"Some documentaries have to be made. Others have to be endured."
SCREENED AT THE 2003 SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL: When Joe Lieberman was announced as Al Gore’s running mate in the United States Presidential elections of 2000, history was made. As recently as the time of John F. Kennedy, it was widely considered that no Catholic could ever win an election for the United States’ highest office. JFK broke that barrier wide open when he grabbed the top job on a wave of personality-driven support, but the next barrier in American politics – the ‘no Jew’ barrier – remained for a further thirty years. Only In America is a documentary that undoubtedly celebrates Joe Lieberman’s achievement in ending that drought, but quite frankly that’s about all it does. When a documentary gives you nothing but hurrahs for the person in the topic, without looking any deeper than the subject’s friends and family in the quest to discover how cool he is, can it really be called a documentary?Playing out like an episode of Biography, Only In America is the sort of puff piece that you’d expect to see playing before the Joe Lieberman retirement dinner. Clearly made with the support of the man himself (he’s interviewed throughout) and his family (his wife Hadassah gets her share of the limelight too), it’s a clean cut little outing, polished and proud of itself, but the final product is about as cinematic and important as a Seven/Eleven crew training video.
If the idea here was to show us who Joe Lieberman is behind the public image, that’s hinted at. If the idea was to show us how terrible it’s been for Jews in American politics, that’s hinted at. And if the idea is to show us what a long and winding path Lieberman had to tread to get to where he is today, you guessed it, that’s hinted at.
Of course when you only briefly touch on such things, portraying every one of them as a great success against the odds without ever touching on any failures or mistakes or opposing opinions, you can hardly expect that you’ll be remembered for having made a great documentary. Rather, Only In America… would make a great demo reel if director Ron Frank was looking to score himself a job at the Biography channel.
Only In America, like the snoring of the man who sat behind me at the screening, is at first mildly amusing, rapidly becomes boring and eventually enters ‘annoying’.I was repeatedly reaching for my remote, only to remember that I was, for some reason, watching this film in a theater. I guess the title fits – how could a tame flick like this get into one of the nation’s premier film festivals? Only in America…
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 SXSW Film Festival. For more in the 2003 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
This film is listed in our political documentary series. For more in the Political Documentary series, click here.