Sizzle… fo’ Shizzle?
Before I give you my review of Randy Olson’s new mockumentary about the global warming debate, I’d like to apologize for being such a terrible liberal documentary-goer. I haven’t seen An Inconvenient Truth, or Olson’s previous movie, Flock of Dodos, or any of Michael Moore’s work since “TV Nation”. I keep meaning to, and then I forget, or I decide that I’d rather use those two hours of my life for an escapist Pixar fantasy or save the $9 for beer. I am totally going to fail at providing a compare’n’contrast with the relevant touchstones of the genre that will assist you in deciding whether or not you want to see this movie.
So I’ll just make it simple: You don’t want to see this movie.
Sizzle is a movie about the making of a movie. The film follows an aspiring director – I’ll call him Dorkwad Olson, to distinguish him from the real-life Randy – through the process of finding backers and conducting interviews for his smash hit follow-up to An Inconvenient Truth. This documentary film-within-a-film is initially conceived as a montage of talking head scientists, most of whom just so happen to be aged white men in button-down shirts*. Dorkwad Olson earnestly believes that this is the best possible global warming movie ever.
The film opens with Dorkwad’s search for financial backing, but his struggles don’t really begin until he’s found it. His producers are a stereotypical** celebrity-obsessed gay couple from Malibu, with the “flaming queen” knob set to a modest 8 (although they turn it up to 11 for comic relief). The producers suggest hiring a two-man camera crew that they’ve worked with before; on the first day of shooting, the camera crew arrives late, in a Hummer that bounces to a hip-hop beat.
It took me a while to figure out why Sizzle was billed as a comedy, because it’s not very funny. There are some mildly amusing jabs at Hollywood celebrity culture, delivered with all the delicate comic timing of a bulldozer. But when the cameraman, who had neglected to bring along his camera, muttered something about his “gear” being his sneakers, I realized that the stereotypes weren’t just a thoughtless way to set up the characters. I was actually supposed to be laughing at – not with, but at – those zany black and gay people being all crazy black and gay.
Jeebus fucking H. Cripes on a crutch.
In better hands, the conflict between Dorkwad Olson and his production team would have been a great story. The crew teaches Dorkwad a valuable lesson about communication, Dorkwad (who by the end of the film will begin to transcend his character, to emerge simply as Randy Olson filmmaker) teaches the crew some things about science, everyone goes home warm and fuzzy***. By the time Sizzle crawls its way out from under the pile of cheap stereotypes and plodding facsimiles of whimsy, though, it’s too late to deliver anything more than the vague yet hopelessly ham-fisted moral of the story: Something something science communication something.
Unlike his alter ego Dorkwad, Randy Olson knows that a movie can’t succeed without conflict and a clear, compelling story. That knowledge was not enough to stop him from slicing and dicing two or three perfectly good stories into one confused and boring mishmash. It goes to show, I guess, that this sort of thing is much easier said than done.
But I still can’t believe he expected us to laugh.
*One of the staple orders issued to talking heads is to wear a solid color, so that the camera doesn’t freak out. Otherwise I am sure many of these scientists would be wearing graph-paper shirts.
**Stereotypical except for one of their haircuts. Seriously, I am not a fashionista and it’s been 4 years since I’ve set foot in Hollywood, but if Dennis Kucinich has really become a hairstyle trendsetter in the interim I’ll eat my laptop.
***And as a side bonus: As Dorkwad begins his slow metamorphosis into Randy the effective communicator, his interview subjects become more diverse. That was one of the most amazing things about the film for me. If the racism and homophobia at the beginning of the film hadn’t made my head explode, I would’ve written something interesting about it, but no. I’m stuck banging my head against the simplest level of race/gender/etc. analysis available, because it is just that blatant.
PS: I apologize for the title of this review. It took all the willpower and good editorial sense I possess just to avoid using the word “fizzle”.