Moving Pictures
Dec 10, 2020, 06:27AM

Bernie Sanders: Thief?

When it comes to satire of Bernie Sanders, pop culture has dropped the ball. Free Lunch Express is no exception. D-

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When it comes to satire of Bernie Sanders, pop culture has dropped the ball. In Sanders' time as a national political figure, the most popular impression of him has been that of Larry David on Saturday Night Live, as part of SNL's tried-and-true Trump-era policy of simply finding the most famous celebrity who sort of looks like a politician, regardless of whether they're able to do anything funny with their impression.

James Adomian's take on Sanders, which had wide purchase on the political comedy podcast/live show circuit, was much better. But overall, there hasn't been much iconic comedy about the naturally funny sight of a Jewish guy in his 70s with a heavy Brooklyn accent whose bearing resembles, to recall another Seinfeldism, "an old man trying to send back soup in a deli."

Into the breach has stepped Free Lunch Express, a full-length satirical comedy film about Sanders, which debuted on VOD last week. It's a conservative project, likely conceived of at the time that it appeared Sanders might get the Democratic nomination for president, which takes the form of a pseudo-biopic, following Sanders from his childhood in Brooklyn through aftermath of the 2016 campaign.

Written and directed by Lenny Britton, Free Lunch Express is a lazy and mean-spirited, which pays only cursory attention to Sanders' actual biography. Sanders, who has an older brother, is depicted as an only child, while his parents—who died when he was young—are alive well into his adulthood. It also baselessly accuses Sanders of numerous crimes and bad acts, starting with welfare fraud and stealing campaign funds.

The film borrows lightly from Jojo Rabbit, with Josef Stalin appearing to Sanders in visions, along with other leaders of the past. We also see Sanders buddying up with fellow Vermont lefties Ben and Jerry, which seems to be an excuse of a dead-on-the-screen running joke where the dialogue keeps inspiring names of ice cream flavors (and for some reason, Ben and Jerry remain young as Sanders gets old.)

Sam Brittan plays Sanders in most of his adulthood, while Jonah Britton plays him as a young boy and Charles Hutchins is Sanders in his 70s. Malcolm McDowell is the narrator, doing a massive amount of mugging and sneering for a role that likely only took one or two days of his time. Ex-Hercules Kevin Sorbo appears briefly too, as George Washington.

Most of the people in the target audience for Free Lunch Express likely don't know the details of Sanders' biography, and they certainly don't know the difference between communism, socialism, democratic socialism, or even liberalism for that matter.

There's virtually no indication, from the film, that Sanders' presidential campaign inspired a large and significant political movement. It recreates the moment in the 2016 campaign when Sanders was interrupted by a pair of Black Lives Matter activists in Seattle. In real life, this was an outdoor speech in front of a massive crowd. In the movie, it happens in a small room with about six people watching.

There's a lot that's misconceived, but probably the biggest miscalculation is that the people who have the most contempt for Sanders are not conservatives, but Hillary Clinton stans and other center-left Democrats who blame Sanders for Trump's 2016 victory.

But the film takes the Pizzagate/QAnon line on Hillary, depicting her as a cackling villain who casually references murdering Vince Foster, while endorsing the conspiracy theory that Hillary gave Sanders a house and car in exchange for dropping out of the 2016 race. The film can't think of anything funny about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, except point out repeatedly that she used to be a bartender.

A satirical comedy about "Bernie bros," or young male socialists who are aggressive assholes, is something with satirical potential, independent of Sanders himself, but Free Lunch Express doesn't touch any of that.

Even if you don't agree with Sanders' policies or political worldview, there's never been any indication in his long public career that he's a thief, a welfare cheat, or otherwise a dishonorable man, or that his wife Jane secretly hates him. You don't have to be a Sanders fan to realize just how unfair this is.


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