Mockumentaries are a little known yet absolutely beloved genre of film. Taking the style of Documentary film and adding actors and scenarios to create a Faux Documentary (Usually done with the actors improvising all their dialogue). I always feel kind of shocked whenever I bring up Mockumentaries and most people don’t seem to know what it is, often giving me a confused look and questioning it, leaving me to explain the genre. I figured instead of repeating myself I would create a list of Ten Mockumentaries people should check out to either introduce them to the genre or if they’re already fans, find new ones they may have never seen before. The Mockumentary is one of my favourite genres and it gives me much excitement to be able to share these ten with you.
*It should be noted I did not include films like This is Spinal Tap, What We Do in the Shadows and Borat because they’re already super popular and chances are you’ve already seen them. This not a top 10, but ten recommendations. Kind of defeats the purpose recommendation some of the most popular films of the genre.
The Rutles (1978)
Mockumentaries didn’t really make a mark on the map until Spinal Tap came around in 1984. But before Spinal Tap was poking fun at Glam Metal and Hard Rock bands, The Rutles was spoofing the biggest band of all time, The Beatles. Created by Eric Idle and Neil Innes originally as a sketch for a television Comedy series in the UK. After appearing on Saturday Night Live and through the suggestion of Lorne Michaels, the two comedians would take the idea and expand on it, creating a Feature Length film that would chronicle the rise and fall of the made-up band. Treated like an actual documentary, the movie parodies the actual history of The Beatles, with many parallels being made and Easter Eggs that will make the biggest Beatles fan giddy. Mixed in with original songs in the style of The Fab Four and interviews with real Musicians (Like Mick Jagger), The Rutles manages to pay homage and poke fun at the same time. George Harrison loved the idea so much he even makes a cameo in the film as a reporter. If your a fan of The Beatles then this is a Mockumentary for you to check out as every reference and joke made in the film is based on their music, their history and their personalities that only true Beatles Fans could possibly get every single one.
Bob Roberts (1992)
Coming off the popularity of Spinal Tap! Tim Robbins saw an opportunity to use the medium in a way he never thought before, using it to spread a message in a way that would work better than in a conventional film. The product was a political film that feels more relevant today than it did in 1992. With the growing divide between the left and the right, Bob Roberts was ahead of its time in terms of satire and basically predicted what would come to be. The mockumentary follows Bob Roberts, a folk singer turned politician who is running for president as the Republican candidate. Bob Roberts comes across as an intelligent and charismatic person, a real people’s person who holds traditional American values and morals. He’s a good guy who’s being unjustly accosted by Leftist radicals trying to silence him. As the movie continues through these lines start to get blurred of what’s “good and evil” as Bob’s true face shines through in some Behind the Scenes looks. It’s a great satire on political campaigns and how the media can skew an image of a politician to make them out to seem like the perfect human. What’s truly great about it is it never demonizes one side of the political spectrum, showing off the good and bad of both the right and the left in a grounded and realistic way.
Man Bites Dog (1992)
Where most mockumentaries set out to make people laugh and are for the most part genuine comedies, sometimes filmmakers like to use the medium to create something much darker. Man Bites Dog is one of these films that takes the idea of a Dark Comedy to incredibly dark depths. This french Mockumentary follows Ben, a highly cultured and intellectual man who likes to spout of philosophical monologues about his world views. he is incredibly charming and likeable, someone anyone would love to be friends with. Oh yeah, he’s also a serial killer. While the first half of the film plays the murders for laugh and has you on Ben’s side, it slowly takes an incredibly dark turn causing you to question your feelings towards the main character. You start to feel incredibly uncomfortable for even liking this guy as his deeds get harsher and worse to the point a certain crime is shown in a realistic and unfiltered way that will leave you squirming. Almost as a commentary of how we can idolize and romanticize these figures (think Ted Bundy or Charles Manson) and to how desensitized we’ve become to violence in film, it makes us second guess our thoughts on the situation and how easily we forget how horrific it can be in real life. Man Bites Dog is a dark film and not for everyone but is masterfully done and acts as a slow burn for the portrayal of the lead from charismatic to evil. Of course, sprinkled throughout are some great comedic moments (Including a recurring gag with the sound guy that I will not spoil here that will leave you in stitches) that add levity to the darkest moments of the film but never take away from how horrifying it really is. Proceed with caution.
The Making of “…And God Spoke” (1993)
Every filmmaker out there can talk about that one project they did that was a living nightmare. Everything just not going right from start to end leaving the filmmaker as an emotional wreck. Every filmmaker can talk your ear off of the trials and tribulations of making a movie and the problems that could occur on a set. The Making of “…and God Spoke” is in honour of all those filmmakers who have suffered through that one terrible project. Two colleagues set out to make a film adaptation of The Bible and experience every obstacle imaginable. Basically, anything that could go wrong does go wrong and it becomes the Murphy’s Law of film sets. As ambitious ( a little too ambitious for any filmmaker) as it is, the filmmakers are faced with Method actors, A cinematographer who thinks he’s Ingmar Bergman, Underwhelming set pieces and a tight budget that forces them to get sponsors causing Moses to be holding a six-pack on top of the mountain. Everything about this production is an absolute disaster which ends up being a laugh riot for the audience (especially those with the experience). Even if you know nothing about a film set, it’s a fun look into the life of a film production and a great portrait of what NOT to do in a production.
Waiting for Guffman (1996)
One of the biggest masterminds behind the Mockumentary format is none other than Christopher Guest. He’s one of the biggest directors to have perfected the style and made it his trademark. He was also one of the geniuses behind Spinal Tap, having penned and acted in it as one of the main trio. He also co-wrote and played the songs the band plays. Guest helped put the Mockumentary on the list of respected genres and after Spinal Tap, he wasn’t done, this would only be the beginning of his reign as King of the Mockumentaries. Waiting for Guffman was his first in a series of Mockumentaries he would direct that centres around the Centennial Celebration of a small town in Missouri. Corky St. Clair (played magnificently by Guest) takes on the role of directing a play in the local community theatre about the history of their small town to be performed at the Centennial Celebration. Backed by one of the strongest comedic casts ever (Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Fred Ward, Parker Posey) the movie tells every theatre joke in the book enough to keep anyone who has ever been part of a community theatre production or play to keep laughing until the end. From the incredibly subtle that only real theatre aficionados will get to the more accessible jokes for those not as familiar, it’s a fun time from start to end watching the team put together this play and eventually perform it in the most perfect homage to community theatre productions everywhere. It is both a love letter and a playful jab to community theatre.
Best in Show (2000)
That’s two Christopher Guest movies in a row. That might seem like cheating a bit but they don’t call him the king of the Mockumentary for nothing (maybe I am the only one who does). I just couldn’t resist suggesting two of his movies. This time he tackles dog shows and the competitors on the road to bring their dogs to win the coveted Blue Ribbon and have their pooches win Best in Show. Enlarging the cast of characters from his last film, we follow a wide variety of dog owners and their various dogs, being presented with enough quirks and personalities that could fill up hours of screen time. From a yuppie couple who constantly bicker with each other, a gay couple who re-decorate their entire hotel room to reflect their home, a Florida couple who keep running into ex-boyfriends of the wife, and a gold-digging housewife in charge of the recurring Blue Ribbon winner, you will find yourself picking your favourite and getting excited every time they come on screen. Backed by the same cast as Waiting for Guffman, the laughs come flying as each actor perfectly portrays both what makes a great dog owner but also the absurdities of loving your dog a little too much. This is one for any dog owner to enjoy, if not for how it pokes fun at you but to smile at all the cute dogs that pop up on screen while you laugh. There’s nary a dull moment in this one and Christopher Guest shows off what he can do with the format, heightening his skills from the last one.
The life of two headbangers from Alberta who hang around all day drinking beer and being reckless doesn’t sound like it would make for an interesting film, but Michael Dowse took the idea and ran with it creating a relatable, down-to-earth and fun mockumentary titled Fubar that would gain a huge cult following. The two main leads are played with such incredible aplomb that it’s hard to believe they aren’t real people. What really drives the movie as a whole is the relationship between the two leads and how their friendship gets tested. The bond between the leads holds the movie together like glue and creates an engaging story that surprisingly has a lot of heart. You may not like the lifestyle portrayed and might find the leads obnoxious and annoying, but guaranteed by the end of it you’ll be invested in their story. It’s a true tale of friendship and one that will leave you laughing and feeling sentimental at the same time no easy feat with the subject matter at hand, but successful nonetheless.
Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)
This one is for all the horror movie fans, especially those who love a good slasher flick. Ever wonder what the masked killer is doing while the film is happening? Behind the Mask gives exactly the insight you wanted as it follows our masked killer, Leslie Vernon and his behind the scenes work of plotting the murders of local teens from scoping out the perfect group, choosing the survival girl, all the way down to tracking his exact trajectory of how the night’s events will pan out. It’s an incredibly clever breakdown of every horror film out there and it’s all told from the perspective of the killer himself. Unlike Man Bites Dog which is grounded in reality following a believable serial killer you could find in your everyday life, this one is grounded in the reality of a horror film while still playing off as a believable doc it has enough tongue in cheek moments to have you laughing at the cliches all the way through to the end. It’s incredibly clever with how it handles it’s material, answering every burning question about the killer in horror films (like why are they so indestructible? Impervious to fire? How do they get around so fast? etc.). It has enough references to keep any Horror fan invested searching for Easter Eggs and is fun enough to have anyone who avoids horror films to enjoy one through a comedic lens.
Chalk is a modest, low budget mockumentary that is more sentimental than funny but still manages to have a good laugh here and there. Chalk follows a group of school teachers and covers the course of an entire school year. Unlike some of the previous mockumentaries, this one takes a much more grounded and realistic approach to the point it could almost be classified as a straight Documentary. What helps with this is that the cast is full of unknowns who were all real teachers themselves and even used former students to play their students in the film (They actually ended up with over 60 hours of footage that they cut down to a solid hour and a half which is no easy feat). Everything seen in the movie comes from a real genuine place of experience and as an audience member, you can feel the honesty. It’s been praised by actual teachers as a realistic portrayal of teaching and school (unlike movies that prefer to tell the “Inspirational Teacher” story), this one is full of everyday teacher types: Teacher fighting for teacher of the year, new teacher who’s never done it before, active teacher trying to enforce the rules, vice principal who regrets leaving teaching. There’s a lot of touching moments and anyone who has ever taught kids in any capacity could relate to what’s going on, even as students we all have our memories of our favourite teachers and classroom moments and this movie delivers on giving you just that.
The Dirties (2013)
It’s fitting that this movie ends the list of suggestions as it takes the format in completely new directions, utilizing it in creative ways. To add layers to it, it tackles an incredibly difficult subject making it poignant, not only for when it came out but more so today. The movie plot is simple, two students are making a movie for class and are documenting their behind the scenes. As they do this though it is clear they are also being heavily bullied by a group of guys they dubbed “The Dirties”. Wanting to make a statement the main character, played by director Matt Johnson, is planning a school shooting to take care of The Dirties. What makes this movie so good is not only how they deal with the issues of bullying and someone going down the path of making that decision (which like Man Bites Dog increasingly becomes horrifying and uncomfortable to watch as you see him descend into this) but also on how it uses the medium of the Mockumentary. Throughout the movie you see the leads editing and watching clips from the exact movie you are watching. You might see Matt editing a segment that will appear later in the film or showing his friend a scene we just watched to get his opinion on. It can’t get any more meta than that in a realistic way. It should be clear that the main character is not shown to be a hero in any way. At first, you might feel bad for him but you soon raise he’s a product of his own choices and this is reflected especially when his best friend starts making new friends and even gets a girlfriend, showing that lead is someone who clearly needs help. the best friend becomes the relatable character that we cling to and become invested in as he shares the feelings that we the viewers are feeling as well. It’s a little known Canadian mockumentary also made on a modest budget that deserves more attention than it has.
So there you have it! Check them out and see what you think! Before you head out, why not check out our spoiler-free review of the first episode of Love, Death and Robots and why you should be excited for His Dark Materials.