SXSW Film Review – Reality Show

“When people tell me ‘you are famous for being famous,’ I say ‘no, we are famous for having three TV shows.'” – Kim Kardashian

Unease immediately sets in when this quote is presented in the opening moments of Adam Rifkin‘s abysmal faux documentary Reality Show, a “message movie” so manipulative and obvious in approach it took everything within me not to walk away from the very task of writing this review. An ever-growing number of Americans are driven by the public misfortune and mockery of others. You know it. I know it. Director and star Adam Rifkin CERTAINLY knows it…and exploits the concept to an embarrassing degree.

Reality Show 1

Rifkin stars as Mickey Wagner, an unfortunately ponytailed producer type who lays out a plan to foist an unwitting participant in front of cameras for the purposes of TV’s first “real” reality showunscripted and sure to capture the exquisite drama known as suburban life. He pitches this well-tread concept with unwarranted glee. The board room squeals with excitement at the idea, clearly forgetting how this all ended for Christof. (Or that The Truman Show exists at all, apparently.) The subject won’t be aware he or she is on a show, allowing us to tap in on the day-to-day goings-on of a real American family. To avoid legal issues, they’ll qualify it as a documentary, because why not? There wouldn’t be a movie here without a throwaway solution to the plot’s most glaring problem. Ah, but we’ve only scraped the surface.

Wagner and his crew quite literally choose their culprit at random, and family man Dennis Warwick (Scott Anderson) is selected. He shares a home with his seemingly happy wife (Kelley Menighan Hensley) and teenage daughter (Monika Tilling). Wagner unconvincingly convinces Dennis he’s won a contest he never entered and sends the family off on an all-expenses-paid vacation, hiding cameras throughout the house while they’re at the resort. Because, documentary.

Reality Show 2

After two weeks of snooping in on the family and no drama to be found, Wagner and his slimy assistant decide that in order to present something watchable to the money-hungry execs, they’d better take matters into their own hands, thus going against everything laid out in the clumsily delivered exposition that consumes the movie’s opening scene. You might argue this in itself is commenting on the mentality of our country, but I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say you’re giving Rifkin too much credit.

The actions taken to ensure this promised drama start innocently enough (if you consider dognapping innocent), but quickly escalate to such outlandish and unbelievable degrees it began to dawn on me that Rifkin has no idea what the difference between satire and shock value truly is. Settle on one or the other, but don’t sit there smugly trying to convince me you’re commenting on society when you’re nothing more than a Bret Easton Ellis fanboy.

Reality Show 3

None of the bleakness on display here is even remotely worthy of your investment or time. The family members whose lives are slowly being destroyed are all so laughably one-note it’s impossible to even keep track of their motivations, much less root for them. The film ends on such an unearned dour moment I yelled at the screen in anger. If you’re looking for a smart and scathing take on America’s obsession with violence and misery, take a look at Rémy Belvaux‘s brilliantly effective Man Bites Dog, and leave Reality Show to fester infinitely in the bargain bins of hell.

Final Grade: F

Also, be sure to check out our interview with writer/director/actor Adam Rifkin from SXSW 2013.


Nick's eyes were opened to a film's capabilities with his first viewing of L.A. Confidential and he's spent every day since then doggedly pursuing impactful movies big and small.

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