludes devout Tea Party members and other dedicated Palinbots by default, hasn't heard the horror stories about her power lust and governmental mismanagement; and that any member of that theoretical audience would actually care to sit through something like this again. He's wrong on both counts. Part clip show, part Alaska travelogue by a plucky Brit faking his naivete, "Sarah Palin" lacks a coherent reason to exist.

Fortunately, Broomfield's a likable figure and his on-camera presence throughout "Sarah Palin" keeps the movie from devolving into pure redundant blather. He casts himself as a genuinely curious Channel 4 reporter heading to Alaska in search of unraveling the Palin myth. Roaming from the former governor's parents home to the company of neighbors, friends, and friends-turned enemies, a boom mic constantly hovers beneath his intentionally dopey smile as he skates across the icy landscape. It might be more rewarding to read interviews with generally erudite Broomfield than watch him clown around in this material.

At first, Broomfield expresses genuine interest in learning more about Palin's past, gathering anecdotal tidbits from her apparently earnest father, Chuck Heath, as well as former classmates and local supporters. But when his attempts to arrange for a sit-down interview with his title character continually run afoul, Broomfield gradually shifts to a critical history of Palin's mayoral and governmental records, citing Alaska's senate president and other disappointed parties willing to speak on the record about their experiences. Even then, his access is extremely limited. (Unable to afford Levi Johnston's interview rate, he settles for the accidental celebrity's sister.)

Naturally, the majority of Broomfield's subjects willing to discuss Palin in a negative light have some sort of vendetta against her. These include Mike Woolen, the infamous victim of the troopergate scandal in which Palin may have fired the former employee after his divorce from the governor's sister. However, even as Broomfield gathers these testimonies, his unifying thesis never goes deeper than the conviction that the mentality of a sociopath hides behind Palin's eerie smile. "She's like the most popular teenage girl," sighs one estranged former colleague. What else is new?

Broomfield briefly alludes the open-ended possibility that Palin may eventually run for president, which implies that the project intends to work against that potential initiative (although he never states his goals). If that's the case, his attacks are too cheap and insignificant to have any lasting impact. Going back to that intended audience: Anyone annoyed, threatened or infuriated by Palin's lasting appeal will only grow more frustrated by Broomfield's unconvincing case.

Unfortunately, the unabashed propagandistic outlook of that other Palin doc released this year, Stephen K. Bannon's "Undefeated," achieves its goal with much greater accuracy by engaging (albeit selectively) with Palin's political platforms. Broomfield emphasizes her lack of competent leadership skills rather than the scarier agendas she represents, which suggests an attempt to rally against her in apolitical fashion. It's neither fiery enough to make the point nor particularly illuminating to watch, primarily because he tries to construct a personal profile without the person in question.

criticWIRE grade: C

HOW WILL IT PLAY? Already set for theatrical distribution by Freestyle Releasing in conjunction with a successful Kickstarter campaign, "Sarah Palin" might generate some decent word-of-mouth thanks to Broomfield's existing reputation. However, few audiences are likely to feel very eager about this topic, and its greatest prospect are in ancillary markets.

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4 Comments

  • Marianne | September 10, 2011 9:07 AMReply

    Broomfield made a mistake. He chose a subject with limited "staying power", a flash-in-the-pan. You cannot make a commercially successful biopic about a non-entity.

    Worse, he made this after Palin committed reputational hara kiri by resigning the Alaska governorship. It was inevitable that her trajectory would be straight downhill from that moment - any keen observer could have told you she did not have a promising career in television except perhaps as a caricature of herself - and others like Tina Fey do that so much better.

    It's also a shame that the HBO "Game Change" serial is focussing entirely on the dysfunction of the McCain-Palin campaign, as that is not just old news, it's utterly boring and irrelevant. However, I will watch as I enjoyed the book, HBO always has impeccable production values and they have managed to sign some very impressive acting talent who will no doubt bring the book to life.

  • CorrineK | September 10, 2011 6:21 AMReply

    Broomfield is a nothing....a nobody?? LOL I think you should be saying that about Sarah Palin. Without the idiots who pay to listen to her word salads she'd be nothing but a "Hockey Mom" from Wasilla....with a herd of troubled kids and a husband who has to go to a masseur for his jollies. She's a JOKE.

  • Steve D. | September 10, 2011 6:01 AMReply

    Broomfield is a nothing, a nobody. Sarah Palin is famous world-wide.Broomfield needs to get a broom. I,m sure someone might hire him as a janitor.

  • ajsteele | September 10, 2011 4:09 AMReply

    Why would an individual spend his time and energy to make a film like this? For 5 years the media couldn't stand her. She's been vetted far beyond any other candidate, up to and including having her emails poured over. Supposedly she is the dunce of all dunces according to the press. The answer to why, is hate. Hate for a conservative woman.

    The pro- Palin film The Undefeated had purpose whether you agreed with it or not. It makes sense if your Sarah Palin or her suporter and want to correct a falsly distorted record created by the media. From this article the film "Sarah Palin-you betcha"appears to be a rehash of the past with a few supposed "gotcha" moments by those either in a bad mood or vendetta driven.

    Broomfield is an empty man who went on a mission of attempted mockery toward a person who has already endured it all and survived. His actions scream, "let me be relevant" as he takes his futile last gasps of attempted destruction toward a woman who, has more relevance in her simple wink, than he could have in a lifetime.