This critic avoids personal anecdotes in film reviews, but this one deserves an exception.
Several months ago I had a phone argument with my closest friend. He believed New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo did a fine job during the pandemic, ignoring the thousands of nursing home patients who died under his watch.
Janice Dean has a story he needs to read.
My friend also believed in the Russian collusion narrative, which has been falling apart in slow motion for months despite the mainstream media’s shocking indifference.
We disagreed. Our voices got heated. He hung up on me. We haven’t spoken since.
Extreme media bias, the kind on furious display in the Age of Trump, is turning Americans against Americans in ways that are both acute and hard to measure. My friend and I don’t vote the same way anymore, something that doesn’t bother me a whit.
We no longer cling to the same set of facts. The rise of extreme bias and Fake News, which makes this possible, sticks in my craw.
Yet that factor is ignored in “Stars and Strife,” an otherwise well-intentioned look at our increasingly tribal times.
Writer/director David Smick couldn’t know his film would drop at a time when patriotism would be “problematic” for a sizable slab of one political party. “Stars and Strife” assumes we all love our country as a starting point, but it worries our fractured age puts America’s future in doubt.
That’s undeniable. We’ve read the news today, oh, boy.
From there we’re treated to a grab bag of cultural woes, from shrieking fights on “The View” to activists behaving badly across the country. Politicians aren’t making things better. In a shocking display of restraint, the film doesn’t flood the zone with President Donald Trump’s more divisive moments.
Smick would have plenty to work with, but there’s an equal amount from the Left, too. “Stars and Strife” keeps things as apolitical as possible given the nature of the narrative.
A grateful nation thanks him.
FAST FACT: Smick brings an eclectic resume to his first feature film, “Stars and Strife.” He’s contributed to a number of prestigious outlets, including The Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. Plus, he’s the chairman and CEO of Johnson Smick International, Inc., a D.C.-based macroeconomic advisory firm.
The nation’s overriding problem is clear, and Team Smick underlines it with a cavalcade of cutesy, on the nose video clips.
We’re at each other’s throats thanks to social media, income inequality, corporate welfare and a lack of upward mobility, among other woes. Conservatives may argue with some possible solutions here, like a plan to make the primary system less partisan and the need for a third major party.
“Stars and Strife” wants to push the conversation forward, not focus on disagreements.
The film, embraced by Executive Producer (and openly liberal) Barry Levinson, strains to avoid Michael Moore-style theatrics. Smick is front and center here, in the grand Moore tradition, but he’s not doing performance art or manipulating events for maximum impact.
He’s holding the documentary together, providing a calm, soothing voice for both sides to consider.
For every interview subject on the Left (Larry Summers, Leon Panetta) we’re treated to a chat with someone on the Right (James Baker, Arthur Brooks).
Solutions are scattered throughout the movie, although realistically our current plight rejects a one-size-fits-all approach. We’ve become a nation of lonely, disconnected souls.
Who would argue with that… but how do you fix it?
Perhaps the film’s most healing moments come courtesy of activist Hawk Newsome. Who’s he? Newsome is the head of New York’s Black Lives Matter chapter. He shares a powerful story of crashing a Trumpian rally and speaking before an audience willing to cheer their commonalities.
One wonders what Newsome thinks of BLM’s tactics over the last two-plus months.
“Stars and Strife” loves this country in an authentic, palpable way. Historically, America has been a force for good, asking other nations only for enough land to bury our dead, Smick notes. “We are the good guys,” confirms former Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan.
Immigrant success stories abound, one more inspiring than the next.
“Stars and Strife’s” very existence suggests something hopeful, that a left-of-center industry can produce a documentary like this just when we need it most.
HiT or Miss: “Stars and Strife” has its heart in the right place and mostly avoids ideological bromides. It still ignores a massive problem in modern American tribalism, something that can no longer be denied.d