'Nuts!': Sundance Review

NUTS! still 2 - H 2016
Courtesy of Sundance Institute
A tongue-in-cheek doc with sharp edges.

This doc, which premiered at Sundance, is about a country doctor who claimed to have come up with a surprising cure for male impotence.

Back in the pre-Viagra/Cialis days, the most-known elixir for male impotence was the goat gland. It was a panacea inspired by a medical patient's observation of the rutting prowess of a horny billy goat outside his physician's office yonder in Milford, Kan. The country doc, a free-thinking fella named J.R. Brinkley, got the notion that whatever the billy had, he would give it to his patients. He believed if he could transplant the goat's gland into a human male, the patient could possibly perform in billy-goat fashion. He was right: well, sorta ... well, maybe not.

Playing at the Sundance Film Festival in the U.S. Documentary Competition, Nuts! tells the tale of one of the most colorful characters in American success lore, a country-boy made good. It further tantalizes the viewer with the notion that anybody with a good idea and the balls (pun intended) to run with it can become widely successful. In short, filmmaker Penny Lane (real name) spoon-feeds the audience the myth that we so steadfastly cling to. Then, she pulls the rug out — but more about that later.

A blend of cornpone commentary and tongue-in-cheek exposition, Nuts! is consistently very entertaining. Part P.T. Barnum, part Ted Turner, part Bernie Madoff, Brinkley reckoned that if he could control the airwaves, he could peddle his goat-gland cure nationally. He soon established his own radio station, with the fourth-largest reach in the country. Not surprisingly, his amazing success attracted attention, primarily from the newly formed American Medical Association, which contested his healing claims, saying they were bogus. In addition, the Radio Commission (the precursor of the FCC) tried to shut him down. Brinkley butted them both off, but because of federal “harassment” had to move his radio tower into Mexico, out of the government's grasp. He lived and operated his station just across the border in Del Rio, Texas.

Many viewers mistakenly equate “documentary” with “truth." Not so fast; they're largely visual, opinion-piece editorials. Lane plays with that false viewer belief and, in the end, turns her entire tale upside down. Like a classic tragedy, or good ol' Perry Mason episode, Brinkley's empire comes tumbling down in court. He's exposed as just another film-flam huckster and, in medical terms, a delusional sociopath. Doggone.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival (U.S. Doc Comp)
Production: Gland Power Films, Cartuna
Voice cast: Andy Boswell, John Causby, Kelly Mizell, Jeff Pillars, Thom Stylinski, Fran Taylor
Director: Penny Lane
Screenwriter: Thom Stylinski
Producers: James Belfer, Caitlin Mae Burke, Penny Lane, Daniel Shepard
Executive producers: Dan Cogan, Elias Savada
Editors: Penny Lane, Thom Stylinski
Narrator: Gene Tognacci

Not rated, 79 minutes