The Yes Men Struggle for Relevance: This Time It’s Personal — that should have been the title of this third film from the political pranksters who call themselves The Yes Men.
In previous films, my reaction to the political stunts of Andy and Mike has been shock, disbelief, discomfort, and gratitude that there they were willing to undercut the seriousness of corporate and political spin. In their first film, they posed as members of the World Trade Organization (whom they opposed) and gave horrifying interviews in the voice of their rivals. I didn’t think their movie was very cinematic, but I appreciated their chutzpah.
The second film, The Yes Men Fix the World, played at my local college film series. I didn’t review it, but I didn’t think it was as strong — though I did appreciate them apologizing to the citizens of Bhopal “on behalf of” Dow Chemical.
In The Yes Men Are Revolting, Andy and Mike join the “Occupy” protests at Zuccotti park. Their best prank there involves tricking the NYPD into escorting them through a protest, then holding signs implying that the police are with them — not just escorting them.
But there are many other stunts, and none of them seem very shocking. What’s worse, most of them fall flat in some embarrassing fashion — the press don’t pick up on what they thought would be an outrage, or the press fails to show up at all. In Amsterdam their hoped-for media circus is just a sad little circus that bystanders look on with pity.
Right or wrong, the film decides to embrace the setbacks. It mentions a lawsuits that threatens to ruin them, and maybe cost them their careers (they are college teachers; this is not their day job).
The film also gets personal. We learn Andy and Mike’s real names. Andy is gay. Mike moves to Scotland to be with his wife. A younger generation of political pranksters try to ride the shrinking coat tails of The Yes Men.
You can feel the documentary grasping for some sort of positive message to end on, and although it finds one, it’s pretty desperate and not very inspiring.
I feel a little mean for mentioning that “struggle for relevance” remark. You don’t kick a man when he’s down.
But you don’t have to buy a ticket out of pity, either.