NEW YORK — This film is described in the opening credits as a “Barry Levinson Film Essay,” and like so many literary essays, “Poliwood” has a tendency to ramble even while offering many interesting ideas. The director’s take on the intersection between Hollywood and politics is all too relevant in this media-saturated, celebrity-centric age, but ironically the film’s chief selling point is the presence of numerous well-known movie and television performers. Recently having its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, “Poliwood” seems likely to find its largest audience on the home screen.
Levinson accompanied several members of the Creative Coalition — the politically oriented organization of arts and entertainment figures — as they journeyed to the Democratic and Republican national conventions. We thus witness such celebrities as Ellen Burstyn, Josh Lucas, Susan Sarandon, Richard Schiff, Tim Daly, Anne Hathaway, Matthew Modine and Spike Lee, among others, interacting with political figures and regular folks.
The latter moments form the most compelling part of the film, most notably a focus group in which several citizens take the opportunity to loudly air their grievances to the celebrities about the inordinate media attention paid to them.
Anne Hathaway, for one, is seen onscreen addressing her own self-doubts about her involvement, which are inadvertently and hilariously reinforced when a school-age male reporter ends an interview with her by saying, “Thank you very much … give us a call!”
Although the political sympathies of the onscreen celebrities are quite clear — despite the fact that many of them take pains to emphasize the nonpartisan nature of the Coalition — Levinson also includes interviews with several Republican celebrities, including Stephen Baldwin, Robert Davi, Charlie Daniels and the late Ron Silver.
Along the way, the filmmaker buttresses his arguments with several examples, ranging from the historic (John Kennedy’s 1959 TV Guide article warning of the dangers of television manipulation of the political process) to the current (the short-lived media infatuation with “Joe the Plumber”).
Ultimately, for all its good intentions, “Poliwood” is too unfocused and self-involved to have much impact, with most of its central figures proving less than scintillating in their commentary (Daly, Burstyn and Sarandon are notable exceptions). It says something when the most reasonable figure onscreen turns out to be Tucker Carlson.
Director: Barry Levinson
Producers: Robert E. Baruc, Robin Bronk, Tim Daly
Editor: Aaron Yanes
No MPAA rating, 85 minutes