Directed by: Gaukur Úlfarsson
Starring: Jón Gnarr
Have you ever wondered what it would be like if someone other than a career politician, lawyer, or businessman ran for office? What if a comedian like Conan O’Brien or Tom Green ran for a government position? What would that campaign look like? Meet Jón Gnarr: Iceland’s most cynical and controversial comedian, whose party’s political slogan is undeniably my favorite phrase of all time: “Hooray for all kinds of things!” It’s easy to see why this guy’s mayoral campaign captivated the people of Reykjavik. While this documentary isn’t necessarily an uproarious comedy or political satire per se, GNARR – and its titular hero – does extol some pretty revolutionary thoughts and ideas on how to clean up a hopelessly messy government. It asks, “If the current traditional political system isn’t working, how much worse could it be with a comedian as Mayor?”
Part cinema verite, part MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, GNARR tells the story of one man’s rocket-like ascension during Reykjavik’s mayoral election of 2009. The country was suffering from a banking collapse, corrupted government, and deep recession (sound familiar, America?!) – plus there was that infamous volcano eruption that stopped air traffic and spewed thick ash everywhere. With things literally and figuratively disintegrating around them, the unrest amongst Iceland’s citizens had become volanic as well. They were poised for real change – even if it was from a man making a mockery of the process. Gnarr proclaims “Politics is all a big joke… and great theater.” But it becomes increasingly clear his campaign isn’t just for comedy. He’s just as angry about the state of the country as everyone else, and is serious about winning.
While I loved the premise and the message – as well as Gnarr’s campaign strategy – I found the film to only be moderately engaging. It dizzily jumps around so much, it’s hard to tell the time frame and the significance of what’s happening on-screen. Although I’m no stranger to foreign cinema, my eyes strained here not knowing where to look. People’s names appeared in the top right hand corner of the screen, there’s action going on in the middle, and what they are saying appears in white subtitles at the bottom of the screen. Some pertinent information tends to fall away leaving room for plenty of “Lost In Translation” moments. Music from one of the former members of The Sugarcubes (the band that brought us Bjork) is jarring and doesn’t add much to the piece.
Despite some of my technical gripes, there are some genuinely hilarious bits in the documentary. Gnarr’s Best Party borrows Tina Turner’s anthem, “Simply The Best” and tweaks the lyrics humorously. His campaign promises are guaranteed to make viewers laugh: He pledges to have a drug-free parliament by the year 2020, and refuses to deal with anyone from the other ruling parties unless they’ve seen all 5 seasons of THE WIRE. It’s interesting to see a man wavering between not taking his run seriously, and campaigning hard. He calls out the system and shakes it up.
GNARR has a feel-good ending that rivals anything Hollywood has given us. It also has some interesting relevence to the United States’ current political climate, as Congress’ approval is at an all time low. While we do have at least one (actual) comedian in the Senate (Senator Al Franken), I certainly hope we can look forward to more comedians running for office. How could things get any worse?
GNARR is available on VOD starting February 7