Joe is a deejay for a radio station who is starting his last day on the air. He decides to hit the streets and go out with a bang by heading to the Republican National Convention.
While most mockumentaries are in the comedy genre, there are a small number that use the format for more serious matters. When film fans look at a mockumentary they usually think of the brilliant This is Spinal Tap, Rob Reiner’s fictional film about a rock band that has lived past their born on dates. The co-writers of Spinal Tap, Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer, would go on to make a career out of this form of entertainment. Using a wholly improvisational effort, they would create both great (Best in Show) and lackluster (A Mighty Wind) mockumentaries. Guest would become so successful making these movies, it is impossible to think about a mockumentary without comparing it to his work.
While these films are the most famous examples of popular mockumentaries, the genre stretches back as far as the Orson Welle’s radio play War of the Worlds, which plays as a documentary styled news report of an alien invasion. Welles scared an entire nation of citizens still under the fear of the Great War into believing they were under attack once again. In that manner, The F Word is more likely to be compared to Welles mockumentary than to anything done by Guest and company.
What makes The F Word solid is its ability to completely blur the line between reality and fiction. Josh Hamilton portrays Joe Pace, a radio deejay whose show has racked up over $1 million in unpaid FCC obscenity fines. On the last day of his show’s existence, before being taken off the air, he decides to go out with a bang. The Republican National Convention is in town and Joe takes a microphone and sets out to interview the people on the street concerning their opinion of the convention.
For those trying to place Josh Hamilton, he was Grover in Noah Baumbach’s brilliant debut, Kicking and Screaming. Hamilton is on top form here, loose and on the go as the nonchalant deejay with nothing left to lose. He fits into the role perfectly and seems as relaxed as any actor I have ever seen taking on a role as difficult as this one. The problems that face him are numerous and you have to listen to the commentary track to separate what is real from what is fiction. The movie blurs this line so finely there is only a few moments that you realize you are watching a mockumentary. My wife entered the room as I watched the film and believed for a long time it was a real documentary. In that manner, the filmmakers were successful.
There are moments that bring the film down when the people interviewed are obviously planted. There is a minister (a real preacher named Reverend Billy) that prays for Joe to come back from his troubles with a show bigger and better than the one he was closing out. There is also an old school crush that admits to being excited about the convention because she is a stripper who will make a fortune during the convention’s late night festivities. However, the real interviews and fake ones are intertwined in a way that is usually seamless. There is one moment with a conservative woman who claims she does not want her taxes raised in one breath and then says it is not about taxes in her next breath. According to the commentary, this is a real woman speaking her real opinions.
The style used by the filmmakers is to lie to the people about their motivations and make everyone believe they are on a real radio broadcast. Following the interviews, the filmmakers explain they are making a fictional type film. The crew only uses the interviews that are agreed to by the “victims” so these people are manipulated but nothing can be compared to the type of filmmaking of a Michael Moore. I felt sorry for most of the people who seem to be pouring out their hearts under false pretenses but it makes the answers more honest and heartfelt.
The filmmakers absolutely have an agenda and that is their beliefs that the Republican National Convention was capitalizing on the tragedies of 9/11 in the placement of the location of the convention. However, this agenda should have no basis on the success or failure of the film. This is one of the most realistic mockumentaries I have ever seen and nothing in their political nature should detract from that. The film’s only downfall was a dream sequence involving Sam Rockwell that brings the movie out of the mockumentary setting. It is a bad misstep in an otherwise solid feature film.
Audio Commentary – The commentary track includes Jed Weintrob (director/writer), Josh Hamilton (actor), Christian Bruun (producer), Heather Greer (cinematographer), Nick Goldfarb (producer) and Rosie Nakamura (assistant editor). The movie was shot for $5,000 which is very impressive. Weintrob leads the discussion and the track is always entertaining to listen to. Occasionally, they point out what is real and what is fiction but regardless, it is a great track.
Additional Scenes – There are nine scenes and you can watch them with or without commentary. One scene of interest is the complete dream sequence, which was shot as a drug induced hallucination before being changed when they realized it didn’t work in context of the story.