Editor’s Note: Gnarr’s VOD release date was February 7th. It is currently available via VOD in the U.S. from Focus World, a division of Focus Features.
In 2001, the Icelandic government allowed for dramatic deregulation of their banking community. The result was a considerable economic boom the likes the country had never experienced with the unemployment rate dropping to a meager 2.3%. The same policies that allowed such an enormous upturn, however, resulted in the bubble burst of 2008. One of the biggest economic downturns in global history ensued, with the three largest Icelandic banks combining for a $62 billion foreign-currency debt. Iceland was first, the world followed. If you’ve seen the excellent Charles Ferguson documentary, Inside Job, you are familiar with the troubles that resulted in the more morbid post-2008 Icelandic economy.
Since 2008, the voting public has become more jaded and frustrated than ever. No one seems to have taken real responsibility for the haphazard non-method of mishandled finances or the way livelihoods were toyed with by the irresponsible, unfeeling and soulless Gordon Gecko-type rulers of the universe who treated those lives like collateral damage en route to their Maseratis and other executive bonuses of jobs well done. The corporate titans and the governments let their consumers and citizens down and as a people we have been struggling for the best way to express our disenfranchised hearts.
Watching Gnarr I had to remind myself that I wasn’t watching a Christopher Guest or Sacha Baron Cohen mockumentary.
Enter Jón Gnarr, a successful Icelandic actor-comedian who lives in the capital, Reykjavik, and in the wake of this marginalized sentiment decides – for kicks – to run for mayor. It begins as a joke, with Gnarr documenting every step of the way as he evolves from dismissed sideshow by his adversaries to a prohibited favorite to win office.
Watching Gnarr I had to remind myself that I wasn’t watching a Christopher Guest or Sacha Baron Cohen mockumentary. He doesn’t appear to take any question or any issue seriously (and is in fact bored by much of the process) but that is the point: he isn’t pretending, he isn’t paying lip service and he admits he will likely try to lie to get out of any hot water while serving office. It’s so refreshing his poll numbers start to take off.
I can’t say I was familiar with Gnarr before Gaukur Úlfarsson’s searing, (many times) laugh-out-loud documentary but the film does a good job intercutting some of Gnarr’s sketch comedy works early on. It’s impossible to resist Jón Gnarr. He is a comedian, but he clearly understands the gravity of the problem he’s satirizing by running for office. When Gnarr tells a room of voters he had the idea to run because it would afford him a decent salary and use of “the city’s summerhouse by the water” – not to mention how he plans to grant himself the highest salary possible while doing very little to earn it – it becomes so clear that what voters want more than anything else is honesty. I guess the thinking is, if you’re going to rob me, at least tell me to my face.
Gnarr starts a political party, the creatively named “Best Party” (his campaign even uses a cover of Tina Turner’s “Simply the Best”). When challenged as to how he would handle corruption within in his own party, his responds that he will do his best to talk his way out of it with empty promises. “If everything else fails,” Gnarr admits, “of course I’d shoulder responsibility”. Later in the interview, he also talks about opening up a Disneyland where the unemployed can come take pictures with Mickey Mouse. We also learn he will not negotiate with any other politician who has not watched HBO’s The Wire (his favorite character is Omar).
He is a comedian, but he clearly understands the gravity of the problem he’s satirizing by running for office.
There is a moment at the heart of the film where Gnarr talks about why he began his political campaign. He explains he had an awakening one day at what great theater politics were; how it is lead by buffoons who speak a language he could barely understand and how he wished to disrupt that system so that the language would be forced to change and could be better understood. His aim in satire was to bring more sincerity to the table. To a large degree, it appears he succeeds, forcing his adversaries to take him seriously. After all, by not taking him seriously, it means the politicians aren’t taking those who support him seriously. And as his campaign rolls on, Gnarr and his Best Party continue to gain more and more support.
By mocking the system, Gnarr grabs the imagination (and frustrations) of the people and mere days away from the election, he appears to take his joke, his stunt, somewhat seriously, defending the very notion of a comedian running for office, defending artists of all kinds for the youthful, creative and exciting thinking that appears to be lacking from politics altogether. And when he defends the artist, when he demands respect for himself and artists like or unlike him, I’m not so certain this is Gnarr up to his same old shenanigans. Gnarr isn’t simply a political satire, it’s a true story of minor triumph for the artist representing a constantly thwarted, fed up public.
Gnarr is available for digital download via iTunes and Amazon Instant Video. Check your local listings for VOD availability.
[notification type=”star”]83/100 ~ GREAT. Gnarr isn’t simply a political satire, it’s a true story of minor triumph for the artist representing a constantly thwarted, fed up public.[/notification]