Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This month: The A.V. Club atones for its sins of omission, recommending the best movies of the year that we didn’t review.
In 2004, North Carolinian John Wood was in a plane crash that killed his father and cost him his leg. Always something of a screwup, Wood went into a downward spiral of drug abuse after the accident, and during one of his benders lost possession of the storage locker where he’d been keeping his mummified limb inside of a backyard smoker. The contents of the locker were bought at an auction—Storage Wars-style—by local character Shannon Whisnant, a wheeler-dealer who’d always resented the rich, respected Wood family. Shannon refused to give John the leg back, and instead went to the local news with the story, hoping to parlay a brief moment of celebrity into an ongoing gig as an entrepreneur and entertainer.
All of this happened long before documentary filmmakers Bryan Carberry and J. Clay Tweel started making Finders Keepers, a movie that digs beneath an anecdote that had previously been treated as a mild “look at this freakshow” curiosity by the media. Taking advantage of news clips and old unused footage of Wood and Whisnant that Tweel’s former boss Ed Cunningham shot around 2007, Finders Keepers spans a full decade of court battles, TV appearances, multiple drug relapses from Wood, and too many Whisnant money-making schemes to count. Carberry and Tweel don’t downplay the amusing bizarreness of it all—Finders Keepers is above all a crowd-pleaser, and quotably funny—but they do keep pointing out that none of the major players in this absurd drama can be fully summarized in sound-bites.
The one major knock against the film is that it ends fairly abruptly, after a contrived attempt to pin some kind of upbeat conclusion on these two men’s respective sagas. Carberry and Tweel could’ve kept filming for another year or two and there would’ve undoubtedly been more twists and turns, setbacks and triumphs. But there’s a telling moment late in Finders Keepers when Whisnant does a guest shot on a reality show that he expects to be his big break, and then is dismayed when the producers ask him to act like a dumb hick. He wants fame, but not the reductiveness that comes with it. This whole documentary is about what happens to TV-friendly characters like Whisnant when the cameras are off. It’s a complex portrait of class conflict, sad family legacies, and the dangerous allure of the spotlight.
Availability: Finders Keepers is available digitally (for purchase only) from Amazon and iTunes.