Thursday, September 22, 2016

Foot Notes

The saying goes that truth is stranger than fiction. Documentary films often set out to demonstrate this, but rarely find a subject that proves the point better than Finders Keepers.

Finders Keepers is the story of a custody battle over a human leg. The saga begins when John Wood is in a serious plane crash that kills his father and results in his own leg being amputated at the knee. Through a turn of events best left for the film to detail, he keeps his own severed limb... but stashes it in a storage unit and subsequently fails to pay the bill. When Shannon Whisnant buys the contents at auction, he acquires the foot, and is determined to ride it to his 15 minutes of fame. A legal battle over the severed limb ensues.

This is ultimately a movie about people with a serious void in their lives needing to be filled. For Wood, it's the loss of his father -- a void he initially tries to fill with alcohol. For Whisnant, it's the need to be somebody, to have the world see him as the brilliant entrepreneur he sees himself when looking in the mirror. So the documentary is in some ways a meditation on all these serious matters -- alcoholism, grief, inferiority complexes, longing.

But you really have to read a lot of this into the film yourself, between the lines. You have to open yourself to the possibility of feeling sorry for these people. And neither the situation nor the way the film presents it make it easy to feel that way. It's far easier to point and laugh at the Carolina rednecks, and feel superior from the comfort of your couch.

Yes, the documentary features lots of interviews with the families of Wood and Whisnant, and tries to show how these men are tearing things apart through their actions. But it spends just as much time showing footage of snickering newscasters covering the story, talk show hosts seizing at the chance to fill an episode's time, and generally presenting the sideshow aspect of the tale.

It's an intriguing story, but perhaps no more so in a deep dive than it is just to hear in summary. I give Finders Keepers a C. It's a sometimes fun diversion, but also a bit of a missed opportunity to say something more.

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