Anat Baron's BEER WARS claims to be "An irreverent and comical journey through the underbelly of the American beer industry." This got me all excited. Nothing pleases a Mistress of the Apocalypse like a good seamy underbelly. Sadly, Beer Wars is more like Beer Business Negotiations and the underbelly stays pretty much hidden in this tame attempt at a corporate scandal documentary.
Beer Wars is more like watching a soothing Sesame Street documentary... except, you know, it's about beer. You'd think that would make it more scintillating than a documentary about crayons, but that would not be the case.
Miss Baron's stylish forth grade teacher vibe is more than partially responsible for her documentary's mild, educational tone. And, she doesn't help herself any by starting her anti-corporate scumbaggary documentary with a tiny animated version of herself informing us that when she was little she wanted to be a corporate CEO.
But, we Horsewomen DO have to give her bonus apocalypse points for being both a former beer industry exec and then for proceeding to make her first foray into the documentary directing world all about alochol when she is, in fact, allergic to the stuff.
If only she'd taken her serious, "fun learning time" persona and applied it in a way that was as quirky, smart and unexpected as the art on her website. Instead, she takes the tone of preachy americana that the very brew-giants she's attacking (Coors, Bud and Miller for those who have never been to a grocery store) use in their ubiquitous commercials.
The real culprit, though, for the boring factor in this doc, is the fact that the so called "beer wars" aren't presented in a particularly innovative or intriguing way here. Anat skims over the old school local brands that were killed off after prohibition by the major brands, giving them thirty second or less of attention, and spends almost no time talking about the fun stuff like gorilla ad campaigns, stories of professional sabotage (we all like a good spy game) or the legal battles for home brewers and moonshine makers.
Her cause isn't helped by a lackluster soundtrack and subjects who are generally upper middle class beer enthusiasts who may be fighting the man, but don't seem to be hurting too badly for it. These aren't local steel mill workers being put out of work by their factory moving overseas. They aren't even the factory employees who would lose their jobs if Budweiser manages to buy their local brewery. They're hard working small business people who are facing the very same challenges that small business owners everywhere are staring down everyday.
Is it tough taking on Golath? Sure. But thems the breaks kids, and, as far as Beer Wars can tell me, there are a lot of people in this business doing pretty well. Anat doesn't seem to recognize that she's taking on a well worn problem, and she doesn't connect it to the fates of small businesses everywhere nor does she expose what makes this struggle unique other than... booze.
This leaves us feeling like this is really about beer, instead of about the end of local businesses (and the end of the world) as we know it. Anat doesn't manage to tap into the Michael Moore style anti-big business fervor that could have really made this film have weight. One brewer even says "we're making beer, it's not nuclear armament's." Well why not buddy? Nuclear beer would be MUCH more interesting.
But Anat doesn't expose any of the details of this particular struggle, so she can't give her subject the kind of tension and energy that Moore does with his films, which is a shame. It's not like the potential isn't here. The "big three" beer companies are just as nasty and anti-worker, anti-local community, anti-well, just about everybody, as any other major business. And they SELL BOOZE. They should be fascinating, cut throat and hilarious and, in Anat's hands, they just aren't.
Lesson here - buy local, think global and drink beer. If you want to learn more about beer, check out http://beerwarsmovie.com which is far more interesting, innovative and engaging than the movie it's promoting.