If NSA surveillance has you concerned, the sort of intrusiveness the popular media is capable of should make you downright paranoid. Ethics never enter the picture when a television crew starts taping an oblivious average family chosen at random. For the sake of ratings, the producer and his crew will systematically tear down their lives—and we, the Gawker-reading gawkers are complicit in their exploitation. Such is the state of the contemporary media and pop culture according to Adam Rifkin, who has adapted his Showtime series Reality Show as the feature film Shooting the Warwicks (trailer here), which opens this Friday in Los Angeles.
Dennis Warwick is a respected accountant. His wife Katherine is a satisfied homemaker and their daughter Amy is the straight A captain of her high school cheerleading squad. At least they were until Mickey Wagner started toying with them. Since the network is convinced the maximum legal exposure is a breaking-and-entering charge, they give Wagner the go-ahead to secretly install cameras all over the Warwick home, as well as Dennis Warwick’s office. That way they will finally get a really real reality show, since none of the Warwicks’ reactions will be tainted by their awareness of the audience watching.
Stop reading right now and call your local legislator to make sure there are sufficient laws against this kind of invasion of privacy in your state. As for the narrative, Wagner and company run into a bit of a snag when they discover the Warwicks are pretty darned boring. With the network demanding sizzle reel footage, Wagner starts manufacturing crises for his guinea pigs. Encouraged by his success with the network honchos, he becomes increasingly cruel and manipulative. Eventually, people will meet the same fate as Howard Beale, dying for ratings.
Of course, Shooting is not Network—not by a long shot. Still, you have to give Rifkin (who also co-stars as Wagner) credit for never sugar-coating his media horror story or taking any easy outs. However, that also means the film has no cathartic release. Essentially, viewers just get their noses rubbed in the reality media’s rottenness for ninety-some minutes.
As the Warwicks, Scott Anderson, Kelley Menighan Hensley, and Monika Tilliing are almost too believably average and guileless. Watching them get destroyed simply isn’t fun. On the other hand, Rifkin makes a thoroughly despicable jerkheel, who we dearly want to see get his comeuppance. In a way, it is a little ironic seeing him as the reality TV bad guy, when his previous film, the documentary Giuseppe Makes a Movie celebrated the grungy zero-budget heroics of outsider artist-auteur Giuseppe Andrews. Arguably, the two films represent the extreme ends of the reality media spectrum.