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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

An American Carol (review)

Michael Moore Is Fat

I don’t usually dread watching a DVD: I dread theatrical films because you’re totally at their mercy, sitting in the dark in a multiplex or in a private screening room. But with a DVD, even if it’s awful, you at least have the comfort of your own home and your own stuff, and even if you are bizarrely afflicted by the certain kind of OCD that demands you watch a film through to the end, it’s just not the same kind of assault when bad cinema throws itself at you in your own living room as when that happens in a public place.
But I was dreading An American Carol so much that the DVD just sat there on my desk, staring me in the face for weeks. Taunting me, almost — daring me to finally pop it into the player. Which, as there came a moment when I could no longer put it off, I did.

Oh dear. Oh oh oh dear. It’s so much worse than I could have imagined.

I swear it’s true that I would sincerely welcome an honest conservative argument for, you know, the last eight years. For Bush and warrantless wiretapping and Guantanamo Bay and invading sovereign nations and why we really, really need to give rich corporations breaks we aren’t willing to give to poor people with few resources. And, indeed, I have a new friend who is conservative who recently returned from Afghanistan where he served as an army officer who has given me some new perspectives on some aspects of what’s been going on there. I’m saying this: I’m willing to be convinced that I’m wrong when I say that our leaders are only out for themselves and their rich, connected friends; I’m willing to be convinced that those who rail against those leaders have the wrong end of the stick, and that there is a legitimate case for the U.S. global-law-defying invasion of Iraq.

American Carol could have been that movie. If there was an honest conservative defense of the last eight years, it could have been put forth in a movie like this, which would like to be thoughtful — I’m giving it the benefit of the doubt here — as well as humorous, but simply can’t be bothered. If director David Zucker — who wrote the film with Myrna Sokoloff and Lewis Friedman — has something real to say to contradict what lefties have been saying for years, where is it?

Because it ain’t here. American Carol reeks of desperation, erecting bizarre straw-man arguments against the left that it thinks it can easily knock down… and then it can’t even knock them down. It posits — poorly — a fantasy story in which left-wing documentary filmmaker Michael Malone (Kevin Farley: Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star, Adam Sandler’s Eight Crazy Nights), who wants to abolish the Fourth of July for reasons left undetailed, who hates “the troops,” who “love[s] America” and explains that “that’s why it needs to be destroyed,” is visited by three angels, Dickens style, who show him the error of his ways. And the angels — including Kelsey Grammer (Swing Vote, X-Men: The Last Stand) as General George S. Patton and country star Trace Adkins as country star Trace Adkins — are unable to do that except by suggesting that World War II was the exact equivalent of the “war on terror,” that anyone who opposes the current American regime is the equivalent of Nazi appeaser or even a Nazi lover, and that if we hadn’t done, as a nation, precisely what we’ve done in the last eight years, well, it would be the same as if Lincoln hadn’t freed the slaves.

Never mind that this is all wildly condescending to those on both sides of the argument (I will continue to believe that there are honest people on both sides). Never mind that American Carol assumes that those on its own side of the argument are too ignorant to have any historical perspective, or are too stupid to appreciate it. This is the thing that galls: If you need to invent shit about your opponents (abolishing the Fourth of July? WTF?) then surely that means you realize you cannot meet them on honest ground.

By that measure, An American Carol is its own refutation.

And yet, it’s all so much worse. Carol believes it is bolstering its own arguments when it suggests that:

• lesbians are funny merely for being lesbians
• all Arabs are named Mohammed Hussein (kinda like how all Americans are named Bob Smith?)
• Islamic suicide bombers are either dupes or idiots (which seems to me to imply either that we should pity them or that they can’t be truly dangerous, but what do I know?)
• anyone attending a Fourth of July barbecue must be a conservative right-winger
• education is indocrintation — well, at Columbia University, at least; presumably not so much at Bob Jones University
• George W. Bush is just like Abe Lincoln
• girls are sexually attracted only to guys who conform to the right-wing definition of American heroism
• Christians can’t be terrorists because they don’t hijack airplanes, and nothing other than hijacking airplanes qualifies as terrorism
• ACLU lawyers are zombies who deserve to be shot
• lawyers who uphold the Constitution are like premenstrual women, and we all know what a drag nags like bitches on the rag are
• representatives of the U.S. government who “protect the Ten Commandments” are totally different from the Taliban imposing its ideas of religious righteousness on the citizens of Afghanistan
• audiences “want” to hear that our health care sucks and guns kill people and everything else that Michael Moore–excuse me, Malone covers in his movies
• Michael Moore–excuse me, Malone panders to audiences and that’s why they flock to his movies and that’s why he’s so popular; also, no one goes to see Moore’s movies, and he’s totally irrelevant
• Michael Moore–excuse me, Malone is fat, smells bad, and is sexually frustrated, and that’s why he’s wrong about everything
• it’s possible to “abuse” the freedom of speech
• the “dust of 3,000 innocent human beings and the great heroes who tried to save them” on 9/11 justifies absolutely any behavior on the part of the U.S. whatsoever.

It would be a kindness to say that An American Carol is so appallingly simplistic that it makes me want to barf. It’s way worse than simplistic — it lies. It flat out lies. I don’t know how American Carol can sleep at night. How does it live with itself? How does it go through the day feeling good about itself?

How does it think we can possibly be on its side?


MPAA: rated PG-13 for rude and irreverent content, and for language and brief drug material

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine
  • JasonJ

    Never wanted to see this, and I am sorry you foisted this on yourself. thanks for taking one for the team. I like Kelsey Grammer, it’s too bad he was a part of this. I’d give you a conservative argument for the last 8 years, but I got nothing. But then, I’m not a “real” conservative because I am not religious. I’m one of those horrible human/conservative hybrids that is capable of my own thought process and a moral compass that is not reliant on fear of the make believe….

  • D

    Amen to that. I had never felt nauseated while watching a movie before, never mind a trailer. But I saw it on tv once, and as I began to understand what I was seeing, what it was meant to imply(ex: Kennedy as an angry bigot beating someone up), I felt something in my stomach. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. I rushed to Wikipedia, to see the movie synopsis. It couldn’t be as bad as it appeared. I thought “Sure, this is right wing propaganda, but I have some right wing, Bush-supporting friends whom I like to talk to, and it may give me another perspective, even if I don’t agree I might get something out of it. And there’s a chance this might have something funny, if I ignore the politic message”. And I found this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/An_American_Carol
    Jesus. If you don’t mind, I’m going to watch some “Daily Show” now. Where they find better ways of satirizing people than having someone slap them and call them fat.
    Also, Kennedy’s spech about never letting any form of dictatorship exist? (cought-bayofpigs-cought) Never mind.

  • Rob

    I give you a lot of credit for sitting through that film to review it. Just what you wrote about it here makes my skin crawl.

  • JoshB

    I know it sucks that you have to watch movies like this, and I do feel bad for you, but damn the reviews make for good reading :P

  • Alli

    lawyers who uphold the Constitution are like premenstrual women, and we all know what a drag nags like bitches on the rag are

    LoL. I cracked up when I read that. I hate it when guys suggest I’m angry or frustrated because of my hormones. Clearly outside influences cannot possibly be responsible for my aggression.

    Anyway…thanks for taking one for the team MaryAnn. I know a few good conservatives who would be pretty insulted by the film as well.

  • Mischief Maker

    I think a better title for this film would have been, “It’s a wonderful war”

    I know for a fact that Zucker was a student at Madison in the 60s. What are the wars he trots out in this movie? Civil War, World War II, then Gulf War II. Gee, did he happen to gloss over a certain war that wouldn’t have backed up his premise?

    Actually let’s take a step further back and add a ghost cheering America’s involvement in WWI, aka “the stupidest war of the 20th century.” What if America had never gotten involved in that war? Would the treaty of Versailles and its economic sanctions on Germany have still come about? Would Germany be in desperate enough straits to allow the nutty Nazi party to gain popular support? Would the Holocaust have even happened?

  • NorthernStar

    Hear that sound? It’s Dickens rolling in his grave.

    It’s quite ironic really. This film is taking Dickens work (a man commited to social change and highlighting the wrongs of Victorian society) and using it to attack Micheal Moore, who in his own way, is doing much the same.

    I must add that I’m disppointed in Kelsey Grammar. Maybe I’m blurring him with his character from Fraiser (aka The Best Sitcom Ever) but still, I’m disappointed.

  • Vergil

    I’m gonna hate myself because I’m gonna nit-pick even though I’m sure I’d hate the movie as much as yourself. But I can’t help it…

    The reason it’s ok under certain circumstances to give “rich” corporations “breaks” as opposed to poor people is that corporations aren’t people. Sure, tax the profits that people make off of the company all you want, but you have to remember that often it’s the “rich” corporations that keep people from being poor.

    Yes it is possible to abuse freedom of speech. The obvious arguement being: yelling “fire” in a crowded theatre.

  • MaryAnn

    The reason it’s ok under certain circumstances to give “rich” corporations “breaks” as opposed to poor people is that corporations aren’t people.

    I honestly have no idea how the second follows from the first.

    Yes it is possible to abuse freedom of speech. The obvious arguement being: yelling “fire” in a crowded theatre.

    What this film is suggesting regarding freedom of speech has nothing to do with such a scenario.

  • MBI

    Of course it’s possible to abuse freedom of speech. It wouldn’t be freedom if you couldn’t. For a prime example: this movie.

    It occurs to me that, from what I’ve read (especially here), this is the worst possible version of this kind of movie, but I concluded early on that even if this movie was good, it couldn’t be good. I mean, there’s a billion lefty and righty entertainments out there counteracting each other. For every Michael Moore doc there are three smaller anti-Moore docs; for every Bill O’Reilly there’s a Keith Olbermann; you have Jon Stewart to counteract Dennis Miller; Bill Maher’s “Religulous” is basically a riposte to Ben Stein’s “Expelled”; but “An American Carol” is the right-wing version of what exactly? “Epic Movie”? “Meet the Spartans”? Seth MacFarlane’s “American Dad” suffers the same problem, not to mention how the brief environmentalist messages in Zucker’s own “Naked Gun 2 1/2” always threw off the rhythm.

  • Mischief Maker

    Of course, you do realize that the “Yelling fire in a crowded theater” chestnut was originally from a supreme court decision ruling that it is illegal to distribute flyers opposing the draft during World War 1. This quote has been used to supress dissent ever since.

  • Vergil

    And yet its relevance is not changed a whit. Hm.

  • Admiral Naismith

    CENT ONE: You know what COULD have been funny? The scene early on where Moore has just finished announcing how happy the third world peasants are, and then they all swamp his boat trying to get in and follow him to America. That had potential. Until they have Moore ATTACK the peasants.

    CENT TWO: In a world where Lincoln never freed the slaves, all the jobs went to Dixie. I guess that means conservatives believe that in an unregulated market, slavery is economically advantageous and it’s a shame we can’t have it back. Because that’s how it panned out historically; the South lost in spite of all the manufacturing bases in America being in the Confederate states due to the free labor. (eyeroll)

  • Vergil

    I honestly have no idea how the second follows from the first.

    What I mean to say is that the very idea of giving corporations a break “compared to poor people” is irrational, because you can’t compare the two.

    What this film is suggesting regarding freedom of speech has nothing to do with such a scenario

    So you are saying that it IS possible to abuse the Freedom of Speech, but this movie’s arguement (for the possibility) is a poor one?

  • MaryAnn

    Of course it’s possible to abuse freedom of speech. It wouldn’t be freedom if you couldn’t. For a prime example: this movie.

    No, this movie is absolutely not an abuse of freedom of speech. The freedom to say whatever you want does not depend on your being smart about it, or even right. We all, in this country, have the right to say whatever we want. And anyone has the right to refute us. Freedom is speech only works when it’s free for absolutely everyone… and especially for those we disagree with.

    It is, unfortunately, a very prevalent attitude on the U.S. that freedom of speech *can* be abused, and that certain people should keep their mouths shut. Anyone who would espouse such a thing clearly has no idea what the concept is about.

    So you are saying that it IS possible to abuse the Freedom of Speech, but this movie’s arguement (for the possibility) is a poor one?

    No, I’m not saying that at all. I’m saying that I could argue here all day (but I’m not going to) that the “shouting fire in a crowded theater” thing isn’t about freedom of speech, but even if it were, this movie takes no nuanced stand on appreciating the power of the rights we hold. Instead, it merely suggests that those it disagrees with are not entitled to the same freedoms it claims for itself.

  • Michael Moore–excuse me, Malone panders to audiences and that’s why they flock to his movies and that’s why he’s so popular

    At least they got one thing right…

    Anyway, a large number of society has a huge problem with touting the freedoms we are granted and putting the word “except” after it. People want to be able to express their own beliefs and because their ideas and opinions are obviously the correct opinions that something in an extreme the other way then it should be shut down.

    Perfect example is someone that called the radio show I listened to. They “were all for freedom of speech” and yet was against the advertising of a website that is set up as a dating site for married people. Whatever your opinion on the site is or isn’t, is irrelevant. They have the right to advertise and the company has the right to accept their money. And yet because this woman didn’t agree with the message she was protesting to have it taken off the air.

    Instead of bitching about something people don’t like and then complaining until it goes away, people need to use their rights to do or not do something. Don’t rent that “offensive” movie. Turn the channel if you don’t like that advertisement. Teach your children what certain things are instead of expressly saying no because “it’s bad”.

    Unfortunately that would be the hard way for most people…

  • Vergil

    The “Shouting fire” is very much about how you define “Freedom of Speech”. If you define it within the parameters of “It’s not a Freedom of Speech if you use it to hurt people instead of expressing an idea” then what you are actually saying is “freedom of speech cannot be abused…unless you abuse it.”

  • Vergil

    Will, as a practical matter, sometimes bitching about something will change it, as opposed to simply ignoring it (or not buying it). Of course, that could ALSO be considered “Freedom of Speech”. Isn’t this fun?

    BTW You are right about Moore. He is a perfect example of how much otherwise very intelligent people will bury their objectivity when presented with an opinion with which they happen to agree.

  • MaryAnn

    They have the right to advertise and the company has the right to accept their money. And yet because this woman didn’t agree with the message she was protesting to have it taken off the air.

    I don’t want this thread to devolve into a debate about freedom of speech that gets too far away from this movie. Suffice to say that the Constituitionally guaranteed freedom of speech means *the government* cannot gag your speech. It doesn’t mean that a private organization must promote your speech — like by running an ad — or, if it does, that someone who complains about such an ad isn’t entitled to complain about it. Protest is the very definition of freedom of speech… particularly when one is protesting the actions of our government. But this movie would have us believe that such protests are an abuse of the freedom of speech.

  • Mary ann,

    My point is, this person is protesting using her freedom of speech to block someone elses freedom of speech. I didn’t say that the company MUST run the ad but it is their right to run it and it is her right to disagree but I think its bullshit when people tout their belifes because they think that they’re the person that is going to protect society and they’re the great decider about what is moral and what isn’t.

    So while I do agree that she has every right to complain that she doesn’t like the ad, it doesn’t give her the right to decided that someone else should not hear about and use the services offered in the ad just because she doesn’t want you to hear it.

  • MaryAnn

    this person is protesting using her freedom of speech to block someone elses freedom of speech.

    No, she isn’t. The right to have one’s advertisement appear anywhere without having anyone protest it is not a right protected by the Constitution.

  • Mischief Maker

    Will, you’re mixing up the right to free expression without government interference verses the duty to make all voices be heard. They are related, but still different things.

    It’s worth mentioning that at one time broadcasters did have a duty like that, but that duty has since been squelched for better or worse.

  • bitchen frizzy

    When did broadcasters have a duty to refuse to listen to complaints about their advertising, and where is that written?

  • D

    You know a right wing comedy that’s actualy funny, even for someone more to the left like me? “Team America: World Police”.
    Not this.

  • Nathan

    Team America is a far worse film *because* it is more entertaining and reached a larger audience. It’s a film, iirc, that was released during the run-up to the ’04 elections and its message was basically that nothing matters so don’t bother having an opinion or doing anything. The most chilling thing I’ve probably ever heard from the audience in a movie theatre was the sound of a gigantic redneck (who brought her young children) cackling like a madwoman every time a celebrity puppet died in some nasty way.

    Team America doesn’t even preach conservatism, it preaches nihilism. It may represent the cultural nadir of post-9/11 America.

  • JasonJ

    You know a right wing comedy that’s actualy funny, even for someone more to the left like me? “Team America: World Police”.

    That was not a right wing comedy. It made fun of everyone, lefty, righty, and everything in the middle.

  • JoshB

    That’s an apt description of Team America Nathan. Even South Park, which I enjoy immensely, often leaves me with a bitter aftertaste because their message seems to be “if you take anything seriously then you’re an asshole who deserves to be ridiculed.”

  • D

    Ok, I admit I have a bit of a thing for nihilist fiction ( I like David Fincher, the Coen brothers and Tarantino).
    But TA:WP main goal was not to preach, but to entertain. Which is kind of the opposite of what this film does.
    And, c’mon, “Montage” rocked.

  • Markyd

    Plus TA: WP produced the best movie song ever. “America, F#@K Yeah!”
    “On our way to save the mother f@$kin’ day, yeah!”
    That movie was hilarious.

  • Jurgan

    I’m glad someone brought up Team America, because I was going to ask about that. At the time, I liked TA, mainly because of the whole Michael Bay style action movie parody. The more I think about its politics, though, the more I wonder. It had the same attitude toward Michael Moore that American Carol seems to have: It had a string of fat jokes by constantly showing him eating, and then he tried to blow up Mount Rushmore because he hates America. Never mind that he’s pacifistic in his dissent- he’s harsh to the Bush Administration (or, former Bush administration- man, it feels good to type that), so he’s no better than a terrorist. How does that follow? For that matter, if Stone and Parker are constantly putting political messages into their work, how can they criticize celebrities for voicing their political opinions? Anyway, it’s an older movie, but I’m wondering what anyone thinks of the parallels, especially if you’ve seen both.

  • Chris-E

    Team America is not a “right wing” movie. It just made fun of stupid actors who like to pretend that they are elected officials and it made fun of the idea that America has to act like the “world police” and get involved in everybody’s shit even when it isn’t wanted. It made fun of everyone! Making fun of liberals was more overt because they used the actors. The “Team” was a metaphor for the right wing. It in no way said that Bush or Republicans were right. I don’t even recall mention of political parties or any of that stuff. They just made fun of Michael Moore because it was easy (and the fact that 50% of what is in his films are fiction).

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