Grassroots is the ‘most of this is true’ story of Grant Cogswell’s politically inexperienced and rather kooky attempt to run for Seattle City Council in 2001. Based off the novel Zioncheck for President written by his level headed buddy and campaign manager Phil Campbell, focus is cast on the lively political power struggle between the conceded underdogs and established Seattle Council incumbent (existing seat holder) Richard McIver.
Phil Campbell is a smart, savvy journalist who has recently been fired from his post at ‘The Stranger’ publication, his current unemployed state allows him to entertain the thought of helping mate Grant Cogswell out with a hare-brained scheme, fuelled by a dream of providing cheap, eco friendly mass transit to the people, i.e extending Seattle’s monorail line downtown. In order to hold any sway though, Cogswell must peak enough voter interest to qualify for the general election and then win a council seat. The odds are not in his favour and controversially, he is going up against Richard McIver an African American who has served the city for over 15 years. What ensues is a hearty, hilarious, roller coaster ride of ups and downs, as the unlikely pair combine forces with a rag tag bunch of supporters in a bid for social justice and one improbable ideal.
Politics is a hazardous playground, and not everyone wants to venture over and see what it’s all about, the best thing this film has done, is to explain the cogs of beast for the less politically inclined in a simple entertaining way. Instead of weighing the audience down with semantics, the basics are covered with more attention to the characters themselves and the rationale behind their albeit single minded cause. Big props to director and co-writer Stephen Gyllenhaal (yes, he’s Maggie and Jake’s dad), for tackling some tricky issues without diluting the humanity of, or over patriotising the story. Even more kudos goes to the combined efforts of Gyllenhaal and Justin Rhodes for putting together such eloquently worded dialogue that drives sincerity and substance without need for sappy overplaying.
It’s nice to see Jason Biggs (American Pie franchise, Loser), taking more mature steps within the comedic realm and the same applies to Joel David Moore (Avatar, Dodgeball). The pair seem to bounce off each other very well and there’s a Ying-Yang balance to their character’s traits which gives off perfect chemistry. Moore as Cogswell, plays the overly passionate, eccentric, loose canon music critic turned activist so naturally, he just wowed in this role. Appreciatively as Campbell, Biggs’ ability to be subtle humour wise, and softly understated yet equally engaging is an impressive feat. The supporting cast has been chosen wisely with Lauren Ambrose (Six Feet Under, Can’t Hardly Wait) charming as Campbell’s girlfriend, whilst a delightful cameo from Christopher McDonald (Happy Gilmore, Requiem for a Dream) as the pair’s cheerful mentor is commendable. The most surprising and heartening acting chops come from Cedric the Entertainer (Barbershop, Madagascar) who takes a break from his usual off the cuff material to play a dignified, graceful McIver.
The biggest winner out of this film would be Seattle, in all it’s beauty and mystery set off by a quirky alternative soundtrack. It’s hard to get a hold of a well-balanced zany story such as this and it’s a shame it hasn’t received the airtime or ratings it deserves. Grassroots provides a great example of how one person can effect change, to maybe not hit their exact target but close enough to prove that sometimes the underdog can win the battle, despite the war.
Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Duration: 98 minutes
The DVD is released in Australia in late May, official trailer below: