Let's Get Frank

"Good"

Let's Get Frank Review


Sure, it's in essence a love letter to Barney Frank, but from the looks of things, he seems to deserve it. Bart Everly's Let's Get Frank is a scrappy little documentary about Massachusetts Congressman Frank, who's been in the House since 1981, and his role as one of the few vocal defenders of President Clinton during the whole sad impeachment saga of 1998. There's not much story here, you're not going to see a slow and steady accretion of accusatory detail, as in another recent Clinton documentary, The Hunting of the President, but you will see politics, in all its routine ugliness; a small and worthwhile glimpse behind the curtain at one of the more unfortunate spectacles in recent American history.

Eschewing the authoritative-voiceover and talking-heads strategy, director Bart Everly wisely utilizes Frank's own voice, often in interviews recorded third-hand, or in conversations picked up by the camera crew that tailed Frank through the capital. This approach has a disarming effect on the viewer: as it doesn't appear to be pushing a serious agenda, the film's harsh points about the right-wing insidiousness of the impeachment imbroglio resonate all the stronger. What Everly has a hard time deciding here is how much he wants to talk about Frank and how much he wants to get into the whole Clinton/Lewinsky thing. The glue that would seem to hold the two subjects together is Frank having had his own sex scandal in 1989.

Back then, Frank was embroiled in a messy public affair after it was revealed that he had been living with a male prostitute, Steve Gobie, who claimed to have been running an escort service out of Frank's apartment. Ultimately, Gobie's charges were shown to be false, and likely trumped up by the scandal's main pusher, the conservative paper The Washington Times. Everly passes up the opportunity to take a good look at the similar ways in which the right wing went after both politicians, though, and instead contents itself with trailing after Frank as he and his compatriot, the righteously furious and just a little crazy Maxine Waters (D-California), unsuccessfully try to restore sanity to Congress.

There is some tedium to this approach, because for every zinger that Frank throws out - and he's a naturally funny and feisty guy, probably one of the reasons he's been reelected 11 times and is a sought-after talk-show guest - there's plenty of dozy restlessness as the impeachment process grinds on. There are times when the film can seem like a C-SPAN greatest hits compilation, with some backstage material you normally don't see, the cramped and ugly offices, the beautiful Capitol hallways cluttered with TV equipment and cheap furniture, elected officials chowing on pizza during a moment's break in the "action."

Frank keeps the film together with a ready supply of jokes and war stories, polished and refined through years of telling. One of his more meaningful anecdotes recalls when he came out to the old lion of the Democratic Party, Tip O'Neill back in the early 1980s, prompting Tip to put his arm around Frank and sigh, "I thought you were going to be the first Jewish Speaker [of the House]."

Let's Get Frank is ultimately an effective dispatch from the not-so-distant past, the culture wars of the 1990s. Everly and Frank quite succinctly place the Clinton sex scandal in the context of the ascendancy of the Republican Party's hard right-wingers post-1994, led by Newt Gingrich, Dick Armey (who famously once publicly referred to Frank as "Barney Fag"), and Trent Lott (who oddly equated homosexuality with alcoholism and kleptomania). Given developments over the past few years, the fallout of the impeachment scandal - including criticism of leading pro-impeachment Republicans like Bob Barr and Henry Hyde, whose own sex affairs were exposed - and the recent defeat of the amendment to ban same-sex marriage, one could actually believe Frank at the film's end when he says of the whole affair, "We lost the battle but won the war." At least you want to believe him.



Let's Get Frank

Facts and Figures

Run time: 75 mins

In Theaters: Thursday 27th March 2003

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 54%
Fresh: 7 Rotten: 6

IMDB: 7.4 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Bart Everly

Producer: Bart Everly

Contactmusic


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