The Yes Men

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The Yes Men
Review (10/10)
(By Rich Cline)

This astonishing documentary--from the team behind the equally entertaining American Movie--follows the exploits of two guys who are equal parts practical jokers, performance artists and political activists.

Bichlbaum and Bonanno's early activities included challenging gender stereotypes by adding gay musclemen in the background of the macho videogame SIM Copter, and swapping voice-boxes between talking Barbie dolls and GI Joes. Their singular purpose is "identity correction", stealing an identity and presenting a more honest face. So it's hardly surprising that their next target was George W Bush, who during his first campaign hypocritically claimed to be the "environmental governor" even though during his years in office Texas became the most polluted state in the nation. The kids loved the Barbie-GI Joe thing, but in response to the Yes Men's antics, Bush replied, "There ought to be limits to freedom." Even though their spoof Bush website merely told the truth.

This film follows their parody of the World Trade Organisation, including conference and TV appearances where they present what the WTO would say if they were being honest. Namely the fact that the organisation, originally established to help poor countries, is actually exploiting them and sending profits back to American corporations. (The world's poorest countries lose 14 times more money due to unjust WTO policies than they receive in aid from the West.)

Bichlbaum and Bonanno's approach is so bone-dry that most audience members don't get the joke, no matter how absurd they get--from a gold lame business-leisure suit for monitoring sweatshop workers to the "re-burger", a gruesome third-world starvation solution. They make their point with a combination of wit and passion, simply by highlighting the upside-down world we live in.

The film has a gripping narrative structure, following Bichlbaum and Bonanno from New York to Paris to Finland to London to Australia--a series of increasingly daring appearances. The filmmakers tell the story with razor-sharp photography and editing that focuses on the central characters and lets them express the important issues without forcing the point at all. The result is bracingly engaging--simply because Bichlbaum and Bonanno are so likeable, hilarious, smart and provocative. Essential.

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