“Hillary’s America,” the third documentary from author, filmmaker and convicted felon Dinesh D’Souza, begins with an undeniably fascinating premise: What if a Twitter egg made a movie? While D’Souza’s previous feature-length attacks on the Democratic Party were similarly falsified and foaming at the mouth (remember the part in 2014’s “America” when he argued that Hillary Clinton wants to use NASA to turn the United States into her own personal panopticon of terror?), “Hillary’s America” is different — this time, it’s personal.
In January of 2014, D’Souza was indicted for violating campaign finance laws after it was discovered that he made illegal contributions to Wendy Long’s Senate bid (she wound up losing by more than 40 percentage points). He was found guilty, and accused the court of selective persecution on the basis that the Obama administration was supposedly trying to silence its dissidents.
“It all began when the Obama administration tried to shut me up,” he says via the droning voiceover that he wraps around his movie like a suffocating plastic bag, effectively contextualizing his subsequent arguments as the grandiose delusions of a paranoid man who thinks that the leader of the free world has ever given him a single thought. His account was effectively blocked — in the worst of all indignities for such a fanatically self-described patriot, he has lost his right to vote. But now, fresh off an eight month sentence in a minimum-security halfway house, D’Souza is all riled up and ready to reboot.
“Hillary’s America” opens with a promise writ large across the screen: “This is a true story. No names were changed to protect the Democratic Party.” Facts, on the other hand, have been radically altered in order to harm them. From there, the film immediately devolves into a delusional vanity project, as D’Souza re-stages his trial — and hilariously recreates his time in state custody in order to portray the experience as it happened in the narcissistic void where his thoughts are brought to term. He stages a series of hokey scenes in which he befriends a number of his fellow inmates, and finds himself mocked for the ridiculousness of his crime. “I think I might be the stupidest criminal in the history of American jurisprudence,” he sighs. No argument there.
But then, an epiphany: A supremely #woke prisoner named “Roc” removes the veil from over D’Souza’s eyes after the two of them are witness to a gang fight (or the minimum-security equivalent). What if politicians are the biggest gang of all? You can practically feel Obama reaching for the panic button on the underside of his desk, tapping it repeatedly in the hope that help might come sooner. They’ve blown this thing wide open, and D’Souza has seen the light: “I’ve been too focused on America as it ought to be,” he exclaims like a bizarro George Bailey who’s just discovered the joys of misconstruing history to serve his vile agenda.
And that’s when it hits him: “What if the Democratic Party’s plan is to steal the most valuable thing ever produced? What if the Democratic Party’s plan is to steal… America?” What if! What if your pets had secret lives when you went to work? What if there were a map on the back of the Declaration of Independence? What if you could get rich by serving a hot plate of toxic horse shit to poorly educated Americans every other year?
Of course, this is the same old dog and pony show upon which D’Souza has built his brand. It’s his usual shtick of piggybacking a baseless personal attack onto a pseudo history lesson, a feature-length dog whistle that’s blown at a pitch so high that only the most ignorant or paranoid of people are capable of hearing it. He’s smart to anchor his argument in the story of his arrest, because his proven track record of Republican fanaticism is the only sincere detail of this documentary.
Please be assured that the following actually happens: D’Souza visits a well-staffed mock-up of the Democratic Party headquarters, swooping into their museum under the guise of a humble outsider who’s curious to learn more about his country’s history. But then he spots a portrait of Abraham Lincoln — wait a second, but Abraham Lincoln was a Republican! That’s when D’Souza slips under the velvet rope, rides the secret employee elevator to the basement, and finds the real truth about the Democratic Party.
D’Souza rewrites history, staging a series of still more hokey recreations (complete with some of the worst wig work in the history of the arts) and smothering them with his unctuous narration. His central thesis is that the Democrats were on the wrong side of the Civil War, and because that only happened some 150 years ago, obviously nothing has changed since. D’Souza is compelled by the fact that Republicans were once the party of equal rights, and completely uninterested in the fact that they aren’t anymore.
He depicts Andrew Jackson lashing a slave in the morning and sleeping with her at night (“What is it with Democratic Presidents and innocent young women?” he asks, subtly foreshadowing his fetishistic obsessions with Bill Clinton’s penis). He tells us that “No Republicans owned slaves.” Zero. He paints Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, as the mother of American eugenics because she once spoke at a KKK event (in a desperate bid to get them to stop procreating). He recounts how “The Birth of a Nation” was the first movie ever screened at the White House, and hammers that non-point home by showing one of Griffith’s Klansmen burst out of the screen and onto the White House lawn, to the great delight of Woodrow Wilson.
Every scene feels like it should be punctuated with a smash-cut to John Oliver’s stupefied face. Instead, we’re constantly returned to images of D’Souza, the director interjecting his constipated grimace into the film whenever possible and making Michael Moore look like Frederick Wiseman in the process.
It’s easy to appreciate how the sheer velocity of D’Souza’s distortions might have an effect on some audiences — by the time “Hillary’s America” reaches the New Deal and argues that “The Big Switch” between party platforms was just “a bigger scam” (huh?), D’Souza has created such a farcical vortex of fictions that reality starts to erode along the margins. But the arguments are too cartoonish, too conspiratorial. “Oh,” you almost certainly won’t find yourself thinking during an extended recreation in which conservative boogeyman Saul Alinsky devises a way to con a cheap breakfast from a local diner, “Maybe the Democratic Party is a giant shadow organization hellbent on controlling the world.”
The current Republican nominee for President is never explicitly mentioned, but his approach to politics is baked into D’Souza’s filmmaking. Both men gear their arguments towards relentlessly attacking the enemy, both are rampant abusers of self-victimization and both have a habit of deflecting all questions of character and inquiries towards substance. The specter of Trump is omnipresent, even before D’Souza abruptly pivots its focus to Hillary Clinton for his documentary’s bravura final act. Young Clinton, portrayed by a Hope Davis lookalike whom it would be needlessly cruel to mention by name, is seen as a relentless community organizer who’s determined to bring America to its knees. D’Souza, in what surely must be his finest moment, depicts Clinton “outsmarting the master” in a scene where she meets “Alinsky” at a diner and tells him that “We should take over institutions of government from the inside.” So like… getting elected to office? Insidious!
By the time the ride is over, D’Souza has somehow managed to pin Bill Clinton’s infidelity on his wife: “If Hillary Clinton’s husband is a sex abuser, how is that her fault? Actually, it is: She orchestrated all of this. Hillary Clinton is the War on Women.” Trump thinks that women should be punished for having abortions, but sure, that logic totally checks out. Perhaps the best thing you can say about “Hillary’s America” is that it doesn’t hate Hillary because she’s a woman (though he might hate women because Hillary Clinton is one of them).
It’s a shame that D’Souza’s arguments are getting progressively dumber, because his filmmaking is experiencing marginal improvements, albeit only on a technical level. The recreations, however cheesy they may be, show some flair for composition, and the tracking shot that follows D’Souza into Clinton’s “headquarters,” while an empty exercise in style, is endowed with a confident visual flair.
As a documentary determined to damn the Democratic Party, “Hillary’s America” is a profound failure of unprecedented proportions, an embarrassment for Republicans, Americans and pretty much the rest of humankind. As a parody of right-wing conspiracy theorists, this knotted spiderweb of ideological garbage is practically “Citizen Kane.”
“Hillary’s America” opens in theaters nationwide on Friday, July 22.