Back in 1969, Haskell Wexler’s Medium Cool took the pulse of a nation, propping what could have been a hackneyed romance against the fireworks of the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Almost 40 years later, director Mora Stephens goes for the same effect but only half succeeds, telling the story of two college friends—David (Matthew Mabe), a neocon who fluffs Bush’s reelection campaign, and Lea (Woodwyn Koons), a leftie who protests everything the President stands for—who reunite in New York City against the backdrop of the 2004 Republican National Convention. The film’s synthesis of fiction and documentary is smooth and compelling, especially during its climax inside Madison Square Garden, but the story is smaller than its visual britches, toeing a predictable line of conflict. In the explosive Medium Cool, racial injustice and the complicitous relationship between a TV station and the government awakens a revolution in Robert Forster’s cameraman. Conversely, Conventioneers, in perpetual awe that liberals and conservatives might like each other in spite of their political views, pushes uncomplicated truths. Here, David goes to a soup kitchen and learns that the government is dicking over homeless people with AIDS. This would appear to be enough for him to leave his wife and shack up with Lea, who’s unable to reconcile David’s political beliefs. The filmmakers expose their left-leaning bias throughout these scenes, which play out like some political conversion manual adapted for the screen, but Stephens is otherwise even-handed, exposing the unkindness of Lea’s friends when David crashes one of their lunches in full conservative suit-and-tie. By film’s end, you may need to get past the film’s idea that nookie will complicate a neocon’s humanity—and that rejection will make them worse off than they were before—to realize that Stephens’s assessment of the way our sharp political divide has enshrined our most uncompromising attributes is actually rather perceptive, at least in comparison to the messages trotted out by films like American Dreamz.
- Cinema Libre Studio
- 99 min
- Mora Stephens
- Mora Stephens, Joel Viertel
- Matthew Mabe, Woodwyn Koons, Alek Friedman
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