By Sam Mosher, E23 Reporter
“Casting JonBenet” never quite decides what it is. It walks the line between documentary, self-aware satire, and a psyche analysis of its various subjects. It doesn’t nail any of these, leaving it as a “documentary” that is never more than intriguing.
“Casting JonBenet” is about the 1996 murder of JonBenet Ramsey, a six-year-old beauty pageant girl living in Boulder, Colorado. The case still remains unsolved over twenty years later.
“Casting JonBenet” is a “behind-the-scenes” documentary. It follows a movie based on the murder. The only people interviewed for this “documentary” are actors and actresses auditioning for various roles in the film.
To further clarify, these subjects have absolutely no direct relation to the crime, and have no information to share other than their thoughts, opinions, and conspiracies based on what they have heard.
The Ramsey family and the Boulder police force are never interviewed in “Casting JonBenet.” Photos, police interrogation footage, or anything directly from the murder itself is absent from this “documentary” about the murder.
“Casting JonBenet” is not the documentary to watch for those trying to learn about the case. While the movie does explains the crime and the subsequent investigations, it leaves much to be desired in terms of the crime’s details. Audience members are only given various conspiracy theories based on actual facts from the case.
The movie unfolds itself one conspiracy at a time. Beginning with the suspected family members and then tackling other suspects, actors and actresses in the film share their thoughts on the matter. The documentary never feels very informative, as it is essentially a “he said, she said” film.
“Casting JonBenet” becomes more enjoyable as the night of the crime is further explained. Many of the actors and actresses appear throughout the film, and as their personalities become known to the audience, each interview becomes more entertaining.
In terms of “Casting JonBenet” being a self-aware satire, this is where the film truly differentiates itself, for better or worse. As a documentary about an unsolved murder of a six-year-old girl, this movie attempts a fairly humorous tone.
Without a doubt, if the case was more recent, this movie would not have been able to get away with this. However, the movie often is able to be funny through its interviews. The actors and actresses range from hilariously serious to complete eccentric goofballs.
“Casting JonBenet” is a self-aware satire in the way that it playfully handles its “true crime” documentary subject. With the rise of podcasts and TV shows like “Serial” and “Making a Murderer,” studios have gained an affinity for investigating true crimes.
“Casting JonBenet” shares much of the DNA with these other projects, but injects its own humor into it. The film showcases the various takes from the actual “JonBenet” movie, and many are just plain bad due to the acting. These inclusions are intentional, and are often quite funny.
As the film begins to wind down, it becomes very clear that “Casting JonBenet” will take no stance on the case. This is when the film truly begins to show its lack of focus. Once all of the conspiracies have been explained, some of the actors and actresses begin to share personal anecdotes that have similarities with aspects of the case.
However, as these actors and actresses are often playing people from the murder, it becomes unclear if these stories are from their lives or JonBenet’s murder.
Despite the confusion they cause, these monologues personally examine the actors and actresses. Their stories act as small glimpses into their lives, and while some are interesting, they take the film off of its central concept.
Unfortunately, this is the last note of the movie. After these stories, the movie presents all of its conspiracies in an abstract montage of the various actors and actresses playing Mr. and Mrs. Ramsey.
The scene is quite stylish, and impressively shows off the real talent behind these individuals, but it also serves as a painful reminder of the movie’s lack of purpose.
On that note, some official descriptions of the film call it as “sumptuous as anything by David Fincher.” As Fincher’s films contain definitive endings, this description is misleading.
Ultimately, “Casting JonBenet” adds nothing to the story of JonBenet Ramsey’s murder. While it can be quite funny in parts, the film fails as a documentary. The film’s fascination with conspiracies is interesting, but certainly not informative.
The lessons of the film may be that “everyone has secrets,” “some things may never be solved,” or “everyone hurts,” but the film expresses these poorly and never quite nails the tone necessary to do so.
Despite the film’s mediocre quality as a documentary, it is never boring. The crime itself is fascinating, and although more details could have been included, some of the conspiracy opinions are intriguing.
The film is quite stylish, and director Kitty Green makes it quite visually appealing. The various scenes from the JonBenet “movie” are beautiful, and the film’s final montage is a surprisingly creative use of the film’s many actors and actresses.
“Casting JonBenet” releases on Netflix on April 28. Watch it if you like conspiracies and visually appealing documentaries. Don’t watch it to learn anything new about the case.