Tuesday, 21 March 2017

AN AMERICAN DREAM: THE EDUCATION OF WILLIAM BOWMAN - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Canadian Film Fest 2017 Opening Night - Finkleman Satire Worthy, But Misses Mark

Shooting ducks in a barrel not the aim of great satire.

An American Dream: The Education of William Bowman
Dir. Ken Finkleman
Starring: Jake Croker, Diana Bentley, Shiloh Blondel, Jan Caruana, Precious Chong

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Most Canadians with taste, intelligence and hailing from a far superior generation than afforded to the world via millennials, are well acquainted with the considerable gifts of writer-director-actor Ken Finkleman, the Winnipeg born-and-bred auteur. He, along with many stellar 'Peggers, warmed his ass on the University College radiators at the esteemed University of Manitoba before going on to a content creation career, and though most will not forgive his contributions to Grease 2, Airplane 2, Who's That Girl and Head Office, he holds the distinction of creating - bar-none - the very best piece of Canadian television (ever) with his original first 13 episodes of the CBC series The Newsroom in the 1996-1997 seasons and its limited followup More Tears in 1998 (with its deliciously savage satirical portrait of the ultra-conservative Canuck politician/golfer Mike Harris). Though many unimaginative pundits referred to Finkleman's TV work as a poor man's "Larry Sanders Show", they were, as per usual, wrong. The first 13 episodes of Finkleman's bold, brilliant satire, set behind the scenes of a national newsroom, and its sequel with Finkleman's character as a documentary film producer, still deliver the kind of on-the-edge laughs and observations most purveyors of comedy can only dream of.

I only wish An American Dream: The Education of William Bowman was a return to that form, but alas, as satire, it takes its aim at America with all the grace and subtlety of North Western Ontario hosers shooting ducks in a barrel.

In the tradition of such Candide-Gulliver-like satires, most notably Lindsay Anderson's O Lucky Man!, Finkleman delivers the episodic tale of William Bowman (Jake Croker), an all-American football star hopeful whose life is irrevocably altered by a horrific accident that sends him on a journey of equal parts sadness and madness. He becomes a media sensation, but his fame exacts a horrible toll upon him.

Taking potshots at politics is one thing, but Finkleman trains his aim upon America and frankly, the country is increasingly and alarmingly a place that has become a nation of self-parody. This is clearly the point of Finkleman's bold, brave film, but its satire often seems strangely pitched in ways that are closer to "spoof" rather than the kind of cutting edge one expects from this kind of picture. Things feel too rooted in sarcasm and there's a wonky blend of playing things "straight" and over the top. God knows one doesn't want Finkleman to try aping Lindsay Anderson, but O Lucky Man (and its precursor If) had a glorious consistency of tone that An American Dream desperately needs. In fact, the movie feels a lot closer to Anderson's scattershot Mick Travis finale Britannia Hospital. This is not a good thing.

What is a good thing is that Finkleman's film exists at all. It's often maddening for all the wrong reasons, but there is absolutely no denying there's anything currently out there like it. I wish it wasn't so self-conscious, so aware of itself. Yes, it's clever, but it's never very funny. Its savagery feels machine-tooled. This is, though, reason enough for celebration. Better machine-tooled satire than all the machine-tooled dross that passes for cinema in America today.


An American Dream: The Education of William Bowman is the opening night gala at Toronto's Canadian Film Fest 2017.