Impartiality has largely lost its street cred as a criterion for documentary truth, since the “other side” of most issues is so widely disseminated. But in the case of Nara Garber and Betsy Nagler’s docu about “Flat Daddies” (aka “Heroes on a Stick”), life-size photo cutouts that substitute for shipped-out soldiers in family portraits or around the dinner table, a great deal of restraint is required to do justice to a subject that at first seems utterly grotesque. Following four families cohabiting with portable, two-dimensional parents, this in-depth, cable-friendly docu offers a unique perspective on the cost of war.
Once the geographically and ethnically diverse families have been introduced, the film’s focus shifts to various members’ attempts to adapt to changing dynamics. The cutouts increasingly rep an artificial equilibrium upended by the return of the flesh-and-blood originals, particularly soldiers who are on leave and will shortly redeploy. One soldier comes home to a suddenly empowered wife more than capable of fulfilling his previous household functions. Another finds it difficult to assume a position of authority after being passively carted around in cardboard form at the whim of his pint-size offspring.