Not so much a probing examination as a fulsome celebration, “Hating Breitbart” belies its ironic title by painting an enthusiastically approving portrait of Andrew Breitbart, the aggressively outspoken conservative media critic and agent provocateur. Documentarian Andrew Marcus obviously intended to provide a slickly packaged counterpoint to his subject’s many critics by depicting Breitbart as an admirable, even heroic figure. But Breitbart’s sudden death at age 43 earlier this year — only fleetingly acknowledged here during the closing credits — makes it difficult to perceive the pic as anything but a hagiographic eulogy. As such, only friends and admirers likely will take notice.
Breitbart comes across here as an unabashedly pugnacious, boisterous fellow who delights in challenging various “narratives” he claims are promulgated by an overwhelmingly liberal mainstream media. (That he frequently sprinkles F-bombs in his verbal salvos accounts for the pic’s arguably unjustified R rating.)
He seems especially incensed by accusations that Tea Party members and like-minded right-wingers are by their very nature racist in their thoughts, words and deeds. Time and again, he pushes back with video packages and passionately written screeds on his blog and other online outlets. And he’s not afraid of public in-your-face confrontations with journalists whose tactics he criticizes, or hecklers who can’t think on their feet as quickly as he can.
In terms of preaching to the converted, “Hating Breitbart” is practically a textbook example of a spirit-lifting, rabble-rousing cinematic sermon; its potential to attract crossover auds is, at best, minimal.
On the other hand, the docu conceivably could have a long shelf-life in college media studies courses as a teaching tool. One does not have to agree with Breitbart or his politics to acknowledge that the pic offers some morsels of food for thought as it presents Breitbart’s side of the story while cataloguing various controversies in which he has been involved, including his support of self-styled journalist James O’Keefe’s “expose” of Acorn. Arguments over what constitutes “selective editing,” and whether the lack of video documentation automatically disproves an accusation, are particularly thought-provoking, and could inspire spirited classroom debate.
Overall, “Hating Breitbart” is conspicuously parsimonious when it comes to providing biographical info about its subject. For all his on-camera bluster, Breitbart reveals relatively little about himself, other than repeatedly bragging that he enjoys good fights while pressing back against mainstream media, and limits himself to public displays of only two emotional extremes (jocularity and righteous indignation).
Two interviewees clearly sympathetic to Breitbart introduce provocative notions that, unfortunately, receive only cursory consideration.
Actor Orson Bean — Breitbart’s father-in-law and, evidently, philosophical mentor — suggests that he helped steer Breitbart away from “lefty” leanings by lending his future son-in-law an unnamed book by Rush Limbaugh. (This anecdote will be all the more amusing to anyone who recalls Bean’s own political transformation after being blacklisted during the 1950s.)
Elsewhere, writer Andrew Klavan praises Breitbart as “a Fred Astaire media pundit.” But he kinda-sorta undercuts the compliment by claiming that, had Astaire been born at another time, his talent would be underappreciated, and the dancer-actor himself “would be obscure.”
Klavan’s point: Just as Astaire was perfectly well suited to succeed during his heyday, Breitbart was the right man in the right place at the right time. But, perhaps inadvertently, Klavan raises a question that “Hating Breitbart” doesn’t adequately address: What, if any, lasting impact will be Andrew Breitbart’s legacy?