"The F Word" isn't a documentary or a mockumentary. It's a stoke-umentary, created solely to stoke the fires of non-Republicans who may be feeling passive about voting. The election-eve timing of the IFC movie, which premieres tonight at 9, only highlights its mission to serve as motivational therapy for Democrats, Independents, and just about anyone who doesn't believe in George Bush.
Set in New York on the August day that Bush accepted the nomination during the 2004 Republican National Convention, "The F Word" is a hybrid of fiction, nonfiction, and shameless advocacy. A fictional radio host, Joe Pace (Josh Hamilton), randomly wanders among the 500,000 nonfictional protesters who paraded the streets that day, many of them wearing costumes and carrying signs, and he interviews them on their politics. But then some of his interviewees are plants -- that is, actors playing Republicans and Democrats. And so Joe, who despises Bush, holds his microphone up to angry Democrats, actors playing angry Democrats, feeble Republicans, and actors playing feeble Republicans.
In short, it's a bash-Bush bash.
What saves the movie for me is what might damn it for others. Director Jed Weintrob is openly preaching to the converted here, and he makes no token efforts to appear even slightly objective. He dives headlong into anger at the Bush administration, its use of 9/11 for political purposes, and the changes it has wrought on freedom of speech. He has created more of a polemic than a layered portrait, one that is marked by passion, urgency, and sincerity. If "The F Word" had soberly pretended to present all sides with equal fervor, it would have ended up as a cold wet rag.
The title comes out of the movie's concern over the First Amendment and escalating FCC fines. Joe's radio show is going off the air due to decency fines, and his RNC broadcast is his last. And so he decides to go out with a bang of cynicism and rage, zeroing in on the half-million people in town who weren't getting as much press as those inside the convention.
We see him pass through real crowd events -- a march of 972 flag-draped coffins, a political performance called "Billionaires for Bush," drumming, chanting, and police wrestling protesters to the ground. All of this street theater captures New York at its most incendiary, as a tinderbox of cross purposes, and the excellent photography helps capture the barely contained chaos. At one point, Joe stumbles across John Perry Barlow, co founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who calls Vice President Dick Cheney "sociopathic in a global sense."
Alas, Joe's encounters with actors during his odyssey through New York are less successful and weaken the movie significantly. An exchange between a pro-Ralph Nader construction worker and a snippy white-collar Republican is too obviously staged, and actress Callie Thorne's brief appearance as a stripper giggling about how well Republicans tip seems forced and out of place.
The presence of the actors among the real protesters throws all of the interviews into question, so that we always have to wonder if a person is real or fake. Manufacturing reality doesn't quite support the movie's hope for truth in media.
Matthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.