Toronto Film Review: ‘The Yes Men Are Revolting’

The prankster activists return to wage war against climate change in this amusing documentary.

The Yes Men Are Revolting Toronto

The further adventures of Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno not that those are necessarily their real names are chronicled in “The Yes Men Are Revolting.” The prankster activists here turn their imaginative shaming schemes toward those corporations and governments doing little to address (when they’re not actively enabling) the escalating global-warming crisis. Co-directed with Laura Nix, the duo’s follow-up to “The Yes Men” (2003) and “The Yes Men Fix the World” (2009) is another entertaining mix of agitpop, pranksterism and autobiography that should expand modestly on the prior entries’ success on the fest circuit and in niche various-format release.

The opening sequence brings back “The Yes Men Fix the World,” specifically its ludicrous, inflatable human “survivaballs” (think of Woody Allen’s inflatable suit in “Sleeper), as the protags hope to float a flotilla across the Hudson to get the attention of a U.N. climate-change summit. (Alas, the Coast Guard and NYPD are unamused.) After briefly recapping the twosome’s past protests and media coverage, the focus grows a little more personal this time around. No longer in their 20s , both have university teaching posts to maintain, and have reached various levels of domestic stability: Mike now has a wife and two kids, while Andy has finally found a boyfriend he wants to “spend the rest of my life with.”

Their relationships have traditionally suffered, however, from the platonic-soulmate bond (“We’re each other’s perfect enablers”) between them, and the high time demands (with little financial reward) that being Yes Men has made on them. Mike once lost a girlfriend over this issue; she’s seen but not heard here, Andy’s beau might be headed for the exit too, unable to compete. During the pic’s several-years progress, they have to make some life decisions that will potentially break up their joined-at-the-hip partnership.

Primarily, the runtime is still devoted to various actions, however, nearly all of which (with one flop exception involving a polar bear disguise) underline the amazing gullibility with which–at least to a point–high-ranking media, business and government personnel can be taken in by a well-staged prank. Andy poses as the spokesperson for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (that glorified industry lobbying org) to announce a “carbon tax” recommendation on polluters; the actual agency responses by suing the Men for “commercial identity theft masquerading as social activism.” They travel to Uganda to meet with local activist Chandia Kodili, then join her at a another U.N. climate change summit (this time in Copenhagen). There, they pull another hoax to raise the issue of paying “climate debts” to the low-consuming Third World countries who’ve suffered the worst consequences of First World nations’ environmental impacts.

The dismaying results of that summit, which saw precious little meaningful regulatory progress, make Bonanno and Bichlbaum wonder if what they’re doing has value at all. Bonanno moves with his family to Scotland, while Bichlbaum gets involved with Greenpeace in a very Yes Men-style prank, calling out Shell Oil’s oil drilling plans in fragile Arctic regions.

But they cain’t quit each other for long, of course, particularly once Occupy Wall Street re-awakens their faith in popular protest. Pic ends with their infiltration of a Homeland Security conference, where they succeed in getting attendees stand in a circle singing and dancing an ersatz Native American song suggesting even a roomful of defense contractors might think the time is ripe for us to downsize fossil-fuel dependence and up use of renewable energies.

Lively package incorporates news footage (reporting verbatim each fake news break, then dutifully announcing their exposure as hoaxes) and brief, amusing animation sequences into an activist docu that’s about as easy a sit as they come.

Toronto Film Review: ‘The Yes Men Are Revolting’

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (TIFF Docs), Sept. 9, 2014. Running time: <strong>91 MIN.</strong>

  • Production: (Documentary) A Bertha Foundation, Britdoc, Channel 4, Chorus Foundation, Cobo Fund, Danish Film Institute and VPRO presentation of a Human Race and Felt Films production in association with Chili Film, Motto Pictures, Pieter Van Huystee Film, Señorita Films. (International sales: Cinetic Media, New York City.) Produced by Laura Nix, Jacques Servin, Igor Vamos. Executive producers, Alex Cooke, Alan Hayling, Adam McKay. Co-producers, Ole Tornbjerg, Rita Dagher, Pieter Van Huystee Sr.
  • Crew: Directed by Laura Nix, the Yes Men. Camera (color, HD), Keil Troisi, Raul Barcelona, Martin Boudot, Christopher Clements, Brandon Jourdan, Nix, Sam Spreckley; editor, Geraud Brisson, Claire L. Chandler, Soren B. Ebbe; music, Didier LePlae, Joe Wong; animation, Six Point Harness Studios; sound, Roar Skau Olsen.
  • With: Andy Bichlbaum, Mike Bonano, Benadette Chandia Kodili, Gitz Crazyboy, Tito Ybarra, Mike Mathieu, Leonid Vlassov.