The real-life characters in Billy Corben’s new documentary, Screwball, are represented in reenactments by 10-year-olds wearing wigs and fake muscle padding under their shirts, as they mouth the words being attributed to them by Corben’s cast of talking heads relating the story. It seems at first like a cutesy documentary conceit, something Morgan Spurlock, king of cutesy documentary conceits, would’ve cooked up in his heyday.
In Corben’s hands it’s certainly cutesy — how could little kids dressed like juiced up guidos not be? — but it also gets at something more. With his documentaries Cocaine Cowboys and The U for ESPN’s 30 for 30, Corben has already firmly established himself as the bard of South Florida, a sort of documentarian equivalent of Carl Hiaasen or Harry Crews. It’s easy to make fun of Florida, and Corben never (ever) wastes an opportunity for Floridian found comedy, but it’s a tougher task to explain Florida, to try to get at why it’s not just ridiculous, but also compelling.
That’s what Screwball does. Corben’s kid reenactments are more than just a fun way to tell the story. In some way they speak to the essence of what makes Florida Florida: that it’s a lawless place where the kids are running the school. Screwball‘s conceit turns the metaphor literal.
As someone who never particularly cared whether baseball players did steroids (I wish they’d all take steroids, the game was more fun then) I’d always wondered why the general public seems to hate A-Rod so much. Well, Screwball tells that whole story.