Imagine going to the grocery store and they're totally out of milk. You don't want to leave empty handed, so you decide to wait around until you can talk to the manager. The nice person informs you that the store won't get any more milk in until the next morning. Having just wasted a whole 15 minutes of your life trying to find a gallon, you make the crazy decision to drive five minutes away and find some milk at a gas station. Would you say that your actions were desperate? Were you desperately seeking milk? No, I don't think so either, but the search for the handsome Beatle in the documentary Desperately Seeking Paul McCartney is on par with your shopping trip in excitement.
The doc opens with actual news footage from 1965 when Ruth Anson-Sowby interviewed Paul McCartney for ABC News. He jokingly proposed to her, catching everyone off guard. Desperately Seeking follows Anson-Sowby in her 2006 attempt to reconnect with McCartney. We watch her propose this film idea to Marc Cushman, a producer and director who runs Marcman Pictures. Half of the film then features Cushman and his crew deciding what to shoot, coming up with ways to contrive drama for their production, and trying to get in touch with McCartney's people to get him on film. Anson-Sowby tries to infiltrate Capitol Records, sits through an intervention with friends and family, and, for the cherry on top, tries to ambush McCartney by crashing the Grammy Awards.
Anson-Sowby certainly doesn't seek Paul desperately; there is no trip to England to ambush some relatives of his or anything. She doesn't stop traffic with a fake AK-47. She really just walks around LA, and half of the film isn't even about her searching. Desperately Seeking suffers from feeling like a bad reality show; this should not be considered a documentary because Cushman and his two or three sidekicks have just as much screen time as Ruth. They have bountiful on-screen interviews describing what we see, just like any reality show. Nothing comes across as genuine at all about the film. If Cushman was serious about wanting to make a documentary that looked at a semi-obsessed, groupie-like old woman, he wouldn't include footage of himself proposing the stupid ideas of how to exploit her, like setting up the intervention. We also wouldn't see various crew members complain about being fired by Cushman.
Anson-Sowby was cute as a button in the 60's, as the various clips of her as a hot young reporter shows. She interviewed folks like Bob Hope as well, but in Desperately she's a little too eager and always seems to be performing for the camera. Much is made of how much McCartney memorabilia she has, and how she's cut and pasted her face onto pictures with McCartney. Anson-Sowby should keep her day job, but I suppose I would act just as fake if someone wanted to follow me around LA with cameras.
So, for those of us who are Beatles fans, we may be tempted to spend our time and money on this documentary. However, despite the few moments' worth of Beatles footage in the film, there are absolutely no Beatles songs on the soundtrack. Obviously, Cushman couldn't afford to buy the rights. Instead, Desperately's soundtrack consists of 12 songs from a Beatles tribute band featured in the film, Ticket to Ride.
Still, despite all this, Cushman and his small amount of resources could have delivered a coherent, complete documentary. Filling up time with reality drama would be fine if they had actually captured something legitimately worth showing along the way. But...
THIS PARAGRAPH CONTAINS THE (OBVIOUS) SPOILER I imagine that many of you are skipping through this review to find this out anyway, so here goes: No, Ruth does not find Paul, and no, he does not appear in any of their modern footage whatsoever. Upon realizing this, I concluded that the film's very existence is ludicrous. Without it having that singular end to the journey, this documentary dissolves into nothing more than some cameramen following a melodramatic, old woman around tinsel town.
The Special Features
I've always had this crazy idea that documentary filmmakers shouldn't star in their own documentarie any more than necessary (I'm looking at you, Michael Moore). This must have been the only film entered at Mockfest 2008 because it won the best picture award. Anson-Sowby is desperately seeking to make a cheesy reality film. Please, please, don't fall for the Beatles trap, but "Skip It."