Reality television is a particularly easy target for satirists these days. What with its unholy mix of venality, bathos and idiocy, holier-than-thouists from far and wide have all taken their swing at this culturally convenient piñata. The premise for Public Domain is tantalizing. Its execution, however is unfortunate.
Here’s the set-up. Public Domain is a reality TV show to end all reality-TV show satires. Hidden cameras are placed in unsuspecting households and contestants are then judged on their ability to alternately horrify, appall or disgust home viewers and earn votes. In this corner is Peter, a chubby shut-in with a penchant for canned meals and consistent ability to present himself in the most pathetic light possible. Here’s Terry, a schoolgirl drug fiend suburban-ette who pimps out her friends when the going gets rough. And finally Bonnie — maybe the most interesting character — a tragically hip mom who’s more concerned with discussing which Cure album signaled their demise than addressing her son’s clearly troubling direction.
Overseeing proceedings are two suffocatingly smarmy hosts whose dry commentary is allegdly comic relief — but like much of this well-intentioned film, they end up grating. It’s a confection sickly sweet with irony and suffused with a highly mannered videography that is emblematic of the tone. It’s not that people aren’t this pathetic; it’s just that these characters in no way resemble real people.
Opens May 31 at Anthology Film Archives