Movie review: ‘Sarah Palin: You Betcha!’
If you’re hoping that the new documentary “Sarah Palin: You Betcha!” has at least a little of the humor and bite of Michael Moore’s stinging “Roger & Me” — the take-down of General Motors executive Roger Smith that seems to be its inspiration — you’ll be sorely disappointed.
If you’re looking for a paean to the once and future political career of Palin — as John McCain’s vice presidential running mate in 2008 or a possible Republican presidential contender in 2012 — you’ll be disappointed as well.
Instead, the latest collaboration from longtime British documentarians Nick Broomfield and Joan Churchill is suffering from a bad case of freezer burn from start to finish. Its litany of allegations leveled in Palin’s direction ranges from the silly — that she was really only an average high school basketball player, not a “barracuda” — to the serious — that she used her political position as governor of Alaska to try to get her former brother-in-law, a state trooper, fired.
The barbs feel stale at best, squandered at worst, and the ominous music that accompanies each sounds as if it has been lifted from the silent movie era.
The film starts with a very slow wind-up. Broomfield, looking comically unfit for the job whether by accident or intent in a blinding red flannel coat and moose hunter cap, heads to Palin’s childhood home of Wasilla, Alaska, in October 2010. There are the familiar stats — population 6,000; 70-plus churches with a strong evangelical bent; crystal meth capital of the state — to set things up.
The most salient fact that emerges, and the one that will inform the rest of the film, is that the central accomplishment of Palin’s turn as mayor was to draw a metaphorical line down Main Street, with Wasilla residents having to decide whether they were for her or against her. And the film does make you pity the poor souls who ended up on the wrong side of the street.
Broomfield makes his way through town, interviewing many of the disenchanted — folks who were once in Palin’s inner circle and are now on the outs. They paint a picture of a mean-spirited, ill-informed, BlackBerry-addicted politician who would be dangerous in the White House.
These are hardly new contentions, leaving “You Betcha!” without much of the ripped-from-the-headlines juice that has worked for some of the filmmakers’ other tabloid-styled documentaries, “Kurt & Courtney” in 1998 and “Biggie and Tupac” in 2002, among them.
There are a few “gets” in “You Betcha!” Much is made of Mike Wooten, the ex-brother-in-law who was the center of what became known as Troopergate, seen here in his first interview since the 2008 wave of publicity during the presidential campaign. It’s kind of a bust, with Wooten offering that what you see of Palin on TV or in public is not what you get back in Wasilla.
Before the filmmaker is classified as persona non grata by the Palin camp, Broomfield gets some face time with her parents, Chuck and Sally Heath. But other than a look inside the couple’s modest house and a better sense of just how big moose antlers are, there is little insight into the childhood that shaped the driven public figure Palin has become.
Many of Broomfield’s attempts to score an interview with Palin are chronicled. The public forums where he catches her — book signings for her “America by Heart: Reflections on Family, Faith and Flag” or speaking engagements — turn out to be relatively mundane encounters. In Houston, she’s cordial in signing his book, and we hear the catchphrase that gives the film its name.
Even a scene in which Broomfield shouts questions at the end of a well-orchestrated Q&A session following one of her speeches, and is escorted out of the room by security, fails to become the dramatic high point the filmmakers were clearly aiming for.
Most troubling in “You Betcha!” is the underlying journalism, or lack of it. Broomfield goes in without any apparent agenda, but by the end is relying on unflattering photos of Palin and shots of the green-faced Wicked Witch of the West from “The Wizard of Oz” to do the damning.
New facts, or new insights on old facts, would have made for drama enough.