Title: Casting JonBenét (2017)
Director: Kitty Green
Stars (Primary Actors): An array of amateur Boulder, CO area actors auditioning for the roles of the family
Bias: I am very into the JonBenét Ramsey case. I’ve listened to podcasts on the subject, and I watched the docuseries The Case of JonBenét Ramsey that was on CBS back in September. That show was heavily procedural and factual, and the experts on the show seemed to conclude that JonBenét’s brother Burke did it. The format of this documentary could not have been any different from the series. I came into it expecting something similar to that show, which presented the most logical arguments for a case that people know rather little about. Instead, it was quite the opposite.
In a Nutshell: This documentary sets out to show one of the many ugly sides to publicized murder trials: the gossip. The online synopses of the film would lead one to believe that this is just another run-of-the-mill, true crime documentary. But there are no real facts in the whole thing. It consists almost entirely of interviews with people who think they are auditioning for a Lifetime-esque dramatic reenactment of the events of the case. In these interviews, the Boulder, Colorado based actors talk about their theories about the case. The comments range from sympathetic to some of the most sexist, insensitive comments one could imagine for a tragedy of this magnitude (for example, insinuating that Patsy was in a mindset to kill her daughter because her dreaded 40th birthday was looming).
The Critique: The information about this documentary available online is intentionally misleading. It is meant to prey on people’s love for gossip and tragedies that didn’t happen to them. Because of this, it is very polarizing and will definitely alienate some viewers. Most of the interviews in the film focus on the adults auditioning for the roles of Patsy and John Ramsey, rather than the kids. While this is only natural because the adults were actually alive at the time of the murder, the film could have been overall more effective and creepy by getting more footage of the girls auditioning for the title role.
Shout-Outs: When this film works, it really works. The director took a huge risk with this avant-garde style documentary and in the scenes where it pays off, it makes huge strides in experimental storytelling. Because the adult actors auditioning for the roles are from the Bounder area and were around at the time of this tragedy, the film in some particular moments becomes a community healing through shared experiences with grief.
To Go, Rent or Netflix: This documentary is only available to watch on Netflix, and I would say to give it a try if you’re in the mood for an avant-garde documentary about a true crime (if you ever are). If you’re more interested in the JonBenét Ramsey case and the “facts” behind it, then check out the docuseries from 2016.