By Carrie Filipetti
October 15, 2010
After watching the 2:34 minute trailer for filmmaker Ray Griggs's new documentary "I Want Your Money," I had admittedly high expectations. The short clip packed a lot of informational punch, punctuating illuminating statistics with fresh animation, high-intensity music, and expert insights. At the same time, however, I fully expected the full-length feature to be the conservative foil to Michael Moore – an over-simplified, deeply partisan tribute to Republicanism. What I discovered instead, however, was that "I Want Your Money" is a much-needed, if at times slow, look at the important lessons of Reaganomics.
The documentary begins with a series of quotes from key big-government advocates in American history, including Roosevelt, Carter, and Obama. As director and narrator Ray Griggs states in his at times heavy-handed introduction, "There are two versions of American dream – one is to use the money you earn as yours, the other is that an elite group in Washington knows best how to spend it." The film's purpose, then, is two-fold; first, to highlight the differences between these two ideologies, and second, to provide a remedy for the increasingly national debt fueled by the lessons of Reaganomics.
Overall, the film works. Two of its biggest strengths is its adherence to its established narrative structure and its historical approach. The first thirty minutes shift back and forth between the "good old days" of Reagan and the current economic crisis under Obama before delving into the flaws of big government and ultimately, the ways in which mistakes of recent memory can be remedied. In a large sense, the film, unlike similar productions by the likes of Michael Moore, is prescriptive. Rather than merely pointing out the flaws of the Bush and Obama administrations, the film offers suggestions for what ordinary Americans can do to ensure policy changes, and roots these suggestions on what worked in the past to provide the economic boom of the Clinton administration. In such a way, the film, though very much enamored with Reagan, is decidedly non-partisan. While it would be a lie to claim it does not have conservative leanings, it is nuanced enough to recognize that it was Reaganomics, not Republicanism, that led us out of some of our worst crises. Clinton emerges as more of a hero than George W. Bush, a strong testament to the film's honest commitment to Reaganomics (a policy more accurately embodied by Clinton than Bush), rather than Republicanism.
Impressive experts the likes of Newt Gingrich, John Stossel, Edwin Meese II and Steve Forbes, along with different animated elements, point out easily accessible facts and statistics to supplement the historical focus of the film. Rather than using over the top, fear-mongering examples, the film reduces the economic crisis of today to its barest elements, empowering the audience to understand why and how big government spending poses such an extreme problem. In one particularly successful example, the film points out that the highest paid basketball player in the United States, Lebron James, would have to earn his $40 million a season paycheck over 22,000 times in order to pay off the trillion dollar national debt. These powerful – and commonsensical—examples comprise some of the film's most successful and convincing moments.
Another nice—and, if you list the film among the company of Michael Moore documentaries, unique – thing about "I Want Your Money" is it doesn't exist merely to defame or delegitimize a person or party; rather, it is prescriptive. While much attention is paid to the collapsing economy, the film is adamant that if we merely heed the two part tax-cut/low government spending formula of Reaganomics, we have the power to take back the economy, a message that resonates with more than just Tea Partiers. And while Reagan does come off as something of a God in the film, Griggs and his experts are quick (at least in political documentarian's terms) to give a voice to his opponents and systematically address those concerns, rather than merely ignoring them. In a sense, then, the film is relatively even-handed in its treatment of history, though it does fall prey to the oft-used Republican aphorism in which everything bad and/or Democratic is somehow also socialist.
Despite its strong narrative structure and important potential contributions to political discourse, the film certainly has its fair share of weaknesses. For one thing, the film seems unclear on what it wants to be. At its best, it is a full-length historical and political documentary; at its worst, it is a series of poorly integrated interviews and tediously slow political anecdotes. The animated interludes featuring past Presidents and a misplaced Sarah Palin are perhaps the film's worst offenders, particularly within the first thirty minutes of the film. The filmmakers seem more intent on forcing in clever one-liners about Clinton as a womanizer than in explaining the logical fallacies underpinning Obama's policies. Particularly within the first thirty minutes, the film drags as Reagan quotes continue well beyond the acceptable limit and the cartoon versions of Reagan and Obama launch on unnecessary diatribes only tangentially related to the film's purpose, if at all. Similarly, the film goes a little overboard on using different media. According to the documentary's website, www.iwantyourmoney.net, "The film uses interviews from well-known public figures, experts, movie clips, dramatic portrayals, music, graphics and even comedic animation to tell the story in the plainest terms of the choice between the Obama and the Reagan views of the role of the federal government in our society." While the different media was one of the advantages of the trailer, they seemed to burden the otherwise engaging film with lackluster comedy and protracted commentary.
While the film succeeds in describing why Reaganomics works and how we can apply those lessons to ameliorate our current economic standing, its pseudo-deification of Reagan ironically ignores one of Reagan's most precious contributions: that is, unlike Carter and others quoted in the film, Reagan firmly believed our best days are ahead of us, rather than behind us. While the film overtly acknowledges this, its implications are clear: it is not just Regan's policies that make a great nation, but Reagan himself.
Nevertheless, despite a slow beginning, some tangential comedy, and some questionable "authorities" (one wonders what expertise UCLA student and anti-abortion activist Lila Rose has on American economics), "I Want Your Money" is an exceptionally informative, easily accessible, and thoroughly entertaining look at two different economic ideologies functioning within the United States. The film presents a valuable counter-perspective to the one currently advocated in Washington, and it provides a deep well of evidence to prove its viability. Whether or not you consider yourself a follower of Reaganomics, if you consider yourself open-minded and willing to take public debate seriously, this film is not to be missed.
Oh, and in the time it took you to read this review, our national debt just increased by over $15,000,000.
DISCLAIMER: THE VIEWS AND OPINIONS EXPRESSED IN OLDSPEAK ARE NOT NECESSARILY THOSE OF THE RUTHERFORD INSTITUTE.