What a bummer!
When you make a documentary, the first and most important thing is to have a point of view (POV). The filmmaker has to commit to a storyline that supports their POV and the film needs to take the viewer down that road.
Director and narrator John Walker was inspired by the idea of making a film about a**holes when he saw the cover of a book with the same title, A**holes: A Theory, written by Aaron James, a philosophy professor. The concept of the film was to examine the environment we live in and how it breeds the behaviour of being an a**hole. The structure of the film is a series of interviews with professors, social media people, industry leaders, police officers, politicians, LGBTQ activists, lawyers, financial brokers and comedians.
Walker begins his film by trying to get a definition of what an a**hole is, what their personality traits are and their behaviours.
The overriding definition was that they were condescending bullies who felt privileged and entitled. Interviewees tried to define the behaviour by giving examples like teenagers and how they act, men in college, sports celebrities, “white-rich” fraternities, and women being subjected to sexual exploitation and bullying.
At times I thought this was going to be a tongue-in-cheek comedy with a catchy title, especially when they said little kids can’t be a**holes but they can be “little sh*ts,” or when they commented how being an a**hole is different than being a prick or that there were fewer in Canada because Canadians were less competitive.
But then, the director wandered into seriousness never really knowing where the film was going nor what its point of view was. I liked the mini story within the film about the Italian politician, Silvio Berlusconi, but this had little to do with defining the “a**hole” culture.
The film was so loose within its boundaries of laying out its POV that I felt the filmmaker could have told any story about anybody who had not treated someone well or was disrespectful or simply a bad person.
The cinematography and music score were professional and clearly Walker had the skills to shoot a documentary of interest. Why was the POV so defocused?
There are so many filmmakers, young and old, who have great ideas and a wealth of talent and creativity but find it so hard to get financing for their stories. We see this when we watch short films that lay out a story in 10 or 20 minutes, stories that are expressive, creative and have a strong point of view. I mention this because I have to criticize organizations such as the Documentary Channel, Telefilm Canada and National Film Board of Canada for putting their money into a film like A**holes: A Theory and believing it was a worthwhile project.
For the reasons I have laid out, this film deserves one out of five tugboats.
A**holes: A Theory plays during the Powell River Film Festival (February 7 to 16) at 8 pm on Friday, February 7, at the Patricia Theatre. Run time is 82 minutes.
For more information, go to prfilmfestival.ca.
Stephen J. Miller is a producer and creative writer in feature films and television, and past owner of repertoire movie theatres.