Nuts! Review: Our Family and Other Goats
- Vassilis Kroustallis
The animation documentary by Penny Lane tells a highly interesting story with honesty and flair, but does not always hit the right notes.
How did they ever make a film about J.R. Brinkley? Goat transplants (and more other non-orthodox stuff) are nothing unexpected in animation. Yet, a documentary based on the infamous doctor's "true" account of the facts, which constantly switches between reliable and unreliable narrators, it is something to celebrate about.
We need more documentaries on this stuff, the story of a highly eccentric doctor in the midst of America's depression, who transformed a small Kansas city into an all-American, impotence rehabilitation centre -and was almost elected Governor of Kansas. Was he really elected, really?
Penny Lane's film takes us into a very traditional, forward-looking narrative, divided into illustrated chapters to tell the doctor's extravagant story in the most accessible mannner.
Animation here dramatizes dialogues and situations, and is mingled with archival footage, live-action interviews and photos along the way. For animation fans, the emphasis here is on the documentary side of the things -animation illustrates, does not create situations of its own.
The situation and main intention behind Lane's Nuts! is a cry for proven truth, away from charlatanism, cleverly aligning the film with Obama's hard-pressed healthcare reform.
Who is right here, the successful, popular doctor and self-created entrepreneur or his Nemesis, the official representative of Americal Medical Association, Mr. Fishbone?
Nuts! uses the conventional narrative tool to trick audience, in exactly the same way the wannabe radio persona, millionaire and "surgeon" tricked his patients. A constant battle between federal agency and satisfied patients (all of them very recreative in the process), Nuts! wants its audience to side first with the mellow doctor, and then subvert him in the beautifully staged, final courtroom scene.
The problem with this tactic is that it is too linear, takes too long to develop. We love Citizen Kane not because we side with Wells' enterpreneur, but because we really want to be detectives along with the director and the film.
In Nuts!, we are guided instead to a series of episodes (Brinkley's governor campaign, his radio persona) as the news from success to fall from grace. True story indeed, but becomes too didactic for film purposes.
Nuts! also misses a great opportunity to investigate the sexual behavior of Depression-era America, by focusing instead on the rather uninteresting side story of Brinkley's family (including his son's future predicament).
Unlike its early scenes, as the film progresses, it becomes so serious for its own sake and subject-matter in the process. Animation style suggests parody, but documentary points in a completely different direction.
The battle against the right to choose and federal regulation in health has a clear winner here. Nuts! is a fine attempt to narrate and visualize a completely nutty story, without the excitement and zaniness that both its title and the material suggest.