The Record – Anytown, USA Review

21 Sep

The Record

“Jersey mayoral race wins endorsement”

Movies: Anytown USA

3.5 STARS By Lisa Rose

There’s so much agenda-driven filmmaking on the documentary scene, it’s notable when a political movie comes along that covers its subject with journalistic balance.

“Anytown USA” is an exercise in old school objective reporting, chronicling the 2003 mayoral race in Bogota, N.J. It’s a slice of life, not a manifesto, capturing passionate viewpoints on both sides of the Republican-Democrat divide.

Although the election took place two years ago, the sentiments of voters still resonate. Many of them express their frustrations with the Republican incumbent, but they don’t know enough about the other candidates to choose with confidence. The Democratic contender hasn’t clearly articulated his plans for change, while the write-in independent hopeful lacks political experience.

Director Kristian Fraga, a Leonia native making his feature filmmaking debut, allows the story to unfold with minimal artifice. He doesn’t really need to embellish the tale, since it has more twists than an episode of “Lost”.

The movie introduces us to the incumbent mayor, Steve Lonegan, a seasoned, smooth-talking conservative who’s overcome a disability—he’s legally blind—to make a political career. Coincidentally, his key challenger, an independent named Dave Musikant, also is visually impaired.

A motivational speaker and former high school football hero, Musikant enters the race late as write-in opponent. His candidacy is over-seen by a consultant who helped remake wrestler Jesse Ventura into a politician. Musikant gets the word out creatively, with pencil-shaped lawn signs and a costume mascot. The Democratic candidate, Fred Pesce, is a former councilman whose campaign is low-key due to a shortage of funds.

“Anytown USA,” shot on digital video, ventures backstage at headquarters for all three mayoral rivals. Early on, we see a heated town meeting during which Lonegan is lambasted for his plan to cut school spending by suspending the varsity football program.

It seems like there’s such pervasive negativity toward him, his opponent will win an easy victory. The film demonstrates, however, that politics are never really that simple and voter behavior is volatile.

In the weeks leading up to the election, tempers flare and desperation mounts. There are vandalized campaign signs and propaganda newspapers. One candidate is seen making a frantic phone call to arrange delivery of a single absentee ballot from Estonia. In order to maximize turnout, volunteers shuttle elderly residents from their homes to polling locations. The fervor continues right through the final hour of voting, and the ending is a kicker.

The suspense of the story compensates for the film’s no-budget production values. The movie is more than a snapshot of local politics. It’s a nail-biting drama.

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