John K. Wilson’s review of “What’s the matter with Kansas?” appears in the current issue of In These Times, an unapologetically leftist Chicago-based newsweekly.
John brings up the always volatile issue of whether the movie respects its subjects.
Frank’s book and this movie are both vulnerable to accusations of condescending elitism, Frank for his thesis and the movie for its focus on the eccentric Kansas personalities. To be sure, the film sometimes provokes laughter at its subjects’ expense, such as on the Barden family’s trip to the always-ridiculous Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky. Still, the depth of the connection that develops between the subjects and filmmakers—and, eventually, the audience—stops this from being mere mockery.
In the hands of someone determined to ridicule conservatives, Angel Dillard’s CD release party, featuring performances of such tracks as “When Satan Comes A-Callin’”, would make an easy target. But that scene comes late in the film, after we’ve learned to understand her as a person rather than as a stereotype.
Liberals seem particularly touchy on this matter. Of course, we get the opposite critique more often — a number of New York audience members complained that the movie failed to criticize the Kansans’ conservative views.
Wilson attended an early rough cut screening in Chicago. The audience at the Facets Cinemateque surprised us for how often they laughed, not just at the moments of genuine humor in the film. They giggled whenever conservative views were forthrightly expressed, a kind of nervous laughter, “could this really be true?”
When we gathered with the subjects of the film last fall in Wichita, to see it screen before a packed theater at the Tallgrass Film Festival, Joe asked the 8-year old daughter of Angel and Rob Dillard, two of the movie’s main characters, how she felt about sitting through a long, talky movie for the second time (she’d seen it already on DVD.) Katy Dillard responded, “No, I like the movie. It’s funny!”
In any event, John Wilson concludes – and we agree – that Kansas still matters:
What’s the Matter With Kansas? doesn’t fully answer the question in its title. But it provides a funny, in-depth analysis of the intersections between religion, economics and politics. It’s a movie that needs to be seen in both red and blue states, by liberals and conservatives alike.
You can read the entire review here.