Capturing the Friedmans (2003) Review

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Is there anything scarier than a children’s clown?

Capturing the Friedmans (2003): 4 out of 10: Child Molestation, family dysfunction, mass hysteria, homosexuality, and clowns: Where do I sign up.

Filmmaker Andrew Jarecki was making a documentary on the high-priced children’s clown Silly Billy (David Friedman). A very angry and irrational clown that will play into every clown stereotype you will ever have (Think serial killer). Well, it turns out David is the older brother and son of the two men convicted in a famous child molestation case during the witch hunt style child molestation hysteria, of the late eighties.

Could the Friedmans also be victims of the same said hysteria? Innocent men railroaded to prison? Well, it turns out no. If you’re looking for a documentary on the abuse of the justice system, especially in such cases, keep looking. If you want a voyeuristic look inside an upper-middle-class Jewish family, one southern twang away from Jerry Springer welcome home.

Without the child molestation charges, this would be a hilarious romp. Each family member from the angry clown to the screeching mother is a gift that keeps on giving. Using home footage that captures moments that reality television can only dream of, Capturing the Friedmans gives you a ringside seat next to a family imploding upon itself.

Unfortunately, much of the movie concentrates on the child molestation case at hand. Trying to create suspense and play with the idea that the two men are innocent, the movie sets itself up for a fall. While some charges are clearly trumped-up (naked group leapfrog?), the father is also clearly guilty (and pleads accordingly). The son Jesse, whose case is on shakier ground, doesn’t help his cause by pleading guilty himself and having zero defense witnesses. (I.E. none of the boys supposedly there come forward and say he didn’t do these things.)

Jarecki was playing with the hand he was dealt with. And while he had an incredible collection of home movies fall into his lap, his attempts at turning it into a documentary about the American judicial system fall flat. On the other hand, if I were looking at spending six months filming Silly Billy the clown, I would grasp for straws too.

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