out of Five
Running time: 97
Engaging, enjoyable and extremely well timed political comedy/drama with a strong script and a pair of terrific performances from Jason Biggs and Joel David Moore.
What's it all about?
Co-written and directed by Stephen Gyllenhaal (father of Jake and Maggie), Grassroots is based on a true story and stars Joel David Moore as impassioned Seattle music journalist Grant Cogswell, who decides to stand against Seattle's only black city council member (Cedric the Entertainer as Richard McIver) on a platform of mass transportation improvement, focused around the Seattle monorail. Grant's campaign manager is Phil Campbell (Jason Biggs), a recently fired, initially cynical fellow journalist, who gradually gets caught up in the momentum of the campaign, despite concerns from his girlfriend Emily (Lauren Ambrose) that he's wasting his time.
Joel David Moore has been a reliable comedic supporting presence for years, so it's a treat to see him placed centre stage for once and he duly delivers a superb turn as Grant that's intriguingly unsympathetic at first; indeed, prior to announcing his intention to run against McIver, Cogswell's only previous political experience was his habit of roaming the city in a polar bear costume in vague protest against global warming.
Cast refreshingly against type in a relatively straight role, Jason Biggs is equally good as Phil, delivering an impressive and likeable performance that anchors the film and serves as its heart, in that the audience warming to Grant is roughly in line with Phil's getting fired up by the campaign.
There's also strong support from Cedric the Entertainer (who gives his best onscreen performance to date and should definitely do serious roles more often), Lauren Ambrose and Cobie Smulders as a fellow activist. On top of that, the script is excellent, drawing a series of clever parallels with the state of US politics today, despite the 2001 setting; it's also frequently funny and surprisingly moving, particularly during an impressively staged sequence where the campaign reacts to the events of 9/11.
The only real problem with the film is that the female characters both get rather short-changed by the script, to the point where their sub-plots lack the emotional impact they should have had; Smulders is particularly unfortunate in this regard and it definitely feels as if a number of her scenes have ended up on the cutting room floor.
Grassroots is an enjoyable, well made and impeccably timed (release date-wise) political comedy drama with an engaging script and a pair of terrific performances from Biggs and Moore. Recommended.