Jason Biggs can act!
The AMERICAN PIE series hasn’t exactly been Shakespeare — so far — and even when Jason Biggs has branched out into a Woody Allen movie (ANYTHING ELSE), it turned out to be one of Woody’s weakest, before the neurotic auteur magically found inspiration again. So it’s good to see Biggs doing a fine job in GRASSROOTS, a shaggy new movie based on the true story of a fired alternative weekly writer (Biggs) who helped his friend the music critic run for Seattle City Council in 2001.
Joel David Moore plays the candidate, Grant Cogswell, with such nonstop aggression that I found that character a tad insufferable, I must say. The guy — whose main platform was a desire to extend the monorail so it would become a workable, sustainable form of transportation in Seattle — is always rat-tat-tatting things like “Mass transit is a societal injustice issue!” or “What we need to do is enhance our position!” Everything he says seems to end with an exclamation point, and strangely, he’s supposed to be captivating the masses with his grassroots approach and enthusiasm.
Yet as the journo-turned-campaign-manager, Biggs is subtle and effective, working out the ethical contradictions involved in at-times dirty politicking while also trying to make amends with his sincere and disillusioned girlfriend (Lauren Ambrose). He’s straightforward, un-mannered and light years away from the pie shtick that’s both made him and encased him, careerwise.
Stephen Gyllenhall (father of Jake and Maggie) directs, and the film looks distinctly low budget, with lighting that’s sometimes shabby or nonexistent. But it captures the way people talk and has some nice comic flairs, plus parts by Cobie Smulders, Tom Arnold and Cedric the Entertainer (as the put-upon opponent).
Racism and 9/11 figure into the plot, though selling the result will be an uphill struggle because Seattle politics is not exactly an inflammatory subject that the world is begging to hear about. When Grant makes his concession speech in a polar bear costume — as he was wont to wear — you’re not all that distraught that he lost (especially since this almost turned out to be a Seattle version of ALL THE KING’S MEN). But you are happy to have seen Jason Biggs get a chance to keep his clothes on and show a little bit more of what he can do. When it comes to screen opportunities, he probably deserves a larger piece of the pie.