Fuck this movie. Fuck this movie right in its goddamned fucking ear. Fuck the message of this movie. Fuck its feel good nonsense. This movie is everything wrong with faux liberal society and needs to be put out of its fucking misery before it can even get started.
Unfortunately, I’m going to be in the minority. For five hot minutes after this movie comes out, critics are going to fall all over themselves about how necessary and needed this movie is. They’re going to rant an rave about how American Folk is the film that’s going to bring all of America back together. People are going to fall all over themselves talking about how sweet and unassuming this great movie is, just like they did with motherfucking La La Land. Soon after that, there’s going to be a backlash as people realize just how mindlessly poisonous this feel-good crowd pleaser actually is.
As the original title, September 12th hints, American Folk is a movie about 9/11. More specifically, American Folk is about how the tragedy of 9/11 brought all of America together for one hot minute in a Kumbaya reaction against the new fear that death and war is about to break our national peacetime. Let’s forget everything political that led up to 9/11 – let’s forget about the selling of arms to Osama Bin Laden, the economic devastation of the region, America’s constant fuddling with the various political and religious extremist factions in the name of cheaper oil, and let’s even forget about the Gulf War – because all of that is background noise to the joyful unity that supposedly happened in the wake of thousands of deaths and buildings on fire. All this movie cares about are its two white characters and their privileged white road trip through America.
Elliott (Joe Purdy) is a jackass guitarist living on the skids in Los Angeles who has been given a gig to play guitar for some gimmicky rock band that both he and American Folk considers unworthy of acknowledgement (because folk music is the only music for True Americans [we’re going to ignore every other musical genre in existence for this argument]). Joni (Amber Rubarth) is in LA for a friend’s wedding while her mother is dying in a hospital. They just happen to be on the same flight to New York City with an empty seat between them when 9/11 happens and they have to return to LA.
Luckily, they had already started bonding when Joni decides to plug in a headphone splitter into his Sony Discman and listen to his folk music tunes that connect them at their soul. Because they’re our main characters, they’re able to get a cab out of LAX that gives them a free ride to Topanga Canyon (30 miles away), and they don’t even let any of the other panicking airport people into the cab. These people are selfish entitled assholes right from the beginning, and all they do is take take take from other people without giving much back in return. First they get the free fare from the cab driver. Then, they get an old VW bus from Joni’s hippy friend in Topanga. Later, they’re able to get food and auto repair from an old Vietnam Vet hiding in the dunes of New Mexico, and later still they get gas money by picking up middle-class interracial lesbian hitchhikers. They meet Mexicans giving out American flags, and Appalachian hillbillies welcoming scared rich New Yorkers into their fold. At one point, Joni even gets drunk at a bar and dances in front of the VW headlights in a show of appreciation for all that is America, only to figure out that she spent all of her money on booze and can’t afford any more gasoline. These two characters are Burning Man style leeches on American society.
On occasion, American Folk interrupts the rich tapestry of Americana with piercing news reports about the political progress in the wake of 9/11. It even ends using actual footage from 9/11 to make sure you’re emotionally raw by the end. But, it doesn’t actually care about any of this. It doesn’t want to acknowledge that thousands of people died in order to create the rich feeling of jingoistic American togetherness that white people felt in the immediate wake of a national tragedy. American Folk doesn’t want to acknowledge the immediate spike in hate crimes aimed at Muslim Americans who had nothing to do with the terrorist attack. It doesn’t want to acknowledge the war that we were being led into or the privilege of two middle-class people who use other people for financial needs but only have their gift of song to give back to the world.
This willfully and dangerously naive piece of whitewashing uncritically idealizes the post-tragedy euphoric fear that blanketed the country. Writer/Director David Heinz doesn’t come close to examining why we all came together so much as wistfully wanting us to recapture that unity after a decade of political polarization. David Heinz wants to Make America Great Again, without acknowledging the economic disasters that were befalling our country or the ones that would eventually come to pass. He’s like the student in Mean Girls who goes up during the assembly while crying and wishing we could all go back to the time when life was made of rainbows and unicorns (She doesn’t even go here!!). American Folk is gorgeously well-made emotionally manipulative claptrap longing for a more compassionate and civil era where people were being economically oppressed in peace. Modern “liberal” peaceniks are going to cling to that longing of lost civility with increasing desperation in the hopes that we can all unite as a country again without actually doing any of the work to fix the problems that have split our society. This is nostalgia gone wrong, and it needs to be stopped. Fuck this rotten-at-its-core movie. Fuck this morally reprehensible movie to hell.