The most confusing electoral process in the world provides the backdrop for a series of misadventures in politics. A disgraced congress woman, two political operatives in love, a retired general, and a very familiar looking NY politician are all juggled by writer/director Brent Roske in his film Courting Des Moines.
Courting Des Moines is not only a movie that tries to shed light on the arcane and confusing process of the Iowa caucus, it also has a lot going for it dramatically. However, it is an uneven effort that tries to accomplish too much and ends up accomplishing too little.
The poor camera work is immediately apparent. Low light scenes shot without a low light lens, shaky cameras, and whole scenes out of focus might work in a found footage picture, but not in a straight drama. I understand the desire to tell a story you’re passionate about, but some things do have to be done to meet the minimum requirement of making a watchable movie. And one of those is being able to see the characters.
“The most confusing electoral process in the world provides the backdrop for a series of misadventures in politics…”
And it is a vast army of characters in Courting Des Moines that rivals such epics as the Mahabharata. The synopsis tells us it’s about a disgraced congresswoman returning home after a scandal, which just happens to coincide with the presidential caucus. But her story is abandoned almost immediately so we can meet a newsman hungry for a scoop, a retired general without a filter, a local politician grinding away at his job, his daughter who is a lawyer, another local politician who decides to run after meeting, a New York politician who appears to be made up of everything negative thing ever said about Hillary Clinton. And that isn’t even scratching the surface. Characters are introduced and then almost immediately abandoned. If a character is very lucky they get one or two scenes of “character development” and then are quickly forgotten. The congresswoman, this whole movie is supposed to be about, is abandoned in the third act in favor of her staff and random people on the street. Without a clear dramatic focus Courting Des Moines wanders the Iowa country side looking for something to say, and never quite finding it.
“…there are some touching moments that hit on the importance of public service…”
But it is not all bleak. Courting Des Moines has some of the most beautiful shots of the Iowa capitol committed to film. That sounds way snarkier than I intended. There are some truly breathtaking shots of beautiful architecture. The shot of the library alone is worth seeing this movie. Also, there are some touching moments that hit on the importance of public service. Not so much in the speeches, however. But rather in simple acts to try and make the community better. Courting Des Moines works best when the director shows us what community involvement should look like. The local politician working late to try and get clean water legislation in the midst of the national chaos raining down on his state. The community volunteers giving up their time to try and impact the national stage. The Iowa citizens taking their responsibility as the first primary seriously and wanting to know as much as possible about the candidates. And I’ll admit, the meals on wheels scene got me a little choked up.
The Iowa caucus system is fascinating for its simplicity, its nuances, and its utter bat s**t craziness. Someday someone will make a really good film either about it, or set during it. Courting Des Moines isn’t that film.
"…I’ll admit, the meals on wheels scene got me a little choked up"