Stand Up Planet is the first film I've seen at this year's San Francisco International Film Festival, and while at times it felt as if I was watching a raw, unfinished cut of the movie, I can still easily recommend it for highlighting some incredible comics, and the incredibly difficult social and societal issues plaguing underdeveloped nations in the 21st century.
Stand Up Planet stars Hasan Minhaj, who explains in a cheesy voiceover: "The world is full of struggle. Comedy comes from adversity. This must be one hilarious planet!" Immediately, he comes up with a plan to find the hottest unknown comedians in India and South Africa and then bring them back to America, all while investigating how the social realities of their respective struggling nations affects their work. While the idea sounds intriguing on paper, the narration that guides the movie's story frustratingly fails to explain its objectives clearly; is getting a few comedians to joke around together in the slums of Johannesburg the goal itself? Or is the value of the Stand Up Planet "project," as it's referred to, in sharing the admittedly enlightening and enlivening footage with an audience, to make these comedians, and the world they live in, knowable to the world at large? Minhaj is a hilarious and charismatic young comic, but the lines he has to read as the story's host are often pretentious and patronizing. And, tragically for a film so concerned with social realities, they make the movie come off as fake, highlighting the staged nature of certain setups by refusing to acknowledge it. With some very simple rewording of the voice-over narration--and a little more respect for the intelligence of the audience--Stand Up Planet could easily be twice as effective.
The screening I attended also featured stand-up by Minhaj and friend Nato Green, who each did a hilarious 10 minutes before the show. Minhaj had some very interesting material about his parents, who were both in the audience. The comedy didn't kill--I suspect that the SFIFF's typical moviegoer isn't into the kind of in-your-face humor that Minhaj and Green excel at. But it was a great showcase for their talents, and that's one aspect I love about the SFIFF: discovering new talent. I also love a movie with a purpose, and while I felt it was deeply flawed, I would be very interested in checking out the reality show based on the Stand Up Planet concept, which the producers announced was in production. Who knows: maybe the unacknowledged staginess and painfully pretentious dialogue would be less jarring in a reality TV show format. And if the filmmakers want to hire me as a consulting producer, all the better.