Finders Keepers (The Orchard, R)

Finders KeepersI’m happy to recommend Finders Keepers, which is funnier and breezier than most people’s idea of a documentary is.

 

 

 

 

Finders Keepers 500

There’s a certain Americana-type documentary that is both compelling and also maybe makes fun of its characters in a debatably unsavory way. Because of this “making fun of its characters” thing, this sort of movie often is also very funny—think Errol Morris’ Vernon, Florida or Chris Smith’s American Movie. A popular, and more recent, example of this type of movie is Seth Gordon’s The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, about competitive Donkey Kong players, which film helped to bring competitive video game playing into more of a mainstream conversation.

Now from producer Seth Gordon comes Bryan Carberry and Clay Tweel’s Finders Keepers, about a man, Shannon Whisnant, a wheeler-dealer, auction hound flipper/reseller, who buys a grill at an auction in North Carolina, only to find a human leg stored in it once he got it home. (The leg was semi-preserved, but thankfully not barbecued.) At first he reacts as most would in this situation—he freaks out and calls 911—but when the leg’s original owner, John Wood, tries to reclaim it, Whisnant sees the whole thing as a business opportunity, and instead fights to keep it, all the while charging admission to see it, like how a six-year old would do if in the same situation.

How the leg came to be in the grill that was sold is not as much of Finders Keepers’ story as you would think—Wood had to have it amputated after a plane crash that also claimed the life of his father, and kept it once it was amputated. (Wouldn’t you?) He kept it in the grill in a storage unit, but when he failed to pay rent on the storage unit, its contents were auctioned off. Enter Mr. Whisnant. Most of Finders Keepers’ runtime focuses more on the legal battle between Mr. Whisnant and Mr. Wood for possession of the leg.

Finders Keepers exhibits a lot of pet peeves of mine regarding many recent documentaries—specifically, it doesn’t seem to trust its characterization, and is always re-telling you who everyone is all of the time (a criticism I also leveled at The King of Kong), and also it subtitles the dialogue of its Southern-accent-having characters, which strikes me as insulting both to the subjects of the film as well as the film’s audience. And while there’s no need to sell short the characterization in Finders Keepers, as the film itself often does, the subtitling in this case actually comes in handy, as you often can’t hear what anyone’s saying over all of the laughter from the audience. The first time I saw this film was in a packed house at the True/False Film Festival in Columbia this past March, and indeed I was very grateful for those subtitles, especially in the first fifteen or so minutes of the film; nearly everyone in attendance was all but rolling on the floor laughing.

On the whole, I’m happy to recommend Finders Keepers, which is funnier and breezier than most people’s idea of a documentary is, and has a compelling story besides. But I also can’t help but wonder if it would have been a better film without having Seth Gordon on in the capacity of the producer—it’s glaring that both The King of Kong and Finders Keepers share a fairly major, and uncommon, flaw, and Gordon’s still on my shit list from having had his name on Pixels earlier this year. | Pete Timmermann

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