A political satire bathing in absurdity, Free Lunch Express chronicles the fictional rise to prominence of Vermont Senator and former Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (Sam Britton, Jonah Britton, and Charles Hutchins). Growing up in the slums of New York City, a young Bernie is quickly radicalized by romantic notions of Communism. One blood pact with Joseph Stalin later, and young Bernie is off to bring the wheels of capitalism to a screeching halt. With a little help from ice cream founders Ben & Jerry (Anthony Traina and Ryan Coyle), there is little Bernie will not do for the working man or, according to the film, screw over the working man.
Free Lunch Express follows Bernie from his childhood through his bid for the presidency in 2016. The movie displays Bernie with zero redeemable qualities beyond inspiring the name “Chunky Monkey” for the ice cream flavor. As the full 80-minute runtime commences, writer-director Lenny Britton takes shots at Sanders, Bill and Hilary Clinton, AOC, and the entire state of Vermont in nearly every second. Even with Britton’s commitment to satire, this is hard to watch regardless of political allegiance.
My first qualm with the film comes through the portrayal of Bernie. I cannot find fault in a political satire or, truthfully, any comedy for roasting somebody. However, I can take issue with how a movie attempts to do so. Half of Free Lunch Express commits itself to show Bernie as an evil mastermind hellbent on bringing Communism to the United States. The other half portrays Bernie as an unintelligent oaf incapable of coherent thought. He has to be one or the other – either Bernie is an evil genius or a total idiot. However, I have to suspend far too much belief to buy that he is both.
“…young Bernie is off to bring the wheels of capitalism to a screeching halt.”
The lack of consistency with Bernie’s character is the most visible symptom of the movie’s larger problems. Some moments are shot and focused like a mockumentary (complete with talking heads), and others are shot like a cautionary bedtime story, even featuring Malcolm McDowell as a narrator. The movie makes such a point to deliver a political agenda that it forgets to be a political comedy. The overwhelming majority of jokes consists of Bernie not having friends, Democrats being snowflakes, and people from Vermont being hippies on welfare.
Free Lunch Express, knowingly or unknowingly, shares a lot of DNA with David Zucker’s An American Carol. The comedy chooses a bumbling strawman to roast repeatedly with little arc or plot beyond being an echo chamber for those who share the same views. Despite any amount of political neutrality by the viewer, the film is blatant pandering. It borders on propaganda, indulging even the most radical conspiracy theories, especially concerning blood oaths with Stalin and claiming JFK won due to voter fraud.
Even in light of pandering, problematic statements, and vast inconsistencies in characters (or more accurately, caricatures), the highest crime of Free Lunch Express comes from being cripplingly unfunny. My only highlight is that Malcolm McDowell has an excellent voice for narration, even if his words have no content.
"…is hard to watch regardless of political allegiance."