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Sarah Palin -- You Betcha!: Toronto Review

Sarah Palin You Betcha still - 2011

The Bottom Line

Fleshing out now-familiar tales of misconduct and bad judgment, Palin investigation is entertaining but holds no dramatic discoveries.

Venue

Toronto Film Festival

Directors

Nick Broomfield, Joan Churchill

Nick Broomfield and Joan Churchill's documentary about the former vice presidential candidate offers no dramatic discoveries.

Playing a half-hearted game of Roger & Me with the would-be vice president, veteran muckraker Nick Broomfield examines all the familiar closeted skeletons in Sarah Palin -- You Betcha! but fails to come up with the kind of provocative thesis that has made some of his earlier films (occasionally guilty) must-sees. Theatrical prospects are limited, barring a surprise shift in Palin's political fortunes, but TV broadcast would likely draw a large audience.

Broomfield and co-director Joan Churchill begin with their biggest get, taking viewers into the home of Palin's parents Sarah and Chuck Heath, who welcome them warmly while appearing to know nothing about the filmmakers' work.

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The short interview yields nothing new, of course, but it establishes Broomfield's presence in Wasilla, where he spends three months or so interviewing anybody willing to talk about the town's former mayor. He gets the expected silent treatment from Palin family friends (on return visits, a still-cordial Chuck Heath worries about rumors Broomfield is making a "hit piece"). Fortunately for the filmmakers, the ranks of former Palin allies is large and growing.

Broomfield visits onetime mentors, boosters, and buddies of Palin's -- going all the way to Alexandria, Egypt to meet the only high-school classmate who will discuss her. While the gist of their testimony is already well known, the first-hand tales of betrayal (you've never heard "thrown under the bus" so many times in 90 minutes) can be unnerving, especially when a pastor who has butted heads with her argues (speaking about what she'd be like as president) "she has no hesitancy to use violence against evil," and that starting a nuclear war would not seem an unthinkable option for her.

Broomfield records his periodic attempts to interview the subject herself, which are never openly rejected but still get nowhere. Twice, he waits in book-signing lines to speak with her; twice, she smiles and pretends she'd be happy to meet sometime. Eventually he stalks her to middle-America speaking events and makes a spectacle of himself; the final scene, in which he wields a bullhorn as a crowd of anti-abortion women leave the room, plays like a limp imitation of a Daily Show stunt.

The closest You Betcha gets to a revelation is a sitdown with "Troopergate" target and former brother-in-law Mike Wooten; beyond some general assertions that Palin and her father are totally different people "behind closed doors," Wooten has little to offer.

Almost entirely skipping the well-known controversies and flubs that occurred during her campaign with John McCain, the movie focuses on nailing down the specifics of older scandals that would likely have kept McCain's team from picking her if they'd spent longer on vetting. What is left seems unlikely to move fans who love Palin's brand of conservatism and believe the media has it in for her. Many observers who don't share that view will be hoping You Betcha remains as unnecessary in future election years as it feels today.

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Freestyle Releasing)
Production Company: Awakening Films
Directors: Nick Broomfield, Joan Churchill
Producer: Marc Hoeferlin
Director of photography: Joan Churchill
Music: Jamie Muhoberac
Editor: Michael Flores
No rating, 91 minutes