Seen April 29th
Casting JonBenet is, officially, the strangest documentary I’ve seen in my life and I kind of love it.
Going to spoil it for you now, Casting JonBenet is not really a documentary about the murder of JonBenet Ramsey. It’s something else. Casting JonBenet decides instead of focusing on the case of JonBenet, they instead look at the town that the murder happened in. The director put out a casting call in Boulder, Colorado where the murder took place for people to play the members of the family and the cops investigating the case and the people who turned up are in some way related to the Ramsey family, they knew them or they worked near them or they went through pageants, some even drove past the house the day after the murder. What follows is a strange film that explores the people of the town and not JonBenet. It shows what they thought happened, what they remember happening or how they imagined the people involved behaving.
It’s strange to see people auditioning for a docudrama, we’re so used to the form of the crime recreation that for Casting JonBenet to take that very basic form and flip it by only showing us the audition process and how these people saw their roles is incredible and leads to some truly strange and fascinating moments. Things like the one woman who brought her own costume because she believed Patsy’s look was defined by pearls, a man auditioning for the father whose previous role was in a play called “My Mother’s Jewish Lesbian Wiccan Wedding” (The regional premiere) or a guy trying out for the police chief who also does sex education at night which includes a display of his skills with lashing in mid air. It’s bizarre seeing these people talking about the case, about what parts they remembered, where they were, their connection to the case and how they interpret the characters. Again, we’re not talking about objective scientific facts here, we’re talking about these people’s interpretations of people who they actually know.
I do appreciate Casting JonBenet restraint when it comes to JonBenet, they really only show kids playing her at the start and the end. It’s focussing on the parent’s and how they would be perceived. They do also bring up the brother in a weirdly humorous scene involving a watermelon but again it’s very restrained, they try to focus on people who were there and are giving you their recollections of the crime and how it impacted their town… while also trying to earn a part in a true crime recreation.
Casting JonBenet is just amazing to watch, the sets they put these people on to audition are really well done and the editing of the auditions is so perfect, the locked off camera keeping the framing identical just works better than it should. The best shot though is the second last when the movie just shows you every possible theory of how the crime happened in 1 magical shot. I can’t even really describe it, it’s just so perfect for this movie that you can’t help but be amazed as it hits you what they’re doing. This is a very different kind of crime documentary, something we’ve definitely never seen before and the kind I don’t know we’ll ever see again but really, I hope we never see it again because Casting JonBenet did it so well that I don’t think there’s another application for this kind of documentary. Much like Get Out, this documentary is doing something brand new that I’ve never seen before but this time, I can’t see how anyone could copy it which is pretty damn impressive to find a style so specific that no one could/should even try it.
4 thoughts on “Casting JonBenet”
Your first sentence is exactly what I thought when I was watching it, and when I finished the doc. In fact, I’m still not sure if I truly understood what it was about and what I was supposed to take away from it. Maybe it just wasn’t for me, because at the end of it all I felt like I had learned nothing. From an artistic point of view it is fantastic and very clever (I’m assuming) but I just need something a bit more straightforward. Nonetheless I’d still recommend it because I feel like people might be able to take different things away from it. Great review, I feel like I’ve come a little closer to understanding the documentary.
Would you be interested in sharing your work on Movie Pilot? I’d like to invite you to join the platform, and I’d love to hear from you so I can to expand on that. Feel free to shoot me an e-mail, my contact details are on my “About” page. Hopefully talk soon!
Honestly, I’m sure I’m misinterpreting the movie at some point. It’s like Twin Peaks as a documentary, it’s so weird. I think a more straightforward JonBenet doc would be good, I know there was a docuseries but a simple movie would be lovely. Thanks for enjoying the review, fun message to wake up too.
Sure, I’ll send you a quick email soon
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