FILM: What’s the Matter with Kansas?
FILMMAKERS: Laura Cohen & Joe Winston
REVIEWER: Katy B. Jones
“What’s the matter with Kansas?” asks the title of this film. If you watch this movie, you might be tempted to think the answer is that it’s the most boring state in the world. Filled with the most boring people who are so bored with their own lives that sometimes they fill the need to travel places to meet other people as boring as themselves to fill their own need to think that being boring is normal. Sometimes it seems that all of this being boring occasionally makes a Kansasian go really crazy – and start building really offensive statues – and that’s called liberalism in Kansas.
Based loosely on the best-selling book by Thomas Frank, the film “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” is purported to show how Kansas changed from a hothouse of radicals during the 20’s to the bastion of conservativism that it is today. We get a brief history lesson from longtime Representative Dan Glickman, a Democrat who served decades in office but was defeated in the early 90’s with the rise of conservative family values. Once abortion became a hot-button issue, it could be used to motivate previously uninspired voters who would come out in droves to defeat “liberals” in order to stop “baby-killing”.
I understand that this thesis is much more clearly pronounced in Thomas Frank’s book, which traces the evolution of this transition in Kansas. The idea is that by using social values as voting issues the Republicans are able to motivate poor working-class voters to vote for candidates that then enact economic policies that help keep them poor. However, while that idea may be clearly outlined in the book, in the movie you get no sense of it. Thomas Frank only exists as one of the cast of unimaginatively shot characters who parade through the Kansas dustbowl. And the film doesn’t really prove any thesis at all.
Instead we meet individual after individual representative of the pro-family values conservatives who ramble on about the importance of God. And, well, they all seem like they are doing okay with it. They have nice families and homes. They’re just reeaaally boring. The only person who seemed to be actually doing anything interesting was the head of the Farmer’s Union, who wasn’t sure what party he should belong to because everybody kept screwing the farmers. He was interesting, but so out of place in this movie, I thought for a minute we had switched reels and were watching Food, Inc.
It’s a movie of rambling. I would have gone to sleep, but I can’t go to sleep, because then these boring people go to the creation museum to learn about things they already believe are true. They go to colleges to learn how right they are, they only make friends with other gray boring people. I know Kansas is more interesting than this.
I think this movie’s a three out of five cheers, I’m a little bit extra bored because I had to pay $10 to see it in the theaters.
P.S. This movie is on Roger Ebert’s Top 10 documentaries of 2009. His list does not include The Cove or Burma VJ or The Most Dangerous Man in America which makes me wonder if Roger Ebert only saw 10 documentaries in 2009.